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Photo: © Ryan Fischer

Gallery 225

Paul Bennett Architect, Focus Lighting

New York City

By Linda C. Lentz

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When Focus Lighting carved a new office out of a trio of two-story 1910 retail buildings on a busy street in Harlem five years ago, principal Paul Gregory wanted the facility to be more than a functional workspace for ongoing projects. He wanted it to communicate the illuminating potential of light to his clients and to the community around it.

The New York–based lighting-design firm has been collaborating with architects for more than 25 years to create transformative commercial, hospitality, and cultural environments. Gregory and his team are also known for flights of technical fancy in undertakings like the implementation of the 100th Anniversary Times Square Ball, and Reflect, an installation by artist Ivan Toth Depeña at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in Miami. Working with Paul Bennett Architect, the firm gutted the three attached structures and devised a daylight-filled studio with open workstations, glazed conference rooms, and a double-height mock-up area to test systems and lamping for current schemes. This is where the day-to-day operations take place. In addition, Gregory had the architect design a flexible space on the ground floor of one of the buildings for independent research of a more artistic bent.

That space, in operation since early 2013, is called Gallery 225—named for its address on West 116th Street. Dedicated to experimentation, it is an investment in the future, a playground for Gregory's creative staff to try out new ideas. Adjacent to Focus Lighting's main office, and accessed from a door in reception or from an existing storefront, the 1,400-square-foot gallery has three contiguous rooms designed for explorations in light and its psychological effects, and as a place the lighting designers can host clients and collaborators to demonstrate the results.

Visitors enter a street-side foyer where black surfaces and shaded windows prepare their eyes for the two “light laboratories” beyond, both surfaced with blank white walls and dark ceilings. The middle room features one contrasting brick wall, for texture, and a series of color-changing LED ceiling fixtures. From there one proceeds through a wide doorway into what looks like a typical conference room. But there is nothing conventional going on here. An acoustical ceiling, floating above the table, conceals housing for downlights, more color-changing LEDs, and six video projectors aimed and programmed to wash the walls with any number of milieus produced by digital photography or video.

With such an environment, says Gregory, “We can create any atmosphere without doing anything to the room itself.” For instance, projected images controlled by a mobile app could surround diners in the private room of a restaurant with a serene landscape or period decor. Or, he muses, why not project the sky moving across the wall of a windowless conference room?—often the most boring space in an office.

“It's a great place to have a design meeting too,” Gregory adds, noting that they could surround architects and developers with life-size renderings of a project for a realistic sense of a potential space. Think views from a condo in the soon-to-be developed Hudson Yards.

Even more significant for today's lighting scene is the ongoing study of the impact of colored light that uses color-changing LEDs—how we perceive various “white” color-temperatures, and the natural inclination of the eye to control its “white balance” in rooms saturated by colored light.

Plans for the future include an app to allow people in the neighborhood to experience luminous gallery installations from the street after hours. “It's a place where you want to be more creative,” says Gregory.

Architect:
Paul Bennett Architect
25 W 31st Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 209-1177
Fax: (212) 209-1188

Lighting Designer:
Focus Lighting — Paul Gregory, principal; Daryl Wesoloski, Victoria McNulty, David Wilburn, design team

Client: Focus Lighting

Size: 14,000 square feet

Completion date: January 2013

February 2014
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