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    Monterey Bay Aquarium

    Monterey, California, USA

    Photo Credits: Rick Pharaoh, photographer and Monterey Bay Aquarium

    Jellyfish exhibit glows like the creature it honors


    Monterey Bay Aquarium is a universal destination situated on the coastline of Monterey, California, USA, a waterfront city popular for its spectacular beaches, oceanscapes, and sea-based activities. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation, a public nonprofit organization, erected the aquarium in 1984 for a simple purpose: to "inspire conservation of the oceans." To this end, the aquarium offers a plethora of exhibits, events, and activities for its 1.8 million annual visitors.

    One of its most popular exhibits, "The Jellies Experience," showcases sixteen species of "jellies," or water-dwelling animals with gelatinous bodies, such as jellyfish. Made up of 95% water, jellies are boneless, brainless, and bloodless. This simple composition gives their movement a jarring suppleness and their form a paradoxical quality: their near-transparent skin is often infused with vibrant colors or a pulsating glow under certain lights. The manager of the exhibit's design, Koen Liem, wanted to capture these strange and mesmerizing characteristics in the physical space surrounding the jellies. He turned to a dynamic LED lighting solution from Color Kinetics to create the evocative experience.

    Liem, who envisioned an interpretive presentation of the jellies' bold coloring and form, decided to cultivate a 1960s psychedelic vibe for the walls, which feature jelly tanks and educational panels. Liem and his installation team embedded tanks of various sizes and colors into the walls, rimming them with connective, loosely-rectangular frames in bright blue. They then illuminated the tanks using ColorBlast 12 luminaires, which were built into soffits and installed behind the tanks. Finally, lighting programmer Craig Mink and Color Kinetics applications engineer Myles Cirillo programmed the luminaires using a wall-mounted ColorDial Pro Ethernet lighting controller, tailoring the blue-green shades tank by tank to highlight the unique coloring of each species. Besides providing beautiful, complementary backlighting, the system now offers a practical perk: if a tank breaks, aquarium staff can replace it with any other color tank and easily reprogram the lights using the ColorDial Pro.

    In addition to housing exotic live jellies, the exhibit features a diverse collection of multimedia jelly art, including acrylic models suspended from the ceiling, visitor-drawn digital jellies — and the raised jelly reliefs running across the under-wall of a giant, curved tank swirling with anchovies.

    Liem wanted the wall to embody an oceanic color scheme. He enlisted Stanton Ruese, lighting specialist and exhibit manager at the aquarium, to install iColor Cove QLX luminaires end-to-end in the coves just below the tank. Like the ColorBlast 12 luminaires, the iColor Cove QLX lights are controlled with a ColorDial Pro and produce a glowing blue-green hue, highlighting the raised jellies. Liem also used iColor Cove QLX luminaires to illuminate two overhead markers signifying exhibit entrances, flooding the lettering of "The Ocean's Edge" and "The Open Sea" signs with varying shades of blue.

    To extend the thematic jelly art into the open floor space, Liem and his team built a giant, abstract jelly sculpture. The structure's six arched pillars are each lit by strands of color-changing iColor Flex LMX LED nodes controlled by a Light System Manager Ethernet lighting controller from Color Kinetics. The system produces rich, purple-tinged light to offset the darkness of the space, reminiscent of the ocean depths that jellies inhabit. "The programmable color LEDs were perfect for the effect we were trying to create with the sculpture," Liem said.

    Liem is also impressed with the transformative effect of the entire lighting system, which threads the jellies' captivating aura throughout the whole exhibit. "The Signify Color Kinetics fixtures allow us to perfectly meld the aquarium and physical environments," Liem said.
    Project credits

    Exhibition Designer:

    Koen Liem


    Lighting Programming:

    Craig Mink and Myles Cirillo


    Distributor Salesperson:

    Thom Sorensen, Electrical Distributors Monterey

    Lighting Specialist:

    Stanton Ruese


    Manufacturer Representative

    Bryan Barton, Associated Lighting Representatives

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