Boathouse Row designers discuss plans for massive glow-up

Boathouse Row
Lights illuminate the outline of structures on Boathouse Row along the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, Thursday, March 16, 2023.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia’s Parks & Recreation will be dimming the lights on Boathouse Row on Monday, March 20, for eight months, while the Philly icon undergoes major renovations to its lighting system.

Finding someone incredible for its glow-up was a necessity.

Enter The Lighting Practice, the Philly-based light design professionals, who, at the cost of $2.1 million—funded through the support of the Joanna McNeil Trust and the City of Philadelphia—will replace and re-do the Schuylkill River showpiece with 6,400 individual LED lights and 16 million color combinations.

“The Lighting Practice has been able to be responsive on this special and complex project, undertaking the layout and attachments customized to each of the 15 unique boathouses, while keeping in mind the maintenance needs of the site as a whole,” said Tara Rasheed, Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Director of Capital Projects. “The project needs to be able to operate as one system, while being installed on 15 unique buildings.”

Jonathan T. Hoyle of The Lighting Practice recently sat down with Metro to discuss just what it means to install a new lighting system for an icon such as Boathouse Row.

How long has The Lighting Practice been in existence and what other local totems have you created lighting schematics for?

The Lighting Practice was founded in 1989 as a small Philadelphia-based lighting design firm. Over the last 33 years, we’ve grown, employing a staff of 43 individuals and opening offices in New York, NY, and Dallas, TX.  We look for opportunities to positively impact our local communities through lighting design. A few of our local projects include Philadelphia City Hall’s facade lighting, South Broad Street Avenue of the Arts facades, Lit Brothers Building façade, several projects for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and numerous interior fit-outs of office, healthcare, higher-education, retail, hospitality, and civic environments.

Did the Conservancy have a new lighting design in its collective head and sought a designer to execute that vision, or did you put out feelers to them about a Boathouse Row redesign?

When we started working with the Conservancy, we were asked to review the existing system, which had aged, and to recommend approaches to repair or replace that system. Our recommendation is to replace the system, in-kind, but with more robust protection from the elements, creatures that make their home in Fairmount Park and damage.

What is your opinion of the existing light-scape at Boathouse Row?

The existing system has established Boathouse Row as a notable landmark of Philadelphia. Our goal is to maintain its iconic appearance, while upgrading the system to be more robust and long lasting.

How did you come up with 6,400 individual LED lights and 16 million color combinations?

We will use approximately 6,400 linear feet of RGB color-changing light points, meaning each point of light is comprised of a red, green, and blue LED. These three colors, when their individual intensities are varied, can mix to more than 16 million color combinations, allowing for endless color programming options for Boathouse Row.

When it is all finished in eight months, what will the new lighting’s cumulative effects be comparable to?

The effect will be familiar and maintain Boathouse Row’s beloved appearance, just upgraded. The project is intended to sure-up the infrastructure of the system so that it functions well and can bring joy to Philadelphians for years to come.