Traxon Technologies brings synchronized LED light and sound to Chicago’s State Street

Nov. 29, 2011
Customized LED lighting fixtures have been installed along Chicago’s State Street as part of a partnership between Traxon Technologies, Creative Lighting Design & Engineering and the Chicago Loop Alliance.
Traxon Technologies of East Rutherford, NJ, has provided the LED lighting and controls system for a custom lighting installation in downtown Chicago along a seven-block stretch of historic State Street. The installation was unveiled last week by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who stated that the year-round LED lighting creates an energy-efficient display that replaces over $200,000 worth of incandescent light strings, which were typically thrown away after each holiday season.
Lighting installation in unlit state. This Lightscape project is composed of clusters of LED lighting sculptures resembling cattails – a type of prairie grass – in varying heights of up to nine feet (Figs. 1 and 2). The installation is housed in 12 planters, each containing 54 light fixtures that are illuminated in synchronization with recorded music and announcements. The lead lighting designer, Marty Peck of Creative Lighting Design & Engineering (CLD-E) based in Germantown, WI, said “We love doing crazy things that haven’t been done before. Everyone does programmed lights. With this installation we created a special lighting effect set to music, which can be programmed to reflect the season or what is happening in the city.”

A video features the lighting installation and the surrounding theatres and shops. Approximately two years in the making, the total cost of the installation was $1.2 million, which includes 660 lighting sculptures. The fixture housings were provided by Winona Lighting of Winona, MN. Traxon Technologies, which became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Osram AG earlier this month, provided its XB line of customized RGB LEDs (4.5W) used in each fixture as well as the lighting and audio controls. The cattail’s woven-fiberglass stems, provided by Comtec, are durable yet flexible enough to withstand heavy winds. The stems are fed into Highline in-ground enclosures.

Chicago Loop Alliance funded the project by pooling the existing decorative-light funding with additional revenue from the special servicing district covering the State Street area.

Interestingly, the wireless-network infrastructure required to spontaneously trigger programmed LED and audio shows was installed over the seven consecutive city blocks with remote access via only a T1 line. The control system uses an off-the-shelf centralized e:cue Lighting Control Engine (LCE) and local street-level Butler XTs to control the audio and lighting, which will run daily from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm. The wireless design came out of necessity because the installers could not run underground cables. Instead, an antenna near each planter transmits the signal across seven blocks. Designlab provided the fabrication and integration of the enclosures that contain the power hardware and wireless controls.

Installation in lit state. Another unusual aspect of this design is the use of some off-the-shelf components to create a custom look. “Many architectural lighting installations involve a lot of custom work. While this was a unique installation we were fortunate in that pieces like the Winona Winscape housing were based on a commercial MR16 housing, which was just the right size. The customization came with the reed design and logistics of the audio installation,” said Michael Linck, Chicago-based director of key accounts for Traxon Technologies. He said this included designing light fixtures that can withstand the severe cold and heat of Chicago’s seasons as well as making a vandal-proof installation.

The system utilizes an e:cue Lighting Control Engine (LCE) and Butler DMX XTs, which allows the city to control the lighting display using pre-programmed shows or spontaneous, remote triggering. “Even emergency announcements, highlights of the day’s news and/or future interactivity could be wirelessly triggered,” said Linck.

Linck explained that the five-year installation is designed for changing needs. “We envision a time when pedestrians will be able to interact with the installation and use their iPads or other wireless devices, select a programmed show online, and watch it on-demand,” he said.

Laura Jones, associate director of the Chicago Loop Alliance, a non-profit civic organization, said, “People don’t always realize it, but next-generation lighting technologies have always been a part of State Street.” Lightscape represents the latest lighting innovation, which is designed to enhance tourism in Chicago.