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Lighting of buildings makes downtown sparkle

Rochester’s nighttime skyline is undergoing a colorful transformation.

Many of our region’s most recognized and revered buildings feature newly installed or renewed exterior lighting schemes. Some are valued historic buildings and others are more modern structures. Taken together, this assemblage of edifices forms a striking tableau against the night sky, showcasing a newly emerging sense of energy.

This effect does not come close to the theatrical impact of lighted buildings in other cities known for their night skylines. Yet Rochester’s has emerged as a sophisticated celebration of both its historic buildings and its newer, revitalized structures.

There is a sense of pride inherent in tall buildings. The act of building upwards speaks to the value of the property being built upon, its location and the concentration of human activity it represents.

Beyond this, though, integrating exterior lighting into these buildings represents an even higher level of commitment. Undertaking the design and installation of this kind of special lighting involves many factors, among them:

 The inherent architectural quality of a building;
 Whether a building has achieved “iconic” status;
 The required cost of a worthy lighting installation; and
 The commitment of the owners to reinforcing a building’s contribution to the city’s image.

Sometimes lighting is added to buildings for dramatic effect. Other times the lighting is particularly well conceived to emphasize and celebrate the building’s best architectural features. Lighting may highlight the entire architectural form of a building or the way in which the building is capped at its highest, most visible point.

Taking these factors into account, here is my top 10 list of Rochester’s most prominently and effectively lit structures:

10. Xerox Square: In 2015, Buckingham Properties added a light display to all four corners of the building’s roof. Xerox Tower now sports what appear to be jets of light spraying downward, making it appear much more dynamic than its familiar brooding form during the day.

9. Tower 280: This newly recast assemblage of boxy building forms are traced with bright lines of changing color. LED lighting has been integrated into the building’s newly added features on the lower floors, making window sections pop with an architecturally framed halo effect. This installation brings renewed attention to a signature building we had previously viewed in a much different way.

8. Temple Building: Originally conceived as a combined Baptist Church and office building, the architecture of the 14-story building culminates in a truly matchless rooftop structure. Costanza Enterprises’ investment in new lighting at the building’s rooftop and spire is clearly visible from the Eastman Theatre Cultural District and has added to the street life on performance nights.

7. One East Avenue: The backlit translucent panels between the columns at street level have always been a striking element of the building. New owner Gallina Development Corp. now has added lighting that emphasizes its unusual corrugated roof cap, reinforcing its midcentury modern architectural character.

6. Legacy Tower: Built in 1995 as Bausch & Lomb’s World Headquarters, this major building plays up its unique roof shape. A defining tall building on the skyline, lighting played an important part in the original design and features each of its four pediment faces.

5. Powers Building: First constructed in 1868, this building has one of the most richly ornamented facades in the city. Daniel Powers’ effort to continuously maintain the building’s status as “Rochester’s tallest” resulted in a tiered progression of ever-higher stories. The Ashley Companies’ significant investment in lighting the upper stories and signature flagpole celebrate the building’s stature and distinctive place in Rochester’s history.

4. Rundel Library: A dramatic all-LED lighting system accentuates the building’s prominent architectural presence along the Genesee River. A changing color display covers the classical building’s envelope, allowing the city to alter the lighting effect to coin-cide with local and national observances.

3. Rush Rhees Library Rotunda: While not immediately downtown, the University of Rochester campus is connected via the Genesee River. The lighting of this city icon has been completely redesigned and is a beacon for the entire region.

2. The Statue of Mercury: This sculptural emblem, completed in 1881, was initially placed atop the Peerless Tobacco Works factory. The statue was salvaged and put into storage when the original building was demolished. A new tower, designed to support and elevate the restored statue, made Mercury the symbol of Lawyers Cooperative Publishing (now Thomson Reuters). It has since gone on to meet the definition of “iconic.”

1. The Times Square Building: Over time, the Wings of Progress have become perhaps the most recognizable element of the downtown skyline. Designed by architect Ralph T. Walker, this beautifully expressive sculpture is integral to the building’s depression era architecture. Its four, six-ton, cast-aluminum wings were originally lit to express the bank’s continuing optimism during the Great Depression. Owner Richard Calabrese Jr. recently unveiled an impressive lighting installation that resets this aspirational message for a new era.

The best of these lighting projects enlivens our built environment and creates a magic that contributes to the quality of urban living. The next time you find yourself walking our city streets at night (an increasingly enjoyable activity), stop for a moment to appreciate the character of our “signature” buildings and the pride of ownership they represent. It is yet another indication that Rochester is, in its own inimitable way, on the rise.

Jim Durfee is vice president and design principal at Bergmann Associates. An architect and past president of American Institute of Architects-Rochester, he can be reached at (585) 232-5135 or at jdurfee@bergmannpc.com.

11/18/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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