A public underpass becomes visual art
LightRails, a colorful lighting installation that now illuminates Birmingham's 18th Street railroad underpass, led an initiative to bring the magic back to Alabama's largest city. REV Birmingham, the city's economic development organization, partnered with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and city officials to kick off the ambitious program, which called on lighting designers to illuminate key structures and potential pedestrian traffic hotspots within the city center and surrounding districts. The revitalization project uses lighting as a connective thread throughout these areas, turning underutilized structures — such as underpasses, which have typically deterred foot traffic — into safe, vibrant passageways between districts and communities. On June 27, 2013, project managers hosted the "switching on" ceremony for the inaugural installation, designed by San Antonio light artist Bill FitzGibbons. A crowd of community members assembled to snap photos and clamor over the dazzling effects of the Color Kinetics color-changing LED fixtures that now span the underpass.
To produce the rich light and dynamic, colorful light shows he envisioned, FitzGibbons needed a variety of fixtures that were versatile and easy to program. Color Kinetics provided a comprehensive LED solution that was also eco-friendly, a key consideration for a project dedicated to improving the city's vitality. To achieve the striking new look, FitzGibbons interspersed 2 ft and 4 ft ColorGraze MX Powercore luminaires along the road-facing archways on each side of the underpass. He positioned ColorBlast Powercore luminaires against the back walls of the two pedestrian walkways, as well as in groups of three in front of the ColorGraze MX Powercore luminaires. He rounded out his meticulous design with four ColorBurst Compact Powercore luminaires, placing two in the center of each walkway.
The complete installation, controlled by a Color Kinetics iPlayer 3 lighting controller, can produce myriad color combinations and displays across the underpass's concrete interior, much to the delight of project coordinators, pedestrians — and even those outside of the city. Since its rejuvenation, the underpass has already been used in the background of a music video. "My goal for LightRails was to create an exciting urban light sculpture that would engage the public and provide a joyful experience," FitzGibbons said. "The amazing reception it's received is a testament to these aspirations."