Last night’s twinkling of lights on the new section of the High Line (my little patch is between 22nd and 23rd Streets) made me think about the lighting throughout the park. It was designed by Hervé Descottes of L’Observatoire International, a lighting design firm based in New York. What’s most remarkable — in a city of blaring, flashing lights — is the restraint that Descottes imposed on his design. The chief example of this is the fact that all the lighting is set below eye level. Never on the High Line will you turn away from something because there’s light in your eyes, and never will you quickly turn around to look at something because it’s cast in a spot light. Like great book design you don’t immediately “see” it; it’s so well integrated into the narrative that it only enables it, never overpowers or even suggests itself.
This is a city of big egos, filled with designers and architects whose work constantly pulls at you. “Look at me, over here, see this detail, this brilliant effect.” With the lighting on the High Line Descottes did something entirely different. He lights the path — an important piece of business — and he places soft, lovely, LED lights under the guard rails and here and there amid the plants. It seems at once random and planned, and in any case completely organic to the park’s overall design.
I had no idea what it would look like out there once the new section of High Line opened, and I confess I worried about the lights. Would they pierce the living room window, like the old Chase Bank did before the (even more garishly lit) condo-in-progress blocked it?
Last night the lights popped on for the first time, against a backdrop of rain, thunder, and lightning. There was no one there — no workmen, no tourists — just the twinkling glow against the evergreens. Hats off to you, Mr. Descottes.