Styling a Second Empire: A Light and Sound Experience
Styling a Second Empire was a temporary lighting show installed on Philadelphia City Hall from April to May 2011 as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. To view a video documentary of the project, click here.
This temporary light show featured animated graphics, vibrant, moving, color-changing lights and various illuminated effects intended to bring to life the many intricate architectural details on the tower and south facade on one of Philadelphia's most iconic buildings: City Hall. With inspiration originating from the story of City Hall's architecture and it's history about the city, this "ballet of light" brought City Hall to life. While the sculptures represent the history and culture of the city's many ethnic groups, the building's location in the physical center of town, on William Penn's Centre Square, places it in the cultural, political and historical heart of city life. When it was built, it was designed to be the tallest building in the world; a record it held until 1908. It characterized Philadelphia's optimism, confidence, and perhaps arrogance, as the USA's industrial production center of the 19th century. To this day, it still is the tallest masonry supported building in the world. Its architectural style, French Second Empire, was the style of choice for many great, important buildings to come. Ultimately, the message the light show was intended to convey is that the building, and it's importance, is still very alive today. We have re-interpreted history but have also celebrated the city, its history and it's strength moving forward. We are Styling a Second Empire of architecture and our Philadelphia spirit!
While designing the show, we were able to set light intensity, color, gobo (pattern), shutter cuts, movement and speed, rotation, zoom and finally focus for every cue. Over the course of the 61 minute show we used thousands of different lighting cues to create the effects, each one set to play at an exact second, or fraction of a second, within the embedded music timecode. The automated computerized system was also required to sync with the existing Avenue of the Arts controller. An additional 500 cues were written just to control the lights across those South Broad Street buildings. Over 250 donated man-hours were devoted to writing the programs, which equates to about 1 hour of programming for every 15 seconds of the show. Countless hours of work also went into the load-in of all this equipment, designing of the show, coordination with many different building owners, city departments, and other stakeholders to create this unique piece of art.
For the best view the show, which ran three times nightly for a month during the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts and Lightfair International, onlookers would stand on the median of Broad Street between Walnut and Locust Streets and be immersed in the color changing effects surrounding them along the Avenue of the Arts. This permanent installation on Philadelphia's most artistic street was used to frame the main event and was reprogrammed to coincide with the original score and orchestrated lighting display on City Hall.