Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Lighting Little Island

LD Herrick Goldman applies a clean aesthetic at New York’s unique island oasis

by Elation Lighting

An island oasis in the Hudson River west of Manhattan, Little Island @Pier55 is receiving praise as a unique arts area and green getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Made up of 132 pot-shaped planters positioned above the water, the park’s topography holds a lush landscape of rolling hills, walking paths and open lawns. Nestled among the island’s more than 390 species of flowers, trees and shrubs are performance spaces outfitted with Elation Professional IP-rated automated luminaires.

Designed by Heatherwick Studio and landscape architecture firm MNLA, the 2.4-acre artificial island park, funded by the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, is a new public park with performing art as an integrated component. A 687-seat amphitheater with views across the Hudson, a smaller stage for 200 visitors, and an open plaza, are all designed to host a range of programming.

Providing tools, respecting aesthetics

Early in 2020, just before COVID-19 struck, Josh Weisberg of Navolo Audio-Video brought Herrick Goldman onboard the project to help in designing and specifying the lighting systems. Goldman, Founder & Principal Designer at Evoke Collaborative was asked to provide a lighting design that met the demands of a client who placed extreme value on aesthetics. “Mr. Diller did not want anything to distract from the beauty of the project, so we paid very specific attention to keeping a very clean look,” Goldman says. “My job was to not only navigate that but also provide the tools necessary to anyone performing in the amphitheater.”

Goldman worked with Little Island Production Manager Kelsey Martinez and Audio & Lighting Supervisor Patrick Lachance to create both useful and visually pleasing looks with focus points, presets and palettes that incoming designers or park lighting technicians could have at their fingertips. All lighting for Little Island was supplied through WorldStage.

Little Island is an urban oasis of art and performance space created in the Hudson River. Photo by Michael Grimm
Finding the perfect plot

The amphitheater, nicknamed The Amph, sits at the western end of Little Island. The architects designed six masts into the park around the amphitheater, which has a thrust stage 35 feet wide by 54 feet deep with audience on three sides and the Hudson River to the west. Wanting to find an ideal fit for the space and needing a rig that was IP65-rated to withstand the extremes of New York weather, the lighting plot and spec underwent several modifications. “We went through seven or eight different iterations,” Goldman explains, “starting with a more theatrical plot with acting areas. That led to the need for too many lighting fixtures however, which didn’t fit either the budget or the directive of a clean aesthetic.” Following discussions with the client about a ‘leaner and cleaner’ plot, a visit to the WorldStage shop in New York ensued in order to demo possible fixtures. There, Goldman auditioned several luminaires in Elation’s Paladin and Proteus series, eventually choosing the Paladin™, a hybrid LED wash/strobe/blinder with zoom, and Elation’s 50,000-lumen Proteus Maximus™ LED moving head.


Goldman says that instead of putting up a load of PAR cans, which would have looked cluttered, he chose to mount eight Paladins on each mast. “With a three-quarter thrust stage, you have to light from every audience member’s point of view, not just one angle, so you need to cover 270 degrees. Once we mounted the Paladins and turned them on, we zoomed them wide and it covered the entire amphitheater, including the seats, in a giant wash of saturated colors. The throw distance and intensity was incredible,” he said, adding, “Even though you’ve spent a year specifying lights and you’ve been hands on with them in the shop, until they are installed you’re always a bit unsure – but the Paladins worked out great.”


Hung below the Paladin fixtures on each mast are a pair of Proteus Maximus LED moving heads to form a flexible setup that gives guest performers a host of options. “We can have somebody performing center stage and hit them with four Proteus to cover all the angles and still have 8 Proteus to decorate the stage with,” Goldman states. “We can put a gobo in and zoom out to cover the stage in texture, which really adds to the tonality of the scene. It’s really quite beautiful and everyone is very happy.” Throws from the masts range anywhere from 80 to 150 feet with all of the Proteus programmed to focus to any of 16 different areas.

White balance

The designer says one of the first things he does when he starts to create the on-stage look is to build what he refers to as a show white. “Because I’m not the end user and there are so many potential shows coming in there, even a fashion show or a film shoot for example, I want to give them a choice of daylight color, 5600K, 5200K, 4800K, all the way down to 2700K.” When he turned on the Paladins and used his light meter to try to achieve those values, the white balance for each of the light points across the board was excellent. “I knew the CRI would range anywhere from 72 to about 84, which is great for an LED wash, but when it came down to the balance, I thought they might be a little green or a bit pink – but as we played with them, especially adding and subtracting the white LED chip, we got really great color. We were very close to the target each time which made my job much easier.” Then, he says, they turned to the Maximus. “We dialed up the CTO wheel on the Maximus and hit all of the white balance targets so easily that we barely had to dial in any other color to get there.”

The Glade Photo by Michael Grimm
The Glade

With nature and art its symbiotic elements, the island garden offers other smaller areas for even more intimate performances. The Glade, on the south side of Little Island, is a seating and sloped grass area that can accommodate 200. Here, eight Elation SixPar 200 IP™ PAR lights and a pair of Paladins provide simple color-changing illumination for the 16-ft wide stage. The Paladins, used for front light from about 60 feet, can zoom in to someone sitting on a stool or zoom wide enough to cover a band.

Little Island opened on May 21 to praise and applause from local New Yorkers and visitors alike. The new park hosts a range of diverse programming, the majority of it free, with a calendar that includes local artists, headliners, pop-up art experiences and genre-focused weeklong festivals. • • •

Hearing from the operator

Little Island recently completed its first season hosting a wide variety of performance art. We asked the team at Little Island for more insight into the project.

What was the inspiration for the park’s design?

Heatherwick Studio explored the idea of designing a new pier that could draw from the remaining wooden piles from Pier 54. MNLA’s landscape design was conceived as a leaf floating on water – a space that could be both visually surprising and inspiring for New York City.

The two firms combined architectural innovation with a captivating landscape to provide visitors with an oasis from urban life where they could play, relax, imagine and restore.

What needs was this project designed to serve?

We always wanted the park to be a place where people could gather in community. Because of the pandemic we had not anticipated that Little Island would be the location for so many emotional reunions. We have seen tears and embraces of family and friends who have not seen each other in a long time. There’s a lot of joy in that.

How was it determined what sort of performing art spaces to include in the project?

Pier 54 has had a long history with performance. It used to be the Dance Pier for Pride and it also hosted concerts back in the day. The idea was to bring the arts back to that same pier where it previously existed.

Tell us about the type of art featured in the first year.

We presented dance, music, spoken word, puppetry, mime, opera, circus and more. If you can name it, we probably hosted it in our first season.

Why did you decide to use professional theatrical lighting?

We chose equipment specifically to withstand weather and highlight the incredible breadth of artistic disciplines that we host.

What do you think makes the park ideal for performance art?

The beauty of the natural surrounding combined with the unique public aspect of the park make it a truly unique place to enjoy a performance. •

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