Light Switch: Three Creative Lighting Displays

Light Switch: Three Creative Lighting Displays


Sands Bethworks Retained Edifices
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Speirs + Major

When the Las Vegas Sands Corporation purchased the old Bethlehem Steel works in Pennsylvania to build a casino resort, the company decided to preserve the old blast furnace, whose spindly spires, twisting pipes, and hulking tanks had defined the city’s skyline for the past century. In order to do full honor to this symbol of America’s industrial might, Sands hired UK firm Speirs + Major to outfit the old workhorse with a lighting scheme that would bring it to life at night.

“We had a generously open brief from the client to come back with something special,” said Jonathan Speirs. One caveat, however, was that budgetary considerations excluded LEDs. But after Sands analyzed the higher capital costs of LEDs against the longer-term running and maintenance costs of more traditional sources, they decided to go with the LED option. This was good news for Speirs + Major, who found themselves equipped with the ability to control both the intensity and hue of light, allowing for the creation of a narrative scheme.

The designers outfitted the blast furnace with ColorKinetics Color Blast fixtures with a variety of lenses. The fixtures intensify to a peak of color before fading to black, representing the heating and cooling of the steel forging process. The conveyor belts light up in blue first, echoing the journey of ore to the top of the furnaces. Then the furnaces themselves begin to “heat up,” starting with a blue hue that warms to a strong, hot red. This heat permeates through the adjacent structures and chimneys and the heat—or red color—spreads out. The process takes three to four minutes. The red appearance stays for 12 to 15 minutes, and then everything slowly fades to black, remaining dark for four minutes before the cycle repeats. “We felt that the respect and dignity of the edifice for the local population was important, and allowing the edifice to go dark was an integral part of that,” said Speirs.

Aaron Seward

Paramount Center
Elkus Manfredi Architects with Tim Hunter Design

Once one of the most glamorous movie palaces in Boston, the Paramount Theater has been abandoned since 1976. As part of an effort to revitalize the city’s theater district and its own arts and communications curricula, owner Emerson College hired Elkus Manfredi Architects to undertake the redevelopment of the theater and adjacent Arcade Building on Washington Street, in addition to designing a nine-story student performance and dormitory space on an adjacent lot.


The new Paramount Center, which debuted last month, brings back many of the original theater’s art deco details, but adds a new dimension to the structure’s street presence. While the architects restored the Arcade’s 1860 granite facade, they also added an LED screen that would project multistory images behind its 21 arched windows at night. Once the screens— composed of Philips Color Kinetics Flex nodes in a 4-inch-square grid—were in place, Elkus Manfredi commissioned experiential design firm Tim Hunter Design to create the facade imagery.

“It’s a difficult situation, because you’ve got limited areas where LEDs are present, and a lot of architecture around it,” said Tim Hunter president Bill Groener. “But even with a fragmented image, the eye will fill in the blank areas if you give it the right information.” The firm developed a series of tests to learn what fonts and images would read well, and at what speed. They converted films and images supplied by Emerson into vividly colored animations that can be changed according to the event or season: Charlie Chaplin dancing; a red curtain rising on a proscenium stage; a sunny sky. Though nearly invisible during the daytime, the facade brings an air of old vaudeville to the street at night, and next to the Paramount marquee and 7,000-bulb upright sign next door, a vision of theater’s golden age in Boston.

Jennifer K. Gorsche

Light Drift
Schuylkill River, Philadelphia
Höweler + Yoon / MY Studio

Philadelphians are getting reacquainted with their waterfront through large-scale redevelopment projects and community-based events. For Boston-based Höweler + Yoon/MY Studio and their sponsors, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, a temporary, interactive installation became a way for the community to reconnect with the river as well as explore new lighting and technology applications, all timed to coincide with the city’s burgeoning Design Philadelphia festival.



With ten colored seating pods onshore and 90 floating in the dark river, Light Drift becomes a changing and responsive light show on the banks and in the waters of the Schuylkill. Using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, the land-based pods glow with green LED light in their “off” mode, but when approached blink a purplish blue. “We refer to that as the seduction mode,” said principal Eric Höweler. Once seduced to sit on the molded PETG plastic pods, they turn blue, extending in a line from the shore out onto the water. “You have a sense that the Schuylkill is not currently that present in the lives of the people of Philadelphia, so we wanted to attract them to the water’s edge with something that goes from being static to dynamic,” he said.

For Höweler and co-principal Meejin Yoon, the project is a way to explore new technologies and new ways of thinking about intelligent architecture and urban space. “We’re less interested in specific artifacts than we are in building information infrastructures. We treat media as a material,” he said. “You have to assume fairly rapid obsolescence. That’s why temporary projects have a lot of appeal.” He added, “For us, a project like this is only the beginning. It’s modest, but it points to new potentials.”

Alan G. Brake