Waterfront Magic: Plexineon Luminaires Light Up The Wharf

The lighting designer for The Wharf, Debra Gilmore of Gilmore Lighting Design, conceived of the idea of floating illuminated rings as a signature element of this multi-billion dollar redevelopment.

Perched along the Potomac River, within a short walk of the National Mall was a mile-long stretch of waterfront property underutilized by residents and ignored by tourists. That all changed with a $2.5 billion development that transformed the area into a new and bustling 24-acre neighborhood known as “The Wharf” or “District Wharf.” It is now an attraction for local residents and tourists alike.

Features include concert venues, retailers, restaurants, hotels, residences, businesses, and the restored, historic Oyster Shed, now part of the new Washington Fish Market, and adjacent to the floating Municipal Fish Market, the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the United States. The main public plaza is the perfect spot for taking in the scenic views, both of the water and also overhead, where fifteen rings of iLight Plexineon seem to float aloft at night time.

A close up of a Plexineon Catenary Vertical Ring.
One Design Challenge (of Many)

The idea for the floating circles of light was conceived by Gilmore Lighting Design after the firm was brought onto the project by landscape designer LAB.

Debra Gilmore, president and principal, utilized layers of light for the different scope locations (architectural, landscape, and site) to establish a visual hierarchy relating to activity within the locations. One challenge was selecting entry plaza lighting. Functional light using a minimal energy footprint was needed, and Gilmore wanted to create a solution more unique than typical festoon string lighting.

“Our philosophy and attitude about solving egress lighting is to also create a beautiful night environment,” Gilmore says.

The Gilmore team developed an innovative entry solution, comprised of an angled catenary system using suspended, glowing custom LED rings that provide functional egress illumination, while adding an artistic moment and a memorable site location by day and night. When they pitched their proposal, it was met with enthusiasm. Next came bringing the rings to life.

An additional challenge was that Gilmore and her team were brought aboard in the final stages of the project. With a sign on the construction site counting down the days to completion of the project’s first phase, a deadline was looming.

Fortunately, Gilmore already had a product in mind to form the circles. She had used iLight Plexineon on previous projects, where curved fixtures were always mounted to a surface. She hoped iLight could help her create the circles—and suspend them.

“I sent iLight drawings and they responded quickly,” she says. The iLight team confirmed that Plexineon could be bent to form the circles and suspended from aircraft wire. With all of the cables angled, rather than horizontal, a custom mounting would be needed. Gilmore and her team also worked with iLight to determine electrical component sizes and how the connections would work.

Photos can’t do justice to the optical richness of the rings reflecting on other surfaces.
The iLight Advantage

The close collaboration paid off when it was time for installation, which went smoothly. The result is a stunning feature that creates a formal, monumental pedestrian entrance to the fish market and serves to attract both business tenants and customers. “I was thrilled. It’s a gem. It’s iconic,” Gilmore says.

Something she could not have predicted was how well the light of the Plexineon luminaires would work within the context of all the surrounding elements.

“During design, building tenants adjacent to the entry were unknown. A Tiki bar added a lot of colored lights that reflect on the rings in a unique way,” Gilmore says. The way the Plexineon Rings interact with blue lighting along a nearby overpass is another happy surprise. “The reflections are really fun,” she adds. “The serendipitous quality of light never ceases to amaze me.”

Gilmore is glad that, once again, she turned to iLight to help make her vision reality. “iLight has always been very supportive of lighting designers. They made it easy to work with them from the very beginning. Plexineon is a playful product. I was an early adapter.”

Gilmore’s success on the project was recognized by the industry—the project won a DC, IES Illumination Award of Merit.

All involved in the project were thrilled with the final outcome.