West End Square, USA

Image: Chad Baumer Photography

With lighting design from HLB Lighting Design, a next generation-park, framed by an innovative technology trellis, transforms a former parking lot into a lush urban retreat within the heart of Dallas’ Innovation District.

West End Square is a smart park located in the centre of Historic Dallas, Texas, recently rebranded as the Dallas Innovation District. The park has become a testing ground for various technologies within the urban environment, such as WiFi, data collection, smart lighting controls, and remote water management and calibration. At the heart of it all is an intelligent water feature with three distinct operational modes that respond to wind conditions.

The project’s concept was organised around three main activity zones: the Frame, which houses task-focused programmes; the Prairie Gardens, featuring meandering garden pathways for a more relaxed and contemplative atmosphere; and the perimeter footpath providing direct access to the park.

The park’s context, surrounded by multi-family and commercial spaces, called for a transformative lighting strategy that enhanced the human experience while focusing on safety, wayfinding, and sustainability. 

Using technology and activity zones, the park’s overall goal was to create a space residents could use to increase social interaction and work outdoors. This concept guided the lighting design process in creating a balanced luminous environment, while focusing on each task performed within the different activity zones. Responsible for the lighting scheme was lighting design firm HLB, which became involved in the project through a collaboration with James Corner Field Operations; together they share a longstanding working relationship spanning several projects, including the Miami Underline, Metrotech Commons and Ganesvoort Peninsula.

HLB approached the lighting design by combining cool and warm light sources, as well as using a play of intensity and uniformity to define and separate the park’s high activity areas and contemplative moments. The team developed a hierarchy based on important architectural and landscape features worth highlighting, and the unique programme of each area. 

Three main elements were identified, starting with the floating technology trellis, which would become the primary feature and utilise the brightest intensity of light, since it houses most task-related programmes, including ping pong tables, swings, and worktables with integrated power. To keep the trellis canopy completely free of visual clutter, cooler column-mounted direct/indirect sconces illuminate the underside and activities below. 

“The technology trellis allows for a shaded environment under the intense Texas sun,” said Eddy Garcia, Associate at HLB. “The challenge arose from the structure itself; we had limited space to mount various systems, including lighting equipment. We had to carefully coordinate with all disciplines (the Landscape Architect, Electrical Engineer, and Construction Manager) to ensure that when installed, these systems did not make the exposed structure look cluttered. As such, all equipment mounting, wiring, and conduit routing was 3D modelled in advance to provide a clean detail for the trellis.

“Our design intent for the project focused on creating a balanced luminous environment that supported the overall vision for the park. Using warm and cool colour temperatures, not only did we provide task-oriented lighting, but by including an indirect component at the Frame we ensured that the overall architecture was highlighted in a cooler light to not skew the finishes within the Frame. In addition, to correctly detail all the fixture and conduit mounting, all luminaires were custom painted to match the technology trellis and minimise seeing the light fixtures.”

Elsewhere, the footpath was considered a medium intensity and transition zone as the team needed to provide lighting for the street, in addition to the park interior. While for the Prairie Garden, general ambient lighting and low-level nuance lighting layers were introduced to maintain a relaxed, romantic, and warm atmosphere.

A 4000K CCT was utilised for the Frame and the sidewalk; and a moonlighting approach adopted for the Prairie Gardens, which provide a natural and soft wash of general ambient light filtered through canopy trees. The internal central garden was designed with two additional layers. The first layer was achieved through column-mounted adjustable area lights casting a cool wash of light through the garden trees, providing general ambient illumination and dramatic shadow play through the canopy trees. A secondary garden layer is achieved through warm low-level bollards with a 3000K CCT at crucial decision points to enhance wayfinding and tree uplights for vertical illumination throughout the garden.

“Light fixtures were strategically selected based on performance requirements to adequately illuminate the various spaces while minimising glare, energy consumption, and optimised optics to provide the light levels and uniformity appropriate for each task,” said Garcia. “Additional consideration was taken to ensure the integration of occupancy sensors within the light fixtures.”

The park’s programmatic needs and proximity to adjacent properties called for a transformative lighting strategy that not only enhanced the human experience at night but aided in sustainability goals and minimised light trespass.

As a steward to the environment and the various sustainability goals, the lighting design and lighting controls were strategically designed to minimise light spill into adjacent properties and minimise sky glow. Most luminaires were selected with appropriate optics and integrated shielding or strategically positioned, where they were either oriented down or shielded by landscape or an architectural element.

Additionally, a wireless adaptive dimming control system was integrated into the luminaires and trellis to lower energy consumption and minimise light trespass within late-night hours. After hours, the lights are dimmed to 10% intensity, activated by movement detection – an invisible forcefield of motion sensors strategically located within luminaires, signage, and the trellis. The lights then remain on at full intensity until five minutes of stillness. In addition to being 46% below the energy code, with this leading-edge exterior control strategy, the project achieved a 64% reduction of the overall connected load.

“Typically, adaptive dimming solutions (automatic occupancy driven dimming) have been widely used for indoor applications via occupancy sensing, but over the last few years it has become a widely viable solution for exterior applications,” continued Garcia. “Most of the dimming response in exterior environments has been used for street lighting, where the lighting control system dims the light at a specific time during the night. When motion is detected via occupancy sensors, each independent streetlight will dim up in response to the motion as the car approaches that individual light fixture. This technology provides operational cost savings and can also enhance safety. Imagine walking down a long pathway and seeing lights getting brighter. You can already be on alert that someone is coming towards you.”

Commenting further, Garcia said: “Architectural lighting design is a practice where we often engage both sides of our brain – art and science – and I like to say that we create poetry when we find the delicate balance between science and art. While designing, we must abide by local codes and ordinances, as well as best practices guidelines including energy codes, path of egress, or light trespass and sky glow requirements. As designers, we need to interpret these codes and guidelines to achieve the requirements properly, while designing for an inspired human experience. 

“Shadows and the absence of light is critical for exterior spaces as we must balance not only the lighting within our project, but also the lighting in our surrounding environment and how that impacts our design. As we create spaces, we should consider how to incorporate these elements into our designs, and how the end user will interact with them. Think of evenly illuminated, shadowless spaces such as hospital rooms, which start to feel almost sterile and undesirable to be in. Creating safe outdoor spaces through appropriate lighting for the project and community creates a desirable space while also giving a sense of security through visibility by incorporating a balance of horizontal and vertical illumination, long distance visual cues, and excellent glare control, something that we often lose by over lighting spaces. 

“Additionally, by incorporating various layers of lighting through the use of different colour temperatures, a brightness hierarchy, and various high and low-level nuance lighting, we can start using lighting to enhance not just safety, but also wayfinding and placemaking within our exterior environments at night.”

Through the extensive use of BIM modelling, collaboration between the design and construction team, and the use of various IoT technologies, the project sets out to be an example of the future of the urban environment. West End Square provides a venue for community connectivity and interaction in a challenging time of social distancing. Since its opening in the Spring of 2021, the park was immediately embraced by the community and serves as an economic driver for the neighbourhood. The lighting improves visual acuity and supports human wellness, as residents now benefit from access to this safe outdoor space to live, work and play well into the evening.

Reflecting on the project, Garcia told arc: “The resulting project is a beautiful and balanced space for interaction and work. I visited the park after it opened and just sat and observed how users interacted with the park, from people working on their laptops to others walking their dogs or even playing ping pong. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing the impact and life that properly illuminated spaces can bring outdoors. Light can make all the difference.

“I often look at Google reviews and see comments like these that bring a smile to my face: ‘Late evenings, the sun is perched behind a five-storey apartment building. The air is cool. The park is inviting as many visitors stop by to admire its beauty. The park has a calming effect on me, and I am sure others. I could sit for hours. I sat for hours.’” 

www.hlblighting.com