Magazine article Sunset

Big-Scale and Bright, Architectural Lighting Makes a Bay Area Comeback

Magazine article Sunset

Big-Scale and Bright, Architectural Lighting Makes a Bay Area Comeback

Article excerpt

Big-scale and bright, architectural lighting makes a Bay Area comeback

Rudolph can rest his red nose this year. In the Bay Area, other bright landmarks can help guide his master's sleigh through December's night sky. Urban architectural lighting will create a series of nighttime pageants, with buildings swathed in the beams of powerful spotlights, or wrapped--like immense Christmas gifts--in ribbons of incandescence.

Rediscovering the pleasures of radiance

Recent anniversary celebrations have sparked renewed interest in several Bay Area landmarks, and, with the energy crisis at least temporarily in abeyance, outdoor architectural lighting has become a popular way to put our cities in a festive mood. But this new radiance is really the rediscovery of an old idea.

In 1915, with the opening of the Panama Pacific International Exposition in what was to become the Marina District of San Francisco, the Bay Area saw for the first time the stunning theatrical effects that could be created by illuminating building exteriors at night.

One of the fair's most famous lighting effects, known as "The Burning of the Tower,' symbolized the burning of San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906. Searchlights swept across the tiered and columned facades of a 20-story classical wedding cake of a building, flashing from thousands of large, gyrating, mirror-backed, colored-glass "jewels.' Ruby lights concealed behind columns suffused the structure in a ruddy glow.

At the Treasure Island exposition of 1939-40, indirect lighting washed each surface in a different brilliant hue. Today's effects aren't as extravagant, but they're no less evocative.

Where to look in the Bay Area today

Some lighted landmarks are a classic part of the local night sky: San Francisco's Ferry Building, City Hall dome, and Starlight Roof, for example. But some remarkable new constellations have only recently joined the urban firmament.

The soaring, faceted towers of the Golden Gate Bridge are newly visible at night, thanks to the powerful beams of spotlights now permanently installed on the roadway deck. The idea of lighting the towers was proposed by the bridge's architect, Irving Morrow, but no funds were available. …

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