Prow Sculpture uses LEDs as art and timepiece

May 10, 2005
A new addition to the Manhattan streetscape is a transparent tower illuminated by LED color-changing panels.
The new 150-foot Prow Sculpture towers over Columbus Circle, New York City, at the corner of Time Warner Center, the headquarters of the media and entertainment giant.
The environmental sculpture, which features three groups of 12 LED panels from Scharff Weisberg Lighting, entertains New York residents and tourists with color-changing patterns and also tells the time (if you can figure out the code).

Two years in the making, the 10-ton sculpture is composed of strips of double-sided translucent polycarbonate panels, measuring 2 x 8 feet, 6 x 6 feet, and 4 x 12 feet and supported by a vertical 121-foot truss. Behind the polycarbonate panels are 36 LED panels illuminated with 768 linear feet of Color Kinetics Icove LED color fixtures, individually controlled and permitting a smooth transition of hues across the length of any given panel. Each panel has a single row of fixtures across the top and bottom, so the top of the panel can be red, for example, while the bottom is yellow, mixing to orange in the middle.

By day the sculpture has a light and airy form, appearing to float in its glass showcase. From 4 to 11 pm daily, the sculpture's panels are illuminated, via a control system from Scharff Weisberg, and also serve as a Symbolic Clock pausing every 15 minutes to tell the time.

The fluid lighting design, by Ted Mather working with RomeAntics, follows themes inspired by New York City, the seasons and jazz improvisations. The lighting program is comprised of Progressions, slow rhythmic sequences which may include seasonal elements such as snowflakes and falling leaves which cascade down the sculpture's face; Interludes, static moments in time which suspend their colorful vignettes for 30 seconds before dissolving into the next color-filled moment; and the Symbolic Clock. The lighting slowly ascends, descends and weaves across the panels in three-minute programmed sequences. The production designer was Brian Webb.

Scharff Weisberg operations manager, Ron Brodeur, said, "Since the Prow itself is a fairly small enclosure, we installed 12 automated VARI*LITE VL3000 moving light luminaires with wide-angle projection on the north side of the sculpture." The fixtures can change colors with a color-mixing system that also allows soft transitions from color to color. "We also added glass break-up patterns to add more texture to the sculpture's beautiful palette of colors."

A rack-mounted Grand MA replay unit from Scharff Weisberg controls the sculpture's lighting cues from the data center in the Time Warner building. The powerful and flexible console was required to handle the approximately 2,500 control channels required by the LEDs and VARI*LITEs.

To give the sculpture's creators the proper perspective for programming it, Scharff Weisberg brought another full Grand MA console to a room in The Trump Hotel directly opposite Columbus Circle. From this vantage point the designers could devise the entire 4 to 11 pm look over the course of three nights using a wireless connection to access the control system in the Time Warner's headquarters. "It was crucial that everyone be far enough away from the sculpture to view it in its entirety," Brodeur points out. "With the wireless system we were able to test ideas and tweak and refine them."