The Arches of Harlem aims to turn the Riverside Drive Viaduct into a public light-art installation

October 15, 2019

Renderings by Focus Lighting

Harlem-based architectural lighting firm Focus Lighting has worked on some pretty impressive projects here in NYC, from the Times Square ball to the Waldorf Astoria. But they’re also getting involved in their local community, thinking about how they can transform the Riverside Drive Viaduct–a 50-foot-tall elevated steel roadway that runs from 125th to 135th Streets. As the firm notes, during the day, the structure’s grand arches serve as a picturesque background to the neighborhood and the Hudson River, but at night, they “go completely unlit and unutilized.” Their proposal, called The Arches of Harlem, seeks to incorporate a new programmable lighting composition every three months, each one “inspired by select works of historic artists and emerging local talent.”

When the Riverside Drive Viaduct was constructed in 1901, it was an incredibly impressive feat of engineering (the girders over 125th Street were the largest ever built at the time). To celebrate that, its design was intentionally ornamental, which is why its 25 arches lend themselves so beautifully to illumination. “It is rare to find such architecture; these perfectly symmetrical, 50-foot-tall arches that repeat for half a mile,” explains Focus Lighting Principal Brett Andersen. “The ultimate hope is that The Arches of Harlem can become a tool to educate others about the power of light, and how it alone can transform a structure like the Riverside Drive Viaduct – which, in the evening, becomes relatively mundane – into something incredibly beautiful and impactful.”

If the proposal receives the appropriate approvals, it will add to a burgeoning area of the city. Columbia’s new Manhattanville campus is located directly adjacent to the Viaduct, and a new life science campus is opening nearby as part of the larger Factory District development.


All renderings by Focus Lighting


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