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NYC Little Island Is Even More Magical at Night

Little Island in New York City comes alive at night with the proper lighting.

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The Lighting Doctor, Little Island, Night Lights
Little Island at night is even more magical with landscape lighting.

There is something new along the water’s edge of the Hudson River.  It is a place called Little Island.

No, is not really an island and is not particularly little…but it is something wonderful and it is a bit magical. It is located just off the intersection of 11th Avenue and W 14th Street, near the Meat Packing District. It was the brainchild of Diane Von Furstenberg and Barry Diller. They underwrote the project for $260 million dollars with additional funds to maintain the park for the next 20 years. The projects took almost 10 years to be completed.  It is 2.4 acres but feels much bigger. The island floats above the Hudson River on a cluster of 132 tulip-shaped pilings. These concrete columns rise at different heights from the water to create an undulating topography. It is free to the public but you need to go online to secure a ticket for a timed entry. Thomas Heatherwick came up with the design concept and Arup, an engineering firm, made it a reality. Heatherwick also was the design force behind New York’s Vessel, a 16-story ascendable viewing structure in the shape of an open weave vertical basket. It is located in the newly developed Hudson Yards.
All the landscaping for Little Island was designed by Signe Nielsen of Matthews Nielsen Landscape Architects. Along with the wonderful plantings, pathways and sculptures there is an open air amphitheater for live performances, of which most are free and some will be moderately priced. Little Island is completely wheelchair accessible which feels more like a delightful inspiration than a hindrance to the overall design. Off to the right of the island you can see a series of wooden piles sticking up out of the water.  They are the remains of Pier 54 where the survivors of the Titanic, aboard the Carpathia, disembarked in 1912.
You may be wondering why I am talking about this in a blog dedicated to lighting. Well, that’s because it comes to life at night due to it being expertly illuminated. I could not find a lighting designer of record. If somebody out there has the answer, let me know. Credit where credit is due. Little island is open until 10:00 PM, every day, rain or shine. This is the time to enjoy the park after dark. I visited during the day and then went back at dusk. I was impressed by how subtle lighting was. It did a beautiful job of illuminating the concrete tulips, along with the stairs and pathways, and the plantings.

randall whitehead, little island

The tulip shaped columns (shown above) are illuminated with 3000 K LED spotlights which are located below the boardwalk which connects the island to the city. I liked how not everything was evenly illuminated. This added more in depth and dimension, along with a little bit of mystery to the sculptural underside of the structure. 

Little Island, The Lighting Doctor

The stanchions that you see in the distance (pictured above) are used to illuminate the amphitheater; safe passage and to provide lighting for the grassy hills. Ground-mounted luminaires with flexible multiple heads illuminate the trees.

Little Island Landscape Lighting, The Lighting Doctor

A close-up of one of the ground mounted fixtures (shown above) indicates how snoots have been installed to help control glare. You can also see that the heads are flexible so that they can be repositioned as the trees and other plantings mature. 

Little Island, Wood Steps, Randall Whitehead

The wide wooden stairways (shown above) are so beautifully and evenly illuminated. The linear LED lighting is integrated into the underside of the railing so that the light source visually disappears. The 3000K color temperature keeps the plants looking fresh. A cooler color temperature would feel a little bit too clinical, and a warmer color temperature would make the plants look a bit sickly.

Empire State Building, Little Island, The Lighting Doctor

Halfway up the pathway, leading to the top of the island, you can catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building (shown above).  The illuminated branches create a leafy proscenium for the peekaboo view beyond.

the Lighting Doctor, Bathroom Lighting, Little Island

I even liked the public restrooms (shown above), although I only got to experience the men’s room.  They are tucked under a few of the taller tulips that have been covered in some type of shotcrete. They have been uplit with linear LED lighting which is tucked in above the casework. I felt like I was in a  modern Bedrock City. Younger readers, if you don’t know where that is, it is a Flintstones' reference.  If you don’t know who they are, Google it.

All images courtesy of Randall Whitehead. 

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead is an educator and author on the subject of lighting design. His work has been featured in many magazines, including Architectural Digest, Home & Garden and Esquire. He has appeared as a guest expert on HGTV, Discovery, CNN and Martha Stewart Living Radio.

His Latest book Beautiful Light outlines how to create successful and subtly beautiful LED lighting designs for homes and gardens. Available through Amazon and Rutledge Books.

You can see his entertaining 1-minute instructional videos at furniturelightingdecor.com. And you can follow him on Instagram:  @randall.whitehead


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