CONEY ISLAND PARACHUTE JUMP
LOCATION: Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
CLIENT: NYC Economic Development Corporation, New York City Parks Department, Brooklyn Borough Presidents Office
TEAM: STV, CAN
Illuminating Engineers Society, NYC Citation
American Council of Engineering Companies of New York
Engineering Excellence Gold Award in Structural Systems
Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award
Coney Island’s world-renowned Parachute Jump tower, modeled after paratrooper training towers, was constructed for the 1939 New York World’s Fair as an amusement ride. In 1941, the 260-foot tower was relocated to Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park, where it attracted half-a-million riders per year. In 1969, after the Park’s sale to the late developer Fred Trump, the Jump was closed permanently and abandoned.
A symbol of Coney Island’s revitalization efforts, in 2005, after the structure was landmarked it was fully refurbished.
Leni Schwendinger was commissioned to conceptualize the tower as artwork. She envisioned a meeting of the popular and the mysterious— emanating from the semi-solid figure of the mushroom-shaped tower. Illuminated iconic models and sources of inspiration ranged from the Eiffel Tower, to the Empire State Building, with its shifting colors to mark public celebrations and occasions as well as dividing urban day from night.
To emphasize the sense of the parachutes climbing and falling, the tower was illuminated in parts from bottom to top. Additionally, an innovative LED fixture was designed to satisfy the client’s desire for an icon that would be seen from multiple vantage points including the Verrazano Bridge. As a proof of concept, an on-site mock-up was orchestrated to observe the fixture from all directions. The bright sparkling LEDs defined the canopy of the tower. The lighting systems were integrated and programmed to animate sequences of colored light.
For optimal audience connection, a calendar of programmed sequences played daily – identifying on-and-off boardwalk season, full-moon cycle, and holidays. During bird migratory season, the lights were programmed to turn off at 11:00 pm, to align with the bird life-saving “Lights Out New York” initiative.
Leni Schwendinger’s artistic vision and the client’s mandate were actualized in July 2006 at a public celebration on the boardwalk—when the Parachute Jump’s starry dynamo of light was seen from the ocean, highway, boardwalk, and neighborhoods all around New York City. The award-winning design was dismantled in 2016.