Volume 18 • Issue 38 | February 3 - 9, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

Architect James Carpenter in his Tribeca studio with a model of his art design for the Museum of Jewish Heritage which will open in April. His lighting design for the base of 7 World Trade Center will also soon be visible.

Designer brings light to Downtown projects

By Ronda Kaysen

Whoever said a six-story Con Edison substation couldn’t be pretty? The boxy structure that makes up the base of 7 World Trade Center will come to life next month, dazzling passersby with shimmering light emanating from within and cascading in from the outside. Yes, that’s right, a mammoth substation will be something other than an eyesore.

Architect and sculptor James Carpenter has transformed the clunky base of the David Childs-designed glass tower into an airy wonder of light that will bring color to the streetscape.

“The results are going to be spectacular,” developer Larry Silverstein, who owns 7 W.T.C., told Downtown Express in a telephone interview.

The 10 transformers housed inside the tower need air to breathe, and so 7’s base is a porous series of prism-shaped slats set at varying angles, letting natural light in that bounces off interior prisms and returns to the street. At night, L.E.D. lighting mounted inside the structure will bounce off the prisms and out onto the street. Sensory cameras will pick up movement off the street and periodically reflect it as well. The result will be a moving stream of light and color that shifts throughout the day and a permeable building that hides the transformers from the naked eye.

“We needed to come up with a way of balancing daylight with artificial light,” said Carpenter, sitting inside James Carpenter Design Associates’ Hudson St. studio. The light display will be visible along the northern and southern facades of the building. The south faces Vesey St. and the Trade Center site. The north side faces Barclay St. The light will not dominate the street, said Carpenter. “It’s a very subtle light. It’s very quiet.”

Nearby residents hope Carpenter’s project will bring life back to the dreary corner of Barclay and Greenwich Sts. “I’m dying to see it. From the prototype, it looks like it’ll be fabulous,” said Community Board 1 assistant district manager Judy Duffy. “I love 7, it’s a really pretty building.”

Duffy added that she hoped it would set a precedent for the Freedom Tower, which will have a 200-ft. tall reinforced concrete base. Silverstein said it was too soon to tell what would come of the Freedom Tower base. “We haven’t gotten to that yet,” he said. Carpenter said he had not been tapped for any other Trade Center projects.

A 2004 Macarthur Foundation “genius award” recipient, Carpenter trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and specializes in light. Light plays a key role in the entire 52-story 7 W.T.C. building. Carpenter, who has worked with Childs’ architecture firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill since 1979, helped Childs design the tower’s skin to play with light from the sky. The surface of the glass structure absorbs light and at different angles it appears to fade into the sky itself.

Carpenter also designed the lobby’s interior wall, which features a permanent scrolling creation by artist Jenny Holzer. In various fonts and colors, a litany of American literature will march across the security wall, visible from the street.

“You’ll be able to feast your eyes upon American classic literature all of which will be wholesome stuff: motherhood, apple pie, the American Dream, all good stuff,” said Silverstein.

Carpenter, a Tribeca resident, started his business in 1978 on West St., across from what was then the elevated West Side Highway. He spent eight years in Soho, and then relocated to Hudson and Beach Sts., where he has been ever since. “This is our home until we drop,” he said. He is at work on two other Downtown projects to bring light and color to a neighborhood with narrow, crowded streets often darkened by looming office towers.

Carpenter, who worked on the Time Warner building in Columbus Circle and has been tapped for Moynihan Station, is teaming with architect Grimshaw to bring light into the new Fulton Transit Center. Light from the above-grade glass dome will reflect down into the subterranean levels, bringing daylight into the subterranean levels of the Lower Manhattan subway.

“How do you make people aware of their surroundings?” said Carpenter, adding that although the transit center was scaled back last year, it will still be infused with light.

Over on the western edge of Lower Manhattan, Carpenter is designing a purely aesthetic project—a permanent installation at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Another light project designed with L.E.D. light and an overlay of glass, the project is designed to play off the natural light of the New York Harbor. Several cameras will replay images of the harbor through the L.E.D., creating a dissonant effect. When the L.E.D. is filtered through glass, a live image of the harbor becomes clear to the viewer. “You have this opportunity to see the harbor and this way of looking at it and interpreting it,” said Carpenter. “It’s really about trying to make people more aware of the unique conditions of light.”

The project will open in April and be placed on the bridge that connects the original 1997 museum with the addition, which was completed in 2003. The only permanent Andrew Goldsworthy installation in the city, Garden of Stones, lies directly beneath the bridge.

The Carpenter project is “bringing the harbor into the museum,” said Ivy Barsky, deputy director of the museum. “His work is so poetic and beautiful and it’s such an interesting blending of light and space and time. It’s kind of cool that the visitor is going to be in between the core exhibition and the temporary exhibition and have time to be aware of his or her surroundings of the water and the air and the sky.”



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