Color Me Digital
April 20th, 2007

lights
The color splashed across a skyscraper’s windows in the above image are from the homepage of Color Kenetics, one of the two companies bidding for the contract to digitally light the Empire State Building. The New York Times reports today on tests of competing lighting systems that took place last night:

Think of it as a smackdown between King Kong and Godzilla. Hours before sunrise today, two lighting behemoths faced off at the Empire State Building, vying for a $5 million contract to bring 21st century illumination to New York’s tallest skyscraper . . . .

For decades, only nine colors have been available in lighting the building, deployed by six maintenance workers who braved the elements on the parapets to install — by hand — colored plastic lenses on the tops of 208 old-fashioned floodlights, a job that can take six hours. They worked the color changes 200 times a year.

And a crew changed some of those outmoded lights again and again this morning, on the north facade of the Empire State, to provide a visual comparison for the building’s managers. They were watching the test through the windows of their command center on the 28th floor of an office building at West 38th Street and Broadway.

The color of the new lights will be programmable from a computer console. The L.E.D.s will give off less heat, will last much longer, and probably will be more energy efficient than the current metal-halide lamps.

The competition demonstrates ‘nothing less than the digitalization of an entire major industry, replacing archaic mechanical illumination with smarter lighting,’ said William Sims, president of Color Kinetics, based in Boston, which has illuminated the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles International Airport and the Broadway musical ‘Wicked.’


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