Bright and Clean
Mark McMenamin -- Interior Design, 9/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
It sounds like the start of a joke: So, this guy is asked to design lighting for a sewage treatment plant. But in an epoch when conservationism is becoming a serious religion, unlikely sites can serve as shrines. And Hervé Descottes, the founder and principal of L'Observatoire International, was called to worship at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, a Brooklyn complex currently being upgraded by Polshek Partnership Architects.
Retained by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Descottes swathed the 53-acre campus in what he calls a "diaphanous layer of light." Most noticeable is the luminous blue membrane that radiates from 1,000-watt halide floodlights, their color intensified by glass filters. Clustered five to a pole, these floodlights cast a cobalt glow over the eight 145-foot-high digester eggs that process 1.5 million gallons of sludge per day. Meanwhile, pipes and scaffolding are up-lit in yellow, and bright white pole lights cast shimmering lines along pedestrian paths. "The most active areas, such as the paths and loading docks, blaze in contrast," Descottes explains. Much more subtle is the warm amber that's thrown off by city buildings and mirrored in the matte stainless steel of the eggs.
Visible for miles, the plant offers a constant reminder of what's required to keep a fragile ecosystem from unraveling. And that's no joke.