Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Giving the Capitol That Ghoulish Glow

Isn't it interesting that the Phila-delphia firm that got a fat little contract to create an envi-ronmentally friendly lighting scheme for the dome of the U.S. Capitol (designed by Philly's own Thomas U. Walter in the late 1850s) is the same one that gave City Hall its ghoulish nighttime appearance? The Washington Post reports, and the Inquirer reprints, a story suggesting that Rep. Bob Brady did a favor for The Lighting Practice and helped them get a $671,900 contract to design a more energy-efficient light system for the Capitol's high-visibility dome. That's a lot of money to save a little energy.
To be fair, City Hall's lighting doesn't come across as macabre and Halloweenish because too much money was spent on the treatment. As I wrote in this 2005 column, it looks like something out of the Addams Family, in part, because the lighting designers didn't have a proper budget to light individual features. So, they chose to bombard the "silent, weird, beautiful**" Second Empire pile with beams from giant fixtures screwed onto buildings around Center Square. The result is both patchy and overly-dramatic. Instead of admiring the glow, you're distracted by the particle beams that the big fixtures shoot out into the sky. It's gotten a little better since 2005, either because some of the bulbs have burned out, or because the beams have been redirected. But on a misty night, you still feel like you're walking into a fight scene from Revenge of the Sith.
That said, the Washington Post story feels a might circumstantial It suggests that the bill for greening the dome is out of line, but offers no meaningful comparisons. It's true the Lighting Practice didn't offer the lowest bid, but with professional services lowest isn't always the best choice. However, Brady's connection does make you wonder (especially since his stand on waterless urinals didn't suggest a keen interest in things green). But then there is the Thomas Walter connection. He had a hand in designing City Hall.
**The quote is Walt Whitman's famous description of City Hall.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

New lighting for South Broad Street buildings is garrish.

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I always like to read criticism - when an alternative is offered, which is not the case with this commentary.

The lighting at City Hall is interesting, dramatic, and cretainly a heck of a lot better than darkness. I would far prefer what we see today (or tonight) than a flat wash of color.

You say that the lighting has improved since 2005 - this is because the lamps have been replaced, not because they have burned out.

Finally, I believe plans to highlight additional parts of City Hall have been stymied due to the fact that certain building owners have not agreed to partner with the City to install the lights. Your comment regarding the light source as being fixtures mounted onto surrounding buildings was correct, but I am curious about other alternatives, as I am not familiar with lighting in general. What else could be done? Giant poles throughout Dilworth Plaza? Lights mounted onto city hall, lighting upwards or downwards? I'd be afraid that would make the "ghoulish" appearance you described above even more pronounced.

Finally, in response to anonymous' comment about the South Broad Street lighting being garrish, our city has been in the dark for too long. South Broad Street is supposedly our "Avenue of the Arts" - let's make it look that way. The lighting on the building on the corner of Walnut and Broad highlights the building's architectural features and makes that whole section of the street more dynamic and interesting. The lighting caused me to notice for the first time the dance studio on the 2nd floor, which I now always look forward to on my way home. I look forward to being able to look down the entire corridor and see it livened by lighting, drawing my eyes to the incredible historic architecture instead of the taillights ahead of me.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was my comment as to S. Broad as the colors used in the lights are garrish. The buildings should be lit up, but in an elegant manner like they do in London, Paris, and other cities.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous jeremy said...

I agree completely! We mustn’t suffer the garish curiosities imposed on Philadelphia's austere civil spaces by commercial and “artistic” forces! We should instead derive our lighting schemes for the Avenue of the Arts after such redoubtable models as London’s nightclub or West End theater districts , Paris’s nightclub nightclub or theater district, or that bastion of purity, decorum, taste, and finesse -- New York’s commercial and theater districts.

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lighting isn't "garrish" at all. In fact, I think it's wonderful to draw attention to the fabulous architecture of our city. I remember when the Avenue of the Arts lights were ceremoniously sparked for the first time - people were excited, awed. We all know you can't please everyone. I think we should continue to emphasize the beauty of our city that sometimes gets lost in our daily issues and shortcommings. I'm proud of the steps we take to highlight our unique architecture. Not everyone likes "different" but that doesn't make "different" a bad thing. Personally, I think it's exciting!!

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkness ha! Walk through Dilworth Plaza at night and tell me that you're not in darkness.

Considering the amount of light pollution emitted for how little of the building is illuminated I would say we should pull the plug and save some money. This lighting job is a failure, I feel like a High School Drama club could have made up a better lighting scheme. Even the well illuminated areas of City Hall are spotty with super bight spots and dim sports.

But the City has always had some issues. Look across the street at the statue of Frank Rizzo. There is a dedicated light to illuminate that statue that for at least two years now is mis directed and shines into the plaza leaving Frank in the dark.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Carl said...

Congratulations on being a Pulitzer finalist: "10. CRITICISM
For distinguished criticism, in print or in print and online, ten thousand dollars ($10,000).
Awarded to Mark Feeney of The Boston Globe for his penetrating and versatile command of the visual arts, from film and photography to painting.
Also nominated as finalists in this category were: Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post for her perceptive movie reviews and essays, reflecting solid research and an easy, engaging style, and Inga Saffron of The Philadelphia Inquirer for her forceful critiques that illuminate the vital interplay between architecture and the life of her city.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats on being named a Pulitzer finalist! Keep up the good work, Inga!

1:54 PM  
Blogger PalestraJon said...

The problem with Dilworth Plaza is Dilworth Plaza. However, since Ed Bacon has something akin to superhuman status, it has been impossible to undo the worst of his excesses, such as Penn Center and Dilworth Plaza. Taking people off the street into various sublevels which encourage crime and isolation was ridiculous then and still is ridiculous. I would trade all the lighting used for City Hall to restore a people's street level park around City Hall and the Municipal Building.

And congrats to Inga---I don't always agree with her, but she always is thought provoking.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why hasn't this blog been updated in so long? I enjoyed reading it.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog hasn't been updated in so long!! I enjoyed reading the articles....

2:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where are you??? It's been over 2 months. Any ideas for guest bloggers?

Come on INGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

10:53 PM  

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