Gene Leahy Mall is a newly renovated park in downtown Omaha, Nebraska that was originally built in the 1970s. The new design focuses on creating a modern, safe, and welcoming space that is accessible to all both day and at night.

To achieve this, the design team collaborated closely to ensure that the daytime character of each space was expressed after dark.

The west end of the park, home to the main lawn and the playground, is more active and highly programmed, while the east side has dog parks and relaxed seating areas that are more spread out. To reflect this transition from high energy to low energy, the lighting treatments are more plentiful and dramatic at the west side and gradually diminish to a simpler, more subdued mood at the east side.

Visual comfort and preserving night vision were identified as critical elements, so all fixtures were carefully controlled and aimed. The design team took extreme care to manage glare and contrast. Pole-mounted fixed area lights use custom integral honeycomb louvers, adjustable accents have deeply regressed lenses and angled shields to reduce glare and sky glow, and most fixtures are aimed so the top of the beams are no higher than 45 degrees.

While pole-mounted lighting provides much of the general illumination, additional lighting details are integrated into many features throughout the park to create a cohesive and visually impactful experience. Through close coordination, lighting was integrated into play equipment, shade canopies, benches, swings, and even tunnels in the dog park.

Seasonally changing colored lights create strategic focal points throughout the park. At the performance pavilion the colored lighting is inspired by images of the ever-changing Nebraska sky. Programming at the historic stone arch is based on the colors of specific plants and flowers used throughout the park. At the west end of the lawn, a large sculpture is lit with complementary colors meant to match and to intensify the hues of the artwork. Where the colored lights overlap, they blend into a rich white, a classic theatrical technique. These highlights and shadows help model the sculpture and reveal its undulating curves.

One requirement of the project was to incorporate a series of iconic orange post lights from the park’s original design. These post lights are now arranged around the park’s pond area where they frame this central feature with reflected sparkle. Previously, the post lights were uncomfortably bright, having been lamped with 60w replacement bulbs. These were updated to 2w 200 lumen lamps, reducing wattage by 85% and lowering light pollution by 75%.

Sustainability was a major concern and all light sources in the park are LED and fully dimmable. Uplights were minimized at the darker east side of the park. At the west side, narrow beam optics, louvers, precise aiming, and strategic dimming minimize uplights’ contribution to the night sky.

Thanks in part to thoughtful lighting, the updated park has been embraced by locals and has welcomed enthusiastic crowds both day and night since reopening.


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