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Photo: NYC Department of Transportation


Photo: Leni Schwendinger 



LOCATION: Sunset Park Brooklyn, New York, U.S.

CLIENT: Design Trust for Public Space, New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), Industry City

TEAM DESIGN FELLOWS: Tricia Martin, Landscape and Sustainability; Quilian Riano, Urban Design; Arup, Technical Lighting

There are 700 miles of elevated infrastructure which creates darkened spaces below New York City’s bridges, expressways, and rail tracks. The New York City DOT intends to develop a set of physical design typologies to reclaim these public spaces. Design Trust for Public Space coordinated a study and pilot program with partners DOT and Industry City tapping collaborative design fellows including Leni Schwendinger for illumination at the Gowanus Expressway at 36th Street and 3rd Avenue.

Underpasses are notorious as dividers between communities and assets such as waterfronts: daytime can feel spooky and nighttime dangerous. Our design includes a light-colored paint coating for comfort and better visibility during the day. The parking configuration was rationalized, and tiles defined a safe walkway. Features include a botanical experiment to cleanse run-off water from the upper-level road surface.

For lighting, we sought to stitch together both geographical sides of the bridge, which lead to and from the Upper New York Bay waterfront and 36th Street subway stop. The lighting scope included focal points such as illumination of the unusual, splayed columns and curved beams, as well as volumetric space illumination for pedestrian waiting and crossing. Additionally, tests were conducted with green infrastructure plants and horticultural lighting.


Illumination, especially the plant lighting, was called out as number one in the list of improvements by the DOT post-installation survey of visitors, residents and local workers.


From the New York Times, “The murky blocks by 36th Street and Third Avenue now have brighter lighting, beautified lighting, beautified walkways and lovely planters to clean the air and filter runoff from the highway above.”

The Design Trust El-Space Toolkit, Strategies for Reclaiming Sites Beneath Elevated Transportation Infrastructure is available to the public. 

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