Stamford Train Station, one of the busiest in the Northeast, serves as a hub for Metro North passengers travelling in and out of New York City, and for commuters en route to other destinations via Amtrak. The station's many customers have long bemoaned its drab exterior, which New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger described as "a harshness almost unequaled in contemporary architecture."
Recently, the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Office of the Arts, founded City Canvases, a one-time initiative sponsoring public art installations in downtown Connecticut. The initiative funded the execution of 10 mural-based displays throughout the state by local artists. The City of Stamford was selected to be a part of the initiative, and chose to use the funding to redefine the exterior of the Stamford train station.
The City of Stamford announced a competition encouraging local artists to reimagine the station as a large, blank canvas, and to submit designs using light as a medium. Sandy Garnett, a local sculptor and painter who began his career in professional fine art in Stamford, assembled the winning team selected to redesign the station, Team Light Wrangler.
"I have always found the Stamford Train station interesting for its utilitarian minimalism, so my greatest concern was to respect the architecture first and foremost," commented Garnett.
The design team decided to use light to highlight the building's modern, severe lines, rather than changing the architecture of the building.
Garnett worked with Steve Hamelin of Supertech and Joy Wulke and Jamie Burnett, of Projects for a New Millennium, to reinvigorate the station. Because the team was restricted to the $155,000 grant they received from City Canvases, they chose to use energy-efficient, cost-effective LED lighting to illuminate the station's façade.
The final design called for LED strips, resembling thin neon tubes, to be inlaid in the subtle vertical and horizontal grooves etched into the concrete of the building's exterior walls. However, the design team did not think that these accents would be dynamic enough to give the train station an iconic nighttime presence. The team decided to install multi-colored wash lights to complement the strip lights and make the building appear to glow from within.
Because the façade of the building is completely flat, lacking any architectural recesses, the color washing effect bathes the station's exterior walls with sheets of color.
Team Light Wrangler created the desired wash lighting effect using 24 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast Powercore fixtures. The team built four "light stands," constructed of pipes and resembling soccer goals, which were affixed to square bases on the roof of the building across the street. They then mounted six ColorBlast Powercore fixtures on each stand, and positioned them to cast colored light onto the station.
Both the Philips Color Kinetics fixtures and the LED strips, powered using two Data Enabler Pros, can be integrated to create a coordinated lightshow. The transformation garnered a favorable review in the New York Times article "At Night in Stamford, Drab Train Station Dazzles."
"Stamford is the gateway to New England and they feel this installation has put them on the map," said lighting designer Jamie Burnett. "Their goal is to present a revitalized downtown. The city officials feel that this is a big visual step toward their goal of presenting the city in a positive light. There are future ideas that tie in with this installation to bring a pathway of lighting into the town from the train station, creating a virtual walkway of light."
The newly illuminated station, which is highly visible from 1-95, has become a colorful beacon for commuters travelling between New York and Boston.
The Americans for the Arts Public Art Association Network recently recognized the Stamford Train Station's new lighting design among one of the Top 50 Public Art Projects in the USA of 2012, naming it one of the most compelling public art projects on the East Coast.