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Setting the Tone

A Conversation with Linnaea Tillett and Tillett Lighting Design Associates

In 2021, Landscape Forms introduced the Profile line, a collaboration with Tillett Lighting Design. The development of Profile was informed by the experiences Tillett Lighting Design had designing lighting for outdoor spaces. Founder and Principal Linnaea Tillett, Associate and Senior Designer Jeanne Choi, and Senior Associate Janet Garwood share thoughts on the role lighting design plays in defining and enhancing outdoor spaces at night.

While lighting designers are responding to a landscape architect or architect's design, they also bring a unique and essential view of physical space to a project. "'At night' is the world we live in," explains Tillett. "Twilight, dusk, evening, dawn. This is what lighting designers think about, and in doing so, we extend the use of a physical space. We're adding another dimension to the landscape architect or architect's vision. Nighttime has its own tone, its own quality."

Tone is a word that Choi, Garwood, and Tillett use frequently when talking about their work. "We ask questions at the beginning of project to establish a framework," says Garwood. "Landscape architects and architects give us the physical context of the space and then we interpret it to come up with parameters that design space. Where is the site located? Programming? What are the concerns for safety? How are users expected to navigate the space? What are the moods we want to inject into the space? Lighting design encompasses all these elements." 

Tillett Lighting Design Associates creates imaginative, technically innovative and ecologically-sensitive lighting programs for the landscape and built environment - public and private, intimate and urban.
Scale is important to the daytime aspects of lighting design and fixture decisions.

Programming is often created for use of a site during daytime hours, but lighting designers amplify the space with light to give people the ability to use the space at night. "A warm color temperature, for example, sets the tone for a quiet space at night versus an active space," says Garwood. But it's more than tone that goes into lighting the nighttime space. "It's a mixture of our experiences, aesthetics, context, and mood." Adds Tillet: "Our job isn't just to make sure you don't fall on the pathway, it's also about how people engage with the space at night." 

Scale is important to the daytime aspects of lighting design and fixture decisions. "Exterior environments don't have walls or ceilings, so getting a perspective of a space at night is challenging," says Choi. "Form, materiality, and the size of a fixture all help to define a site's parameters. What does the space look like at day? What do fixtures bring to the space? Depending on the size of space and the area we're lighting, scale really plays into our decision on lighting products." 

Light that functions for both daytime and nighttime in meaningful ways is a north star for Tillett Design since most projects have a day and night component to them. The fixtures they select have to address both components. "The appearance of a fixture makes a difference during the day; it is an element of furniture and gives the space character," says Tillett. "But we won't pick a fixture only for its daytime appearance. Nighttime is our measure of what the light fixture does." 

Opened in 2020 in Tribeca, Pier 26 is a 2.5-acre, ecologically-themed pier incorporates native plants evocative of Manhattan's ecosystem before human development.

Tillett, Choi, and Garwood cite two projects that illustrate how lighting design enhances daytime and nighttime experiences and supports the overall vision for a site. 

Pier 26 in Hudson River Park is an ecologically designed park, intended to introduce and educate visitors on the Hudson River estuary and its aquatic life. The park is active during evening hours, so Tillett's Design's nighttime lighting approach played a critical role in a visitor's experience. "The park was designed to be a quiet place with an emphasis on protecting views of the river and the estuary. Our response was a lighting design with low light levels and a warm temperature that is friendlier to both the habitat and restoration of visitors. We avoided poles along the river, opting instead for diminutive fixtures integrated into railings and the deck." But they selected pole lights along the promenades to guide direct visitors as they descend toward the river. Integrated and shielded architectural lighting was selected for outdoor pavilions. Round fixtures complemented a metal shed with circular perforations and linear lighting in another shed complemented its linear wood siding. 

What both Pier 26 in Hudson River Park and Waterloo Park underscore is that lighting design for both daytime and nighttime use calls for flexibility and versatility. That led our conversation to development of what became the Profile light column. "Profile was the answer to lots of questions we had," says Tillett.

"We typically avoid columns on our projects because traditionally they are omnidirectional light sources," says Garwood. "So when we had an opportunity to design a column light, we asked what we would want from a column. We wanted adjustability, the ability to change heights, direct light, among other things. Profile's controlled light source is really what separates it from other columns. It's not omnidirectional."

"And it's modular," adds Tillett. "This fixture can grow or shrink in scale. It's a column, it's adjustable, it's a bollard, it's an area light, but it's always directional. It can define edges in an open area but also give the dual function of wayfinding during the day and lighting at night. It gives lighting designers a family of fixtures to use on a single project."

At a mighty 11 acres, Waterloo Park features a variety of unique spaces to immerse yourself in nature in the heart of downtown Austin.

Waterloo Park in Austin, Texas, has a wide degree of programmatic variability. It includes a performance venue that hosts thousands of people for evening concerts. It required lighting that safely guided crowds in and out of the performance area but also allowed for quiet walks and small gatherings. The site - and elements within it - couldn't restrict views the Austin capitol building. This variability called for multiple approaches to lighting and careful selection of fixtures. "Our lighting design set a tone of respite and offered space for people to take pause at night that was quite a different experience from the fast-paced tone of the performance area," says Tillett.

"Fixtures in the park had to be flexible," says Garwood. "We needed modularity, differing performance capabilities, and fixtures we could point and adjust. We manipulated scale by using fixtures with common aesthetics but changing their heights and sizes. Controls were also helpful in addressing programming variety to adjust light levels depending on the activity," says Choi. "We used pole-mounted lights and wall- and ground-integrated lights and short fixtures that wouldn't obstruct views of the capitol." 


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