Lights Return at Winter Garden, post 9-11

A year after the devastating events of September 11, 2001, light is gleaming again in the Winter Garden.

The vaulted glass atrium and public space was severely damaged during the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Steel beams rained down on the Winter Garden’s east side, mangling steel arches and shattering 2,000 panes of glass. The lighting system, including speciality entertainment luminaires and architectural-control functionality, was destroyed. Miraculously, people were evacuated in time to prevent injuries.

Reopened a year after the attacks, in a record-time labour of love, the Winter Garden is a vibrant, if understandably different, space now. As part of the $50m renovation, a new glass façade archway designed by Cesar Pelli has replaced the pedestrian footbridge that once led to the World Trade Center. And high within the reconstructed arches of the new glass ceiling is a state-of-the-art lighting rig and ETC control system designed to accommodate the needs of the new facility, more thoroughly than ever.

Todd Berling Design, Inc. had been brought in during November by Brookfield Properties to assess the damage to all of the Garden’s theatrical systems; rigging, lighting and audio. “It was some time before Brookfield Properties could even get into the building, which was being controlled by the City of New York,” said Berling principal Todd Berling. “Our original walkthrough was overwhelming. We got to the upper level to inspect what we thought was going to be the dimmer room and instead we found only the raised pad of the dimmer room by itself. There was no equipment left. It was as though someone had taken a giant butter knife and scraped the equipment off the top of the concrete pad. It was all leaning in towards the street, still fairly structurally unsound and
there was an inch or so of dirt and ash – a very fine powder – everywhere. It was extraordinary.” The dimmer room itself was gone, as was the primary control – an old Kleigl system – a 1986 project with a proprietary digital protocol, which could not be replicated. Conduit connections had been severed. Luminaires crushed.

Fortunately for Berling and for the Winter Garden, the task of restoration had been made less difficult because, by coincidence, the Winter Garden had undertaken a phase of systems renovation beginning in December 2000. “We had been in the process of redesigning the lighting system and had done the design work in the summer of 2001, during which time we were required to use all the wire and all the existing conduit runs from several locations. We were limited to what we were going to be able to do with the design, based on the existing conduit. For months before September 11, we had crawled around in the space, figuring out where conduits home-ran to, where wire fills were, what size conduits were. We were about to go into bidding for that next phase right around September 11, but instead in November we were doing an insurance assessment of what was salvageable. Had we not been involved previously, we would have had a really difficult time trying to map the original system after 9/11. It would have been an unrecognisable puzzle.”

Berling Design began by recreating circuitry in the locations that had been there in the original plan. The massive bond beam (a mechanical level around which all of the lighting fixtures are hung in the space), at the 65-foot level of the building with 102 lighting circuits around the perimeter, was replaced. A set of 102 ETC Source Four luminaires, supplied by dealer Barbizon Electric, took the place of the older, less energy-efficient luminaires that had been destroyed. Berling chose a mix of 19º, 10º and 5º Source Fours profiles for optimum lighting punch and imaging: “The shortest light throw in the Winter Garden atrium is 65 feet from the bond beam, but the length of the building is about 180 feet, so we have fairly long throws from there, almost from one end of the building to the other.”

The rebuilding offered an opportunity to bring the Winter Garden’s lighting control to cutting-edge specifications. As part of Brookfield Properties’ Arts and Events Program, a portable stage is erected at the west end of the atrium, transforming the space into a full performance venue. In order to formalise and optimise the new entertainment lighting system, Berling put in an additional 48 circuits at the west end to allow for drop boxes and multicable breakouts down to trusses, which had never been available before. A supplementary rig, including 36 Source Fours, provided by dealer Fourth Phase, gives the new stage more creative lighting possibilities.

The Winter Garden had no DMX distribution system, so Berling installed a new Ethernet-based lighting control network throughout the whole building. “The new ETCNet2 system comprises nine DMX nodes located at each of the bays around the lighting bond beam and four portable nodes for distribution down to portable lighting trusses and sidelighting booms. We also have remote focusing capability [via an ETC Expression Remote Focus Unit] in every one of the bays up on the upper level, which they never had before.”

For distribution up and around the bond beam on the atrium perimeter, Berling specified a series of 93 custom ETC network faceplates, to match the former faceplates that no longer existed. Besides power access, some of these contain ETCNet2 DMX Nodes and Remote Focus Unit connectors, allowing further control over both scrollers and moving lights. The Winter Garden puts on an elaborate Christmas lighting show and other themed seasonal events and the new distributed DMX and networking will allow for far greater flexibility and speciality lighting management at a more economical cost than before.

“There’s a new dimmer room now where the old one had been,” adds Berling. “whereas before we had one big Kliegl dimmer rack and one control rack, now we have four more compact, powerful ETC Sensor dimmer racks and a custom Ethernet control rack in virtually the same size room.”

“Previously most of the houselights were controlled through an old GE relay panel, but for this new system we wanted to integrate the entertainment and architectural lighting control, which is why we chose to go with ETC equipment. We ended up taking all the luminaires in the atrium space and running them through the ETC Sensor dimmers and then controlling them via the ETC Unison processor. The main building system (they have five buildings in the complex) is still the GE system, located in Building D down the road. That main building management system still needed to talk to the Winter Garden lighting control system. We have specified a series of Unison Interface Relays that allows for the GE system to remotely grab a lighting preset which we assing in the Unison Processor through the interface relay and drive a certain number of dimmers to a given level.”

The ETC Unison architectural control system will also be instrumental in handling the lighting of the new extended series of zones in the atrium. ETC dimmers will drive lights to different levels depending on daylight and weather conditions, an important flexibility in a heavily glassed-in building with so much natural light variability.

The lighting control system also includes ETC’s new Emphasis with an Expression facepanel (3D, 2500 channels), one of the first permanent installations of that console technology. Emphasis will empower the Winter Garden with state-of-the-art WYSIWYG lighting design and visualisation functionality and make light-plotting far easier and more time efficient.

Todd Berling Design is a small and relatively young firm, in business now five years. Todd Berling admits that no job has equalled this one in sheer memorability, scope or timeframe. The restoration schedule was clearly predetermined everyone was committed to the Winter Garden being open by September 11 of 2002. “It was just a massive dead run between all of the contractors who were starting to do work and us, the design team, who were designing simultaneously. We were producing documents while the electrical contractors were ripping conduit out and installing new. In that sense it was almost like a design build; as we were designing, they were building right along side of us. Turner Construction was adamant about hitting deadlines and making sure that we stuck to it as design consultants. We got the documents to the contractors in an expeditious manner.”

ETC also rushed to accommodate the turnaround on the unusually large quantity of the custom work for the Garden. According to ETC Project Manager Ted Ozimek: “It was the sheer amount of custom equipment within the sort of timeframe which was a challenge. We do custom work all the time – that’s one of the things we’re known for doing well – but usually there is a longer timeframe for approvals and information gathering. This project kept evolving after the purchase order was issued – the scope of the work continued to develop as site conditions and requirements were evaluated.”

The Winter Garden rehearsed its grand re-opening on September 5, in a special party for the contractors and trades who had worked so hard to bring the building back. Then on September 12, President Bush inaugurated the building in an official opening gala ceremony. The first scheduled regular show at the Winter Garden’s recreated stage will be a new piece by the Ailey II group of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ailey is among the high-caliber international acts which the Winter Garden has featured in the past and will continue to feature in the future – from professional dance, to pop musicians, to orchestras and beyond.

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