It’s a holiday tradition for David Ziolkowski and his family: They brew up cups of hot cocoa. Drive 10 miles an hour in the family car and stare at the Christmas lights brightening their neighborhood.
This isn’t surprising. Lighting is an important part of Ziolkowski’s life. He is the architectural lighting designer at architecture firm HOK, which has Midwest locations in St. Louis and Chicago. Ziolkowski spends his working days determining how best to light up some of the most important buildings in the Midwest.
And this time of year? Exterior lighting is more important than ever.
“We are coming upon the longest night of the year. Lighting has a big impact this time of year,” Ziolkowski said. “Lighting can make or break your experience. You drive around in December at night to see how light reflects off the cold air, surfaces and snow. Think of how lighting impacts your experience at restaurants and hotels. There is a reason why you go into a fine dining establishment and it’s the lighting that sets the mood and the tone.”
Lighting is critical to the skylines of cities across the Midwest, from Chicago’s famed skyline to lesser known but equally stunning ones in cities such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Milwaukee.
“Architecture is fantastic during the day,” Ziolkowski said. “It can stand on its own. At night, though, the architecture disappears and the lighting becomes the focus. Think about a couple of years ago when New York City had a major power outage. You saw pictures of the city at night and it was unrecognizable.”
HOK’s lighting group has lit some of the most famous structures in the Midwest. In Chicago, HOK refined the lighting at the Wrigley Building in downtown. This structure has been a lit one since its dedication in 1921. But the building’s lighting had been “trespassing” on neighboring structures. HOK designers changed this by designing new floodlighting that enhances the building’s famed horizontal parapets, vertical pilasters and unique details.
In Cincinnati, HOK’s lighting group lit the 41-story Great American Tower. This building is the tallest in this Midwest city and has redefined its night-time skyline. The most notable feature? It’s top tiara that features white-painted steel tubes illuminated by rooftop skylights.
The Valentine Apartments in Kansas City are another lighting success story for HOK. This landmark was renovated in 2010. New lighting was included. The building’s canopy design now features neon Valentine letters. Metal halide lighting grazes the building pilasters’ brick surfaces, while lighting at the structure’s terra cotta at its base creates a comfortable pedestrian experience.
Ziolkowski is proud of every building he’s worked on. But he’s especially proud of the work he and HOK’s light designers turned in on the Valentine Apartments.
“That building is an area of Kansas City that has been sort of a no-man’s land,” he said. “There’s a greasy spoon restaurant a couple of doors down. It’s in between different trendier neighborhoods. It’s north of Westport and south of everything that is happening in the Power & Light District. But this building is a little gem that stands out. It looks like it could belong almost anywhere. It could be in an Art Deco environment in New York City or Miami.”
And that is the power of lighting.