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Top Designers Want to Help Light Up Lower Manhattan

By Julie Shapiro | February 3, 2012 7:18am

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — A new project that will bring innovative light shows to lower Manhattan is attracting attention from the city's top designers and architects.

David Rockwell's Rockwell Group, Hugh Hardy's H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and many others sent representatives to a recent meeting on the city's "Illuminate Lower Manhattan" project, records show.

"There is an extreme amount of interest in the creative community," said Asima Jansveld, a vice president at the city Economic Development Corp.

The EDC is offering up to $1 million to the best proposal for a regular outdoor light show in the Financial District — an offer that drew more than 100 people to an informational meeting on Jan. 13.

"I've never seen a response that big to a [request for proposal] we put out," said Ali Davis, assistant vice president at the EDC. "It was standing-room only."

The city proposed the light show as a way to draw more people to the Financial District after dark, enlivening the streets and boosting local businesses.

Design teams can pick any location east of Broadway and south of Fulton and Ann streets, but the EDC is encouraging them to consider lighting up buildings along South Street or near the New York Stock Exchange in particular.

The light display will be a regular weekly or monthly event and could include an interactive piece, with the projected lights changing based on pedestrians' movements or perhaps displaying people's text-messaged thoughts, Jansveld said.

As inspiration, the EDC is looking to show-stopping light displays like the rainstorm projected on the Prague Astronomical Clock for its 600th anniversary in 2010, or the geometrical patterns projected on Frank Gehry's IAC building in Chelsea for the Vimeo Festival and Awards, also in 2010.

The goal is to create an avant-garde art piece, not another Times Square, so no advertisements will be allowed, Jansveld said.

While the EDC is urging applicants to be sensitive to residential buildings — the light show must have the approval of the selected building's owner — some Financial District residents are still concerned that the display will be disruptive, especially if it includes music.

Linda Gerstman, a member of the condo board at 15 Broad St., worried that a light show at the Stock Exchange would keep neighboring children up late at night and would also bother the building's adults and pets.

"If there is a chance that even one apartment would be disturbed by this, we most likely would not approve it," Gerstman said.

Design teams must submit their proposals to the EDC by March 13, and the agency hopes to pick a winner by early summer so the light shows can begin by the end of the year.