Fairfield Inn and Suites and Four Points by Sheraton are two neighboring hotels located in New York City's iconic hub: Times Square. In an area overwhelmed by towering architecture, extravagant displays, and incessant crowds, the hotels' original owner, the Lam Group, knew the twin 33-story structures needed a striking exterior element to make them stand out from the fanfare. The solution, devised by Gene Kaufman, principal architect at Gene Kaufman, Architect, and lighting designer Anne Militello, was an intricate jewel motif, created with a medley of custom architecture and color-changing LED lights, that plays on the glitz — rather than the garishness — of Times Square.
Kaufman and the Lam Group, which sold the hotels mid-way through the project to the very supportive Gehr Development, initially approached Militello based on her award-winning work for landmarks throughout the city. Their original idea, to illuminate the collection of water towers on the hotels' roofs, quickly transformed into a full-fledged integrative design plan: the team would create visual unity between the adjacent building tops — and the outside of Fairfield Inn's central elevator shaft — through a "jewel" installation. First, Kaufman and his crew built custom metal frameworks around the water towers, creating a crown of six 20 ft x 20 ft (6 m x 6 m) cubes for Militello to illuminate. They installed similar stylized squares up the length of the elevator shaft fašade. Kaufman backed the frameworks with frosted Plexiglass and adorned them with raised rectilinear shapes to mimic the look of jewels. When it was time for Militello to fill the frames with rich color and stunning effects, she turned to a comprehensive lighting solution from Philips Color Kinetics.
To project that telltale jewel gleam from the hotel roofs, Militello first created a digital LED screen. She strung strands of Philips Color Kinetics iColor Flex SLX (now specified using iColor Flex LMX) horizontally across every visible side of the crown, using a total of 210 strands (1,600 nodes). For the strip of jewels running up the center of the fašade, Militello installed 840 iColor Cove MX Powercore fixtures.
After fabricating the jewels, Militello was faced with a daunting task: programming the sweeping installation. Typically, Militello does the bulk of her programming live, drawing inspiration from the feel of the space. But the steep angle of the installation prevented her from using traditional methods.
Unwilling to sacrifice her preferred approach, Militello devised a unique workaround: with the help of Gehr and systems integration company PRG, she secured access to a top-floor conference room in the McGraw-Hill Building, a 35-story skyscraper located across the street. From there, Militello, programmer Wes Hacking, and PRG's Rob Tooker set up an advanced system of on- and off-site networks to access a Philips Color Kinetics Light System Manager controller, located in the basement of Fairfield Inn — programming the hotels' lights from over half a mile away.
Now, the hotels display a rotating program of nightly light shows dynamic enough to draw the attention of tourists and residents. A typical weeknight display — soft, glowing bars of solid color — gives way to splashy patterns and bold movement on the weekend, mirroring the city's sleepless nightlife.
Militello is thrilled with the system's quality, durability, and precise control over individual color-changing light points, which allowed her to perfect the elaborate installation's nuances. "The installation lives outside. It's constantly exposed to the elements — it's very hardy," she said. "And there's such capacity for individualized control, it's unbelievable."
But Militello is not the only one impressed by the jewels' impact. The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) bestowed the installation with a 2010 International Illumination Design Award, and residents have personally thanked Militello for the vibrant addition to the area. "Everyone looks forward to seeing the displays. People tell me the lights make them happy," she said. "They have become a really important part of the environment."