Continued from February 2013 CITY THEATRICAL INC. Newsletter
If you are driving up the east coast from New York City to Boston it's impossible to miss the bold new lighting on the Stamford, Connecticut train station. The story behind this installation is part of a larger story that is taking place all over the world: LED architectural lighting controlled by wireless DMX. Every municipality wants to be involved with the growing trend of revitalizing their central cities with new lighting, controlled in new ways.
We spoke with one of this project's leaders, Jamie Burnett, about this very challenging and beautiful installation.
Installation crew: Ben Haverkampf, Rich Burkam and Jamie Burnett. with support from Sandy Garnett.
System design: Jamie Burnett and Steve Hamelin.
Proposal Design and Prep: Sandy Garnett, Joy Wulke
Equipment and LED Neon Prep: Supertech crew; Tony Stubbs, Todd Paskin.
Key City of Stamford officials: : Anthony Bosco, consultant city of Stamford; Laure Aubuchon, Director of Economic Development city of Stamford; Rod Frantz Representing the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD); Connecticut Office of the Arts (COA)
CTI: How did this project come about? Who decided that the Stamford train station should receive a modern lighting treatment?
JB: Connecticut put out this request for proposals:
"The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), Connecticut Office of the Arts (COA) is offering City Canvases, a one time initiative bringing mural-based public art into downtown spaces throughout the state of Connecticut. The initiative is aimed to enhance public spaces through the visual arts and to connect the urban regions of Connecticut with a statewide placemaking initiative. Approximately 10 cities throughout the state will be eligible for funding for the execution of mural-based artworks by Connecticut artists."
Stamford was one of the cities listed. Stamford put out it's own request targeting the Stamford Transportation Center. The original proposal was going to be approximately a $300,000 budget, with half coming from the City of Stamford. That would have allowed us to install LED cove lighting in four of the escalators. The curved translucent ceilings would have lent themselves perfectly to a changing wash of light. The plan was to make each escalator interactive with the moving passengers and the oncoming trains to the corresponding platform. This would have been accomplished by using the station’s own cameras run through detection software. Unfortunately the city cut down their contribution and opted for the state money, about a $150,000 budget. This allowed us to accomplish our main goal of lighting the facade of the building
CTI: How were you brought into the project?
JB: I have been living and working in CT for many years as a designer and owner of my own electrical contracting business, Luminous Environments, specializing in the design and installation of theater and studio lighting. We also light and production manage special events. I'm also involved with various local theater companies and arts organizations. For over 14 years I have been a founding member of Projects for a New Millennium, Founded by Joy Wulke.
Over the past 12 years or so we have produced four epic productions in Stony Creek Quarry fusing science and art in a huge visual epic. More recently we have done similar projects on a smaller scale on building facades. Joy had noticed this proposal request for the City of Stamford through the Connecticut Office On The Arts. I said, “Let's go for it.” For some reason the notice barely mentioned a mandatory walk thru date which we had already missed. The proposal request mentioned that you should want to partner up with other artists or equipment providers. Joy sought out Sandy Garnett who had been at the walk thru. I brought in Steve Hamelin of Supertech. He and I have been working together for over 15 years on turnkey lighting system renovation and installations all over CT. We had just been working in Stamford on a TV studio and had Steve come look at the train station. The four of us met and brainstormed at the train station and "Team Light Wrangler" was born.
CTI: How did you decide to use bright horizontal and vertical strips, with washes overlaid on them?
JB: The building lent itself to just this treatment. We looked at other areas of the station to deal with but kept coming back to this prominent facade which could be seen from almost a mile in either direction from Interstate 95. Our newly restricted budget also focused our concentration on this area as Steve and I knew it was probably the only thing that could be accomplished in a practical sense. This part of the building is a huge concrete block with little detail. Unlit, you would not even notice it as its massive gray walls blend perfectly into the darkness.
The building’s only details were its rustic 1 1/2" wide vertical and horizontal grooves formed into the concrete as a design accent. These were prominent (and not very precisely formed) close up but almost invisible from the highway. We suggested that this would look great in neon and work with the architecture.
Last year at LDI I had noticed LED neon products getting better and better. Finally, Steve was able to get samples of an RGB product that was almost indistinguishable from actual neon, even at close scrutiny. No pixels are evident. We tested a small piece and came up with methods of attachment. I knew I needed wire ways to be hidden and these recessed grooves were going to be my wire ways. The flexible silicone encapsulated LED strings were set into an aluminum channel for perfectly straight runs. This channel we first riveted to 16' pieces of anodized aluminum 1 1/2" wide flat stock to perfectly cover the concrete groves and create a wireway to power the other horizontal lines.
I knew that the building would still disappear under the neon if left unlit from the outside so I proposed that we wash light it with ColorBlast 12 Powercore fixtures. We were actually hoping that a reasonably priced weatherproof Source 4 type fixture would be out by the time we were ready to buy so each framed square could be separated. Our budget was nowhere big enough to do that nor did I think it was really necessary. The wash lighting from the outside would be more subtle but would make it look like the building was glowing from within or even that the neon light somehow spilled onto the building surface. We would not have to precisely light the framed squares as the neon would cut and frame the light naturally.
CTI: Were LEDs the only possible choice for this installation?
JB: In my mind there would have been no other way to accomplish this job. In fact I've been waiting for the day when LEDs could accomplish this kind of task. Any other method would be far too maintenance heavy, expensive and power hungry. Installations like this are now commonplace in major cities. This is one of a very small number in CT.
CTI: Were there specific design, budget, time, or physical constraints that you had to work within?
JB: Design wise, we were able to come up with almost exactly what I wanted for the budget. We had researched other media tubes which has a similar look and allow every pixel to be programmed, but they would not fit in the budget.
Our first time constraint was with the September 21, 2012 deadline for a preview event. There was no way to get the installation done by then. But we were able to install the east facade and get it running manually just for the press event that night. After that I had another four weeks to get the rest of it done. We pre-fabbed the 16' Lengths of aluminum channel and flat stock at Supertech. They also precut and wired the ends of the LED Neon. Supertech also prewired eight – 24” x 24" weatherproof junction boxes with LED power supplies and RGB DMX controllers and opto splitters. Rich and I spent two weeks in a 65' boom lift installing the channel assemblies with a concrete fastener every 18", at the same time installing weatherproof cables in the grooves because it could not be pulled in later. We installed the eight junction boxes on the roof and ran the feeder cables through the slots at the roof wall base to each vertical groove. I only had room for a max of five SJ cables to run down the grooves with drop off points along the way to the bottom. We could only power 50' max of LED neon at a time hence we used about 40 RGB controllers. All the segments in one vertical or horizontal line each have the same address so each line works as one.
To light the faces of the building we had to build light stands across the street and next to the highway on the roof of the shuttle and bus center. The roof consisted of 2' x 2' x 2" concrete slabs on roof membrane. We could not nor did we want to penetrate the roof. The stands were made up of 1 1/2" pipe in soccer goal fashion set on square boom bases. and heavily weighted with a third base acting as ballast behind. Conveniently, we were able to feed up and out the side of a roof hatch directly from a power room for our conduit. We used six ColorBlasts per stand and four stands total.
CTI: What was the most challenging part of the design or installation?
JB: The west side and corner of the building had its own challenges as we had to move out from the sidewalk into the busy street paralleling the building with police supervision. The side of the building was over a grassy knoll. Here we installed a window washer type rig to be able to reach that whole side. (Thanks to Lynn Ladder and Scaffolding). The fourth ColorBlast stand ended up in the grassy knoll, still goalpost style but this time with the posts buried 4' in the ground in concrete. We were able to run conduit underground to the building and feed into an existing unused conduit right to a panel. The existing conduit had been used for facade lighting long since removed.
CTI: What drove your choice to use wireless DMX on this project?
JB: When first scouting the building I identified the biggest challenge as integrating the system together. We had to get DMX from the lower roof ColorBlast installation to the control boxes on the upper roof so the system could run from one controller in the lower power room. I have photos of a torturous route through the underground walkway above 100' of finished ceilings past a Subway sandwich shop and the police substation, fishing around a skylight, pulling around and near an elevator shaft, and going up through a nasty chase to the 4th floor and piggybacking other cables passing through a break room and snaking by the nasty looking AT&T cell tower equipment installation, and conduiting through another concrete wall to the roof. This we could do with Ethernet cable exposed, but with no guarantee that someone doing some other installation in the future would not cut or remove our wire along with the mess of other seemingly random wires in the bowels of the building.
I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be great if someone made an affordable weatherproof wireless DMX transmitter and receiver…….in America", and then I remembered seeing a preview of it in a City Theatrical Newsletter and I thought, “That's it... this is what we need.” In fact there was no other choice. It would work out cheaper and more reliably than the alternative of the long and arduous cable run. We were able to use it on a temp basis for the soft opening and install it permanently on each roof with line of sight. It has worked flawlessly since we installed it
CTI: Why did you choose SHoW DMX Vero™ for your wireless DMX?
JB: We used it because Steve and I have used Show DMX before successfully. We only needed one universe or less. I was worried that the AT&T Cell tower array mounted 15 feet higher might cause some problems but it's been working flawlessly.
CTI: Did you do any preliminary testing of either the LED installation or the wireless control?
JB: Due to the quick time constraints our testing of the system was the soft opening or night before while were programming. We had confidence that it would work.
CTI: What impact has this lighting installation had on the Stamford area?
JB: This installation has been a huge hit in the Stamford area and indeed for anyone driving to any part of New England up or down I-95. It can be seen for a long stretch in both directions. Most of the time people are sitting in slow moving traffic. It feels great to be able to brighten up their commute. Stamford is the gateway to New England and they feel this installation has put them on the map. Their goal is to present a revitalized downtown. The city officials feel that this is a big visual step toward their goal of presenting the city in a positive light. There are future ideas that tie in with this installation to bring a pathway of lighting into the town from the train station, creating a virtual walkway of light.
CTI: What was your overall experience in working with City Theatrical equipment on this installation?
JB: The Vero was actually the least worrisome part of the entire installation. I thought, “Great, we can buy something that we are sure is going to work. Now we just have to make everything else work.”
CTI: Would you have done anything differently in hindsight?
JB: Some products we used have been tried and proven to be reliable. Others are so new that we can only hope they will be reliable. In some ways this installation is a test case. The LED Neon company who provided us with the material had never had a project of this scale done with their products. They were asking us how to do it. We had to invent some ways to make it work for our needs. I continue to touch up programming. Unfortunately the budget did not allow for setting up a network I could access from the internet nor allow for a camera directed at the building. This would allow me and the rest of the design team to upload programming from home and look at the results online. This is something that the city of Stamford is working on. They in fact want to have this installation live on their website, and in the future perhaps take it to the classroom for students to design special segments throughout the year.
24- Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12 Powercore LED fixtures
2- Data enabler Pro
1- Pharos Controller DMX one universe
2- City Theatrical SHoW DMX Vero Net Transceiver (one set as transmitter, one as receiver)
1400 Feet LED Neon Flex
40- RGB Neon Flex controllers
1- 8 Channel Pathway Connectivity DMX Opto Splitter