New York’s Empire State Building to Shine in New Colors

New York City’s skyline is about to get brighter when the switch is flicked on an innovative new lighting system for the Empire State Building in September.

As part of a $550 million renovation program, the tower’s traditional light fixtures will be replaced by LED lighting to bring the iconic skyscraper into the 21st century.

Currently, the building has 400 or so floodlights that require a team of several and a day’s work to change, with just 10 colors available. The upgrade will add a computerized LED lighting system with the possibility of displaying more than 16 million colors that can be changed in real time. Building management can also choose to create special visuals, such as ripple or cross-fade effects.

“Currently, it takes a team of approximately seven people more than seven hours to change the covers [on the existing lights],” Jeffrey Campbell, the global director of architectural products at Philips Color Kinetics, which developed the new lighting system, said from Las Vegas during a phone interview with the Jakarta Globe. “Now it can be done with the push of the button.”

Midtown Manhattan’s Empire State Building, standing more than 440 meters from base to antenna with 102 floors, is considered an engineering marvel. It was designed by architectural firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates and completed in 1931. In 1964, floodlights were installed on the top of the building.

The new LED technology has been custom designed and is one initiative of a broader sustainability program launched in 2009 to reduce the tower’s carbon footprint and increase its energy efficiency. The LED lights will also improve the building’s aesthetics when decorated for special events and celebrations in the city.

Jeff Cassis, general manager of Philips Color Kinetics, said it had taken several years of research, preparation and hard work to get to this point — ready to flick the new switch in September. There have been many technical challenges to overcome to ensure that the transition to LED is a success, including refining how to deliver the correct light level and minimize light spill, and avoiding any disruption of the building’s day-to-day activities during the transition period.

“It’s a massive structure and everybody knows what the ESB looks like,” Cassis said. “It is one of the most photographed buildings in the world [and we need to] maintain that.”

One of the biggest challenges, though, will come on the day the project goes live. “The building is not supposed to go dark while this is all happening,” he said.

Four months from raising the curtain on a new era for one of the world’s most recognized buildings, Cassis is confident the transition will go off without a hitch.

Published May 23, 2012 in the Jakarta Globe newspaper.

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