Imagine walking into a restaurant, ordering your meal, and then being asked where you would like to eat it. New York? Paris? In a bamboo forest or out among Washington’s cherry blossoms? Or maybe, for something different, submersed in the ocean as if in a glass submarine with stingrays and sharks circling round? The possibilities are what Focus Lighting envisions happening someday, not necessarily limited to restaurants but in any setting where a total environment is wanted.
The Focus studio on West 116th Street has a magical 360-degree Gallery in which sometimes moving images surround visitors on all sides from eight synchronized overhead projectors. This “Wow Room” -- and it certainly is that -- is the climax of a visit to Focus Lighting, which was specially opened to the public as part of the recent OHNY weekend.
Although taken for granted by many, lighting is arguably the single most important ingredient of architecture and especially interior design as it brings spaces and shapes to life, determines their mood, how they are perceived, and directly impacts the state of mind of occupants. It is a difficult, exciting field that requires the mastery of varied and continually evolving technologies, creative imagination, and practical know-how, as much science as art.
It is the job of the lighting specialist to work with architects, interior designers, and artists in developing their vision. The process begins with conversations leading up to concept books in which ideas are visualized for further development and final selection. The next step, in many ways the most critical, takes place in an experimental room where ideas are tested in full scale mock-ups. Rather than rely on computer imaging, Focus finds that the exploratory process and “the happy accidents along the way” are the most valuable for clients (and for the lighting designers themselves) in defining what exactly is wanted and how to achieve it.
From here, detailed documentation drawings are prepared to tell contractors how, where, and what kind of lighting to buy and install. The final stage comes when the Focus Lighting team visits the site and does all the directing, filtering, and fine-tuning required to complete the overall composition, basically putting the final touches on a painting in light.
Focus was founded in 1986. Since then, its award-winning work has included everything from Las Vegas casinos to private residences, restaurants, hotels, offices, museums, and a 3-level “inhabitable chandelier” measuring 45 feet by 75 feet. Among their most celebrated works are the New Year’s Eve ball in Times Square, the Space Shuttle Pavilion at the Intrepid Museum, Atlantic Resort on Palm Island in Dubai, and Atmosphere Restaurant on the 122nd floor of Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world.
The 30-person studio recently designed the lighting for LIV, “Miami’s hottest new nightclub” at the Fontainebleau Hotel, where DJs control not only the music, but also the lights, the entire atmosphere. They also refreshed Hollywood's grand old Beverly Hills Hotel with the restraint that the welcoming interiors not be changed. The answer was a combination of high-efficiency LED lights to enhance and enliven the space and enough soft incandescents keep movie stars glowing and beautiful.
A new skyscraper on 55th Street and Broadway posed an even greater challenge: how to stand out from the thicket of midtown high-rises in and around Times Square, one of the most densely illuminated places in the world? (Indeed, following the area’s recent reincarnation, all new buildings in “the crossroads of the world” are required by law to display illuminated signage in order to continue the legendary brilliance of the Great White Way.)
The solution to the Broadway challenge was, of course, more lighting. But instead of all the oversize billboards and animated electronic advertisements, the Focus team chose to illuminate the 67-story tower in a single color, blue, to accentuate its iconic twisted form and the vertically stacked hotels that uniquely define it. The crowning flourish is a play of lights some 750 feet above the ground. When the tower is completed early next year, 1717 Broadway will provide a changing light display visible all the way to New Jersey. Trip the light fantastic, New York. Skyline art is being redefined.