Fountain becomes jewel in popular Chicago park
The aptly named Crown Fountain is a jewel among the acclaimed attractions of Chicago's Millennium Park. Completed in July 2004, the fountain is a gift of the Crown and Goodman families, and is the inspired work of Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, who envisioned an interactive sculpture comprising glass, water and light. Its dynamic nature proved the perfect canvas for Color Kinetics' intelligent LED lighting technology.
The fountain encompasses two 15 meter (50 foot) glass block towers that are linked by a 71 meter (232 foot) reflecting pool. The translucent glass towers, designed by Krueck & Sexton Architects, were intended to gradually change color — a challenge posed to lighting design firm Schuler Shook.
According to Jim Baney, a Principal at the firm, "Based on our experience with other color changing fixtures, the LED solution promised to be the lowest maintenance solution. Several of Mr. Plensa's previous projects had used LED fixtures, so he was comfortable with this technology."
Baney and team chose ColorBlast 12—approximately 70 units per tower—to achieve the desired colors and dynamic effects. The units' compact size made it possible to install them where needed to properly illuminate the tower structures and glass. Plensa wanted the towers to appear light and translucent, with their internal structures reflecting light from behind the glass surface. As such, the ColorBlast units were installed on continuous channels mounted between the glass blocks and the structures, aiming straight upwards to illuminate the structures just beyond the glass. The towers glow from within on three sides, while the fourth sides feature Barco LED display screens that face each other across the reflecting pool, projecting the diverse faces of Chicago and nature scenes in video. Water cascades down along the towers into the pool below, forming the final element of Plensa's vision.
"The fountain is meant to be dynamic and unpredictable," says Baney. "The programming followed a series of 'life sequences' that could best be described as 'planned randomness.'" These life sequences are composed of the video imagery on the screens, the flow of water from the towers, a 'gargoyle effect' whereby water projects from the mouths of faces on screen, the color of the illumination on the towers' sides, and the grazing white light at the base of the towers. "In the life sequences, the duration of each 'look' is set, but the faces and colors are called up randomly, so one never knows which of the eight pre-selected colors or hundreds of faces will be coming next," explains Baney.
According to Christian Hanke, project architect at Krueck & Sexton, "It was very important to have the ability to change and manipulate the lighting in almost every desired way, depending on the time of day and season. The ColorBlast units were the logical choice, since this piece of art is intended to last a century or more. Longevity, dependability and controllability were key components in selecting an adequate light source for this attraction."
Both the lighting and fountain controls respond to one main control system. The lighting controls consist of a DMX-based system, which easily integrates with the ColorBlast units, and dimmer racks for the halogen fixtures at the base of the towers. A rented theatrical console was used for the six sessions that were required to complete the life sequence programming.
With its impressive composition of advanced materials, lighting and video technology, Crown Fountain is truly a monument of the 21st Century.