Scatterings

Sparkling LEDs Span San Francisco Bay

Patricia Daukantas

Scatterings image

All 25,000 LEDs of the Bay Lights shine on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge during a test run of the art installation.

Starting this week, the gateway to California’s San Francisco Bay (U.S.A.) will shimmer in a nightly show of 25,000 computer-controlled white LEDs.

The public art project, dubbed “The Bay Lights,” is illuminating the western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, a 76-year-old suspension bridge connecting the two cities. Leo Villareal, an American artist known for his large-scale light sculptures, designed the $8 million show, which kicked off 5 March and will run for the next two years.

Villareal’s design incorporates 25,000 dimmable, cool white eW Flex SLX LED nodes from Philips Color Kinetics, spaced 305 mm apart on strands of electrical wires. Working at night to avoid distracting drivers, electricians attached the the LED arrays with plastic zip ties to the vertical support cables that connect the bridge deck to the massive suspension cables.

The artist has programmed the lights, which have 255 brightness levels, to make complex, continually changing designs every night from dusk to 2 a.m. Project organizers say that the patterns will never repeat themselves. With a length of 2.9 km and a peak height of 152 m, the organizers claim that the Bay Lights display is the world’s largest LED light sculpture.

The Bay Lights will consume 150 to 175 kWh of electrical power each evening; at today’s rates, that will cost $30 per day or $11,000 per year. CleanPath Ventures LLC installed a solar panel array in Davis, Calif., to offset the light sculpture’s impact on the regional power grid.

The bridge is about a 50-mile (80-km) drive from the site of the CLEO: 2013 conference in June. If you are in or near San Francisco and wish to see the Bay Lights, check thebaylights.org/view for a map of pedestrian, hotel and restaurant viewing locations.


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