Deco after dark
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
Ottawa Power Station tries on its new evening gownPointing and gaping at the emerging charms of the Ottawa Power Station, now nearing the end of its renovation into the world headquarters of the Accident Fund Insurance Co. of America, has been a favorite exercise in downtown Lansing for the past two years.
So far, ogling Ottawa has been a daytime sport. The once-rusty windows gleam in great crystalline sheets and the walls burn with orange and yellow flame. The new strip of lawn on Grand Avenue is bright green and the erectorset turbine crane gantry looming over the main entrance is bright red.
But Grand Avenue motorists and River Walk pedestrians glimpsed a new dimension to the project this month, as workers tested a $225,000 exterior lighting system that will drape the former plant’s rugged shoulders in soft, luminous folds. The testing is expected to continue for a few weeks.
One of those spectators was architect Paul Jacob, who led the design and planning team for the Christman Co., the project’s lead contractor.
“I’ve gone across the river and seen this building come alive at night and glow,” Jacob said. “What it’s doing visually to that part of the city is dramatic.”
All buildings, Jacob said, change character when the sun goes down. After dark, the muscular Ottawa plant will show a softer side.
“When day turns to night, the lighting will change the perception from this massive brick building into one that’s very light and airy and graceful,” Jacob said.
The lighting accents the vertical thrust of the 1939 Art Deco building, with its step-up form and black-to-orange-to-yellow masonry meant to evoke a giant flame rising over the river.
The lights are most dramatic on the building’s massive east and west faces. When the system is fully operational in the spring, slim pillars of light will beam upward from the ground, where the building is broadest, echoed by another bank of vertical beams at the topmost, narrowest slab.
By day or night, the plant’s east and west walls are the most conspicuous, but the lighting design doesn’t stop there.
“This is a four-sided building,” Jacob said. “We also have the skyline sides — the north and south ends that aspire to the sky.”
These will be lit from top to bottom, partly because the Ottawa plant’s windows are shaped like the plant’s slim silhouette. At night, the windows, lit from within, and the north and south faces, lit from outside, will sound towering variations on the same theme.
To Jacob, the design “seemed to express the very essence of the building, what it was trying to aspire to.”
He said the overall effect will be enhanced by the glassy new annex to the north of the former power plant.
“You have a glowing, transparent glass box, so light next to the massive brick tower, a horizontal jewel next to the vertical orientation of the power plant,” he said.
But there’s an environmental price for looking that good.
Christman Co. and the Accident Fund will apply for LEED, or Leadership in Energy Efficient Design certification, for the Ottawa/Accident Fund project, but nobody expects the project to earn any points for those extra towers of light.
“The LEED people would prefer we
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However, the lights at the former Ottawa plant are heavily shielded and pinpointed to minimize light pollution.
“We tried to follow the intent of the credits, understanding that we probably wouldn’t get them,” Gardi said.
“That’s a really big building with a lot of interior lights,” Gardi said.
A strong night presence, Jacob said, will make the building a “fulcrum” of downtown activity, and Gardi agreed.