A decade of development and prototyping has gone into New York City’s quest to replace its high-pressure sodium (HPS) streetlights. Dotting highways across the U.S., these conventional cobra heads consume 250 watts each, which totals to roughly 60 million watts on the streets of New York alone. In 2004, a team made up of architecture firm Thomas Phifer and Partners, lighting design firm Office for Visual Interaction (OVI), and engineering firm Werner Sobek, all with offices in New York, won a city-sponsored competition with its New York City Streetlight design. They promised to cut energy consumption using LED technology—still experimental at the time—and to rethink the ubiquitous fixture completely.
In 2009, OVI and Werner Sobek completed the technical, optical, and structural design specifications for a prototype, for which it won an architect R+D Award. In 2011, the city installed a series of units in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood to undergo multiple performance tests and reviews by local agencies. Juror Bill Kreysler said, “The process of bringing a design to production with all the rules and regulations, the manufacturing constraints, and getting it to come out the other end still a beautiful object is really an achievement.” Juror Mimi Love added, “This is an elegant design for a practical design problem.”
The final production models, which the city will begin receiving this September and installing in Harlem later in the year, feature several upgrades from the 2011 prototype. Advances in solid-state technology—particularly in miniaturized small package chips—and in fabrication methods have brought down the luminaire’s cost. The linear array of 80 1.7-watt LEDs, which total 136 watts, comes in five modules that can be swapped out as easily as an incandescent lamp. This modular system also allows the streetlights to keep pace with inevitable advances in LEDs. “It’s important that we don’t lock ourselves into a certain technology,” says OVI principal Enrique Peiniger, Assoc. AIA.
The design team also streamlined the proportions of the streetlight’s 30-foot-tall tapered mast and its arched arm, which cantilevers 8 feet and measures 4 inches wide. The arm is cast in three pieces—producing a savings in manufacturing costs over the earlier iteration—and then bolted and welded together, ground flush, and painted for a seamless appearance.
To improve the luminaire’s light distribution, OVI developed multi-lens optics in lieu of the earlier bent metal reflectors in order to “spread the light very wide, like a fan,” Peiniger says. Hot spots and dim areas are minimized across the 125-foot-radius beam spread, and custom-molded lenses in each module provide a little overlap in case of individual LED failure.
Finally, the jurors were captivated by the fixture’s arm, held taut by a pair of cables in a wishbone suspension. “Why can’t all urban furniture look as good?” asked jury member Gerardo Salinas. —Gideon Fink Shapiro