Catenary Lighting Applications
Gain in Popularity along with
Outdoor Gathering Spaces
More than ever, people are appreciating the outdoors for all kinds of recreation, thanks in large part to a pandemic and a focus on the health advantages of gathering in outdoor settings. Sidewalks, alleyways, parking lots, and rooftops have been repurposed into outdoor restaurants, coffee shops, and breweries. Public urban parks and smaller courtyards have seen an influx of both day and night gathering for all sorts of activities. Common among these outdoor spaces is the need to light them for nighttime use, often in the form of catenary lighting. We talked to a lighting designer, landscape architect, and a Landscape Forms lighting specialist about the in’s and out’s of catenary lighting and its use in enhancing outdoor gathering spaces.
Catenary lighting sends a “come-and-gather message.”
Jill Cody, principal with Dark Light Design, a consultancy for lighting design with offices in Seattle and St. Louis, attributes the growth of catenary applications to an evolving awareness of how people use outdoor spaces. “We have greater expectations about how we spend our time outside and expand it into the evening. People will naturally gather where it is comfortable and inviting,” Cody says. “Lighting designers and landscape architects have many options when it comes to making these spaces look good and function as intended. Pole-mounted lighting, catenary fixtures, lantern-like bollards, and landscape lighting come together to create ‘Instagrammable’ places.”
Jill Cody, principal with Dark Light Design, a consultancy for lighting design with offices in Seattle and St. Louis, attributes the growth of catenary applications to an evolving awareness of how people use outdoor spaces.
Catenary lighting sends a “come-and-gather message,” as Cody describes it, and an ability to uniquely define a space. Ryan Ives, a senior designer and landscape architect with Durham, NC-based architecture firm Little, redesigned a courtyard in a historic area of the city. One of his team’s goals for the project was to open up the space and draw people in by providing views of the courtyard. The pole lighting that had been there previously blocked the courtyard and its tree-lined perimeter. Now strings of catenary lighting “visually clarify the space,” Ives says, and welcome people in
“Catenary fixtures can provide the appropriate lighting for smaller settings without being restricted by pole locations. If you want to bring fixtures down to room scale, you can do that. But you can also provide general lighting within a larger urban space. You can span a wide space without multiple poles breaking it up. The ability to mount fixtures anywhere along the catenary cable provides a great deal of design flexibility.,” says Cody. Cody is quick to remind designers that catenary lighting is just one of the elements that create place. “Lighting is one layer within the design and overall composition. There will be other lighting elements, site elements, and landscaping happening at other scales. What’s great about catenary lighting is that it is flexible and scalable.” In Cody’s experience, catenary installations are a pretty close split between building-mounted and pole-mounted applications. She has also seen projects that mount cables to a building on one side of the site and to poles on the other.
Overhead lighting creates a place within a place, an outdoor room of sorts. The lighting creates a ceiling, and the poles, landscaping, and buildings define the perimeters, or walls, of the room.
While the ambiance created by catenary lighting is often relaxed, there is a fair amount of technical rigor that goes into a successful application. The Landscape Forms lighting team frequently works with clients on designing custom poles to meet codes, strength requirements, span distance, cable tension and weight, and wind and ice loads, among other things. In catenary applications, pole diameters can get large, and the pole itself becomes a prominent element in the site. Chad Gleesing, senior lighting sales specialist, refers to the “delicate balance between what the designer wants the lights to be and what the poles are going to look like.” Reducing the number of fixtures, adding cable sag, or changing cable diameter are some of those balancing acts in achieving the aesthetic the designer wants and the required function and safety.
While the ambiance created by catenary lighting is often relaxed, there is a fair amount of technical rigor that goes into a successful application.
The complexities associated with catenary lighting often require a broader team than a traditional lighting application. Cody worked on one project with a team that included two structural engineers: one for the portion that mounted the cable to the architecture and another for the cabling requirements. As for pole-mounted applications, “A catenary pole isn’t a typical lighting pole. These projects take a lot of coordination; communicating early and often is important,” says Cody.
Lighting designer Jill Cody sees a connection between indoor pendant lights and outdoor catenary lights. “People intuitively understand that both fixture types are welcoming and inviting; catenary fixtures signal that here is a social gathering space.”
Selecting the appropriate catenary fixture first depends on what light levels the designer wants for the space. “We start with our design goals and then consider the surrounding architecture, any mounting constraints, and the height of the fixture,” explains Cody. Cody selected Tumbler catenary fixtures for a recent courtyard project that spanned 80 feet between the two buildings. “Our goal was to light the courtyard with a soft light that evenly lit the ground. Without the interruption of poles, our client has a great deal of flexibility for programming within this open space. The fixture and the mounting selection were scaled appropriately for the size of the courtyard.”