Work is continuing in San Francisco on the city’s ambitious Bay Lights project, the work of internationally renowned artist Leo Villareal. Using the Bay Bridge West Span as its frame, the five-hundred-feet high and 1.8-mile-wide installation will comprise more than 25,000 LED lights, making it the world’s largest ever light sculpture.
The energy-efficient LED lights are being added and tested in stages, with engineers currently on course to have the piece ready in time for its planned switch-on date of March 5. The installation will light up the Bay Area for two years, with an estimated 50 million people expected to view the display in that time.
Described by the project organizers as a “pioneer in the use of LEDs and computer-driven imagery”, New York-based Villareal started out as a sculptor, saying in an interview that despite becoming interested in technology in the early 90s, it took him many years to discover it was light that he wanted to use as the main focus of his work.
Villareal promised something special with his Bay Lights installation, saying that many bridges have been illuminated over the years, “but never quite like this.”
“We’re adding a grid of light to the suspension cables of the bridge, so we’re going to be adding just over 25,000 white LED nodes placed every foot, vertically,” he explained. “Each single pixel is controllable but working as a group to create an overall effect.”
According to the project’s webpage, “patterns of weather, the water and the traffic of cars, ships and wildlife” will all be used as inspiration for creating Villareal’s software algorithms, ensuring that each light pattern is unique and never repeated.
“People’s perception of what the piece is will be highly subjective, no two people may see the same thing,” the artist said. “But there’ll still be this point of connection between many, many people.”
Villarael said he hopes that the “monumental” piece of public art will inspire artists in the Bay Area, while local businesses will no doubt be hoping the project will fulfill its promise to add around $97 million to the local economy.