New York City observatory combines digital controls, lighting, and video technology

Oct. 29, 2021
Arup collaborates with international artist Kenzo Digital and Snøhetta to realize unparalleled immersive observatory experience atop New York City’s One Vanderbilt tower.

New York, NY – Arup celebrates the opening of SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, a first-of-its-kind high-rise observatory experience atop One Vanderbilt, New York City’s newest 1,401-foot-tall office tower in Midtown. In collaboration with artist Kenzo Digital, Arup created the lighting and technical visualization for this unprecedented observation deck experience—a fully mirrored interior space at over 1,000 feet high creating an immersive illusion as if one is floating above New York City. Snøhetta served as Architect of Record, landscape architect, and designed the interior spaces and Arup provided the technical expertise to achieve this vision commissioned by the building owner SL Green.

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is a sequence of experiences spanning four levels and totaling 65,000 sf, beginning below ground and rising to floors 91 through 93. Each is a distinct concept activated by lighting, sound, and visual effects. Arup designed custom digital lighting systems, such as those installed behind precision two-way mirrors that generate a variety of immersive and dynamic lighting sequences intertwined in the visitor experience. The highly tunable and digitally programmable lighting capabilities include detailed graphic effects of waves, gradients, shimmers, and shapes that make full use of the nighttime negative space created by the reflecting cityscape.

“SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is the result of an incredibly collaborative innovation process with Kenzo Digital, Snøhetta, and SL Green to test the feasibility and explore the effects of the artistic ideas,” said Brian Stacy, Principal and Global Lighting Leader, Arup. “Our multidisciplinary team, with expertise in lighting, daylighting, code analysis, human factors and visualization, worked creatively and with a performance-driven focus to realize the artistic vision.”

“Our design for SUMMIT One Vanderbilt anchors futuristic installation experiences with quiet and subtle spaces that resonate emotionally with visitors, connecting the interiors of the observatory to the city,” said Craig Dykers, Founding Partner, Snøhetta, “Visitors can inhabit the observatory in a uniquely intimate manner, providing new perspectives of the city beyond. The result is an authentic experience and a memory to be cherished for years to come.”

For this novel artist installation, Arup was able to draw on its broad expertise, from collaborating with other international artists such as Janet Echelman, working on large scale dynamic media facades including The Yas Hotel in Abu Dhabi, and lighting for international museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, to become a key collaborative sounding-board with Kenzo Digital as the visions for the different spaces evolved.

Arup designed various lighting experiences from the very first elevator ride to the actual observatory. The elevator to SUMMIT One Vanderbilt first opens onto the “Hall of Light,” a curved corridor resembling the effect of “walking into the sky.” Visitors then enter “Transcendence,” a double-height fully-mirrored room with infinite reflections of the cityscape, which may be experienced on two levels. This is followed by “Reflect,” an art exhibition space and “Affinity,” a mirrored room with floating reflective spheres. Up above, fully transparent sky boxes entitled “Levitation” jut out of the building, suspending guests 1,000 feet high with a glass floor view. Separately, a mirrored room experience, “Unity,” touts a full video wall screen displaying art.

Arup’s multidisciplinary team of designers and subject matter experts was key to exploring the artistic concepts utilizing mirrors, and approaches in lighting and visualization. The project required testing and analysis of potential solutions to balance the technically feasible with its performative effect and human impact. Arup’s research-led and evidence-based design expertise informed the design for visual and physical comfort, visitor acclimation, and code compliance. The team analyzed potential glare and heat concentration from the multiple interior sun reflections, as well as validated critical factors such as exit sign legibility. The Arup team also delivered smart building advisory services for the tower, which achieved both LEED and WELL Platinum certifications.

About Arup

Arup is the creative force at the heart of many of the world's most prominent projects in the built environment and across industry. Working in more than 140 countries, the firm's designers, engineers, architects, planners, consultants and technical specialists work with our clients on innovative projects of the highest quality and impact.




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