SAN FRANCISCO—Upon completion in 1936, the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge was celebrated for its beauty and engineering marvel.
The bridge is the major connecting link for road traffic between San Francisco and the East Bay. At eight miles long, it is one of the world’s longest bridges.
Six months after it opened, however, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed nearby, eventually becoming a world-famous icon, leaving soon the Bay Bridge in its shadow.
Then one afternoon, entrepreneur Ben Davis was sitting at the Ferry Building overlooking the Bay. Being a self-proclaimed ardent fan of the Bay Bridge, Davis suddenly came up with “a way to let it shine again.” A public lighting project was conceived that would enliven the bridge and could be seen from afar.
Davis is the founder of Words Pictures Ideas, the creative agency overseeing communication for the bridge’s seismic upgrade. He spoke at a public policy forum Tuesday at the Chamber of Commerce.
His inspiration will become a reality just after the bridge’s 75th anniversary with The Bay Lights project. The Bay Lights will be the world’s largest LED art installation and will light up the western span of the bridge.
The installation of the ambitious project began last month, after approval by authorities in August and a successful fundraising drive. Since October a team of electricians climb the suspension cables every night to install over 25,000 LED lights on the vertical cables, the highest of which go up 240 feet.
The Bay Lights will illuminate the bay from dusk to midnight and will be visible from San Francisco, but will not to drivers on the bridge.
New York-based light artist Leo Villareal is the creative mind behind the art. Villareal has done extensive work with sophisticated computer-generated light imagery around the world.
For The Bay Lights, Villareal is using software that enables the creation of unique lighting patterns. Since every LED bulb can be controlled independently, he will program complex algorithms that reflect the patterns of wind, water, and the natural environment of the Bay.
The energy-efficient LED lighting will require only 175 kilowatt hours of energy, while the total electricity costs will be just $30 a day, or $11,000 a year.
According to Davis, the project was able to quickly gain support in the San Francisco community. Additionally, it succeeded after only six months in raising $5.5 million of the $8 million needed.
Davis explained that this success was possible because the project has maintained “absolute artistic integrity.” They have resisted the almost “irresistible temptation” to use colored lights and use it for promotional purposes.
The Bay Lights is the “perfect blend for San Francisco … [of] art and technology,” said Arts Commissioner Dorka Keehn, a member of Illuminate the Arts, an organization created especially for presenting The Bay Lights project.
The official opening, a Grand Lighting Ceremony, is scheduled for March 5, 2013. The lights will stay up for at least two years, but could be extended for five years, Davis said.
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