Light Bridges |Midway Plaisance, Chicago by ames Carpenter Design Associates with BauerLatoza Studio

from contractor website:

B&A is currently providing pre-construction services for The University of Chicago’s Midway Crossings project.The project includes the construction of a series of state-of-the-art pedestrian walkways located throughout the Midway on UofC’s historic hyde park campus.Pre-construction has included budgeting and mock-ups of the 50-foot tall light masts that will illuminate the Midway for students and residents.

The University of Chicago Midway Crossings

The University of Chicago Midway Crossings


posted by Blair Kamin 08 March 2011:

Right out of ‘Star Wars,’ a new way to light a path at U. of C.; 40-foot-tall light masts inspired by Olmsted’s vision for the Midway

You’ve heard of the Bean? Meet the Light Sabers.With a nod to the glowing weapon of choice in the “Star Wars” duels between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, University of Chicago students have pinned that affectionate nickname on the new, 40-foot-tall light masts (left) that traverse the Midway Plaisance.The stainless steel masts, which emit spectacular shafts of white light, are the most visible elements of a nearly-complete, roughly $8 million streetscape upgrade that has added lighted railings and widened sidewalks, making the once-daunting act of crossing the Midway feel safer and more pedestrian-friendly.At night, the masts evoke the storied, brilliantly-illuminated “White City” at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in nearby Jackson Park, where millions of Americans were introduced to street lights. And they are a huge improvement on the still-widespread Chicago street lights that cast a weird, yellow-orange glow.To see a simulated animation of the Light Bridges at the University of Chicago, clickhere, and go down the page to “Video Animation of Midway Crossings.”

“It’s better than just lamps,” said graduate business student James Bain as he crossed the Midway last week.

“They’re definitely growing on me,” said second-year student Claire O’Grady.

Located on Woodlawn and Ellis Avenues as those streets cross the Midway, the new features (left) were principally designed by New York artist James Carpenter, who worked with Chicago architects BauerLatoza and lighting consultants Schuler Shook. The design’s singular strength is that it is neither a precious work of public art nor a nuts-and-bolts piece of infrastructure, but an enlightened combination of the two, one that takes a major step toward turning the Midway into a bridge rather than a barrier.

Indeed, University of Chicago officials refer to the project (below) as the Light Bridges, a reference to landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s long-ago vision for the Midway.

Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park, wanted the sunken mid-section of the Midway to be a canal linking the lagoons of what are now Jackson and Washington Parks. But his dream, which called for the canal to be spanned by actual bridges, was never built.

Making the Midway more welcoming to pedestrians has taken on a high priority, particularly as the university expanded its presence south of the Midway, including a dorm that opened in 2009. For years, the greensward has formed a kind of demilitarized zone between the U. of C.’s cloistered, neo-Gothic quadrangles to the Midway’s north and the hard-edged, sometimes-dangerous Woodlawn neighborhood to its south.

“It’s a large distance, hard to cover in winter,” said Carpenter. “Anything you can do that suggests continuity and breaks down the scale, it makes an individual’s movement much more pleasant.”

He’s largely accomplished that aim with the light masts, which emit light for almost their entire length, unlike a conventional light post, which only sends light from the top down.

Each mast’s exterior consists of a base of stainless steel and a weave-like wrapping (above left) of the same material above it. The base conceals a metal halide fixture that shoots light upward through an inner plastic tube. When the fixture burns out, maintenance workers will slide the base upward to replace it. The design also allows the sun’s rays to penetrate the tube and to refract light, giving the masts daylight sparkle.

Like all good architecture, this design works well at different scales and serves purposes both practical and aesthetic.

The masts have a strong presence, but not so strong that it disrupts the Midway’s openness. They also build a visual bridge between the verticality and delicacy of neo-Gothic university towers like Rockefeller Chapel, which rises north of the Midway, and such steel-and-glass campus buildings as Mies van der Rohe’s School of Social Service Administration, which sits to the Midway’s south.

As one comes closer, the Light Bridges, true to their name, take on a subtle, bridge-like configuration as they pass over the Midway’s sunken middle zone. Their newly widened, curving sidewalks cantilever beyond their underlying superstructure. And when accent lights wash the overhangs at night, the walkways seem to float, making the suggestion of Olmsted’s un-built bridges unmistakable.

The extra-wide sidewalks encourage students to travel in groups, which should make them feel safe. The masts themselves (left) add to this sense of security. They create a rhythm and a series of visual focal points that used to be missing from the Midway. And they shine outward as well as downward.

“They provide greater lighting on the vertical surface of people’s faces,” said Schuler Shook partner Jim Baney. “If the light goes straight down, only to the pavement, you don’t feel as safe.”

Stainless steel railings, lit with LEDs, further break down the project to a human scale. Planter boxes separate pedestrians from car traffic, and they have a dynamic, curving geometry that relates well to the curving sidewalks, distinguishing them from Chicago’s coffin-shaped planters.

Still, there’s room for improvement. A third Light Bridge is needed at Dorchester Avenue, to the east of the present two, and rumble strips or cobblestones would do a lot to slow down the drivers who treat the Midway as a drag strip. Even so, this project stands as model for how lighting can change our perceptions of a moribund urban zone and bring it new life.



(Tribune photos by Brian Cassella)

from University website:

Construction of Midway Crossings

The Midway Crossings project is a series of streetscape improvements at the major intersections of Ellis and Woodlawn Avenues reaching from 59th to 60th Streets. The design is inspired by the original Frederick Law Olmsted concept of the Midway Plaisance as water link between Washington Park and Jackson Park with bridges traversing the Midway. Key design elements include lighting masts, railing and retaining walls providing sidewalk-level lighting, and landscape elements separating pedestrians from vehicular traffic.

Renderings courtesy of James Carpenter Design Associates

Project Manager: Desiree DiLucente
Architect: Bauer Latoza and James Carpenter Design Associates
Construction Manager: Bulley & Andrews

Project contact: Desiree DiLucente,

Past Milestones:

  • August 2010: Site mobilization
  • September 2010: Placement of barriers and delineation of temporary sidewalks and accessible routes; site demolition began

Upcoming Milestones:

  • Spring 2011: Target for project completion

Rendering – Night View Looking East

Rendering – Day View Looking East

Ellis Avenue – Construction Site and Temporary Barriers

Ellis Avenue – New Sidewalk Construction

Rendering – Midway Crossings




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