Intelligent Energy

LEDs atop Empire State Building

LEDs atop Empire State Building

Posting in Architecture

A million hues of literally cool digital lighting will replace ten colors at the iconic crown of Manhattan skyline. Will New Yorkers like it?

The Empire State Building's current lighting scheme. LEDs won't be as warm, but will have lots of advantages. Will New Yorkers like 'em?

Some designers and architects say that LEDs emit a cold, uninviting light. If that's the case, New York City is in for some frigid nights as 1200 LED (light emitting diode) fixtures will soon replace 400 conventional lamps atop the iconic Empire State Building.

Then again, the new lights should have a lot of admirers. Certainly they get a favorable write-up in The New York Times, which applauds them for "much greater energy efficiency, a significantly wider palette of more intense colors, and a lot of panache."

LEDs are semiconductors that lend themselves to push-button control. The new lights will offer "millions" of color options compared to the 10 colors provided by today's lights, which were installed over three decades ago for the United States bicentennial, the Times notes.

Reporting ahead of tomorrow's official announcement by the project's supplier, Royal Philips Electronics, the Times notes that digitally controlled lighting schemes will allow the building's operators to display constantly changing, creative lighting that can suit moments such as, say, a baseball championship.

"When the Yankees win the pennant, we can put pinstripes on one side of the building and solid blue on the other," Philips director of architectural products Jeff Campbell says in the story.

By comparison, today it can take seven workers seven hours to change to one new static lighting arrangment, by placing gels over lamps. The paper writes:

Because the colors of each LED fixture can be manipulated independently and instantaneously via computer, lighting effects — including rainbows, ripples, cross-fades and burst effects — can be created that appear to be animated, continuously moving and changing.

“We’ll have some real fun with our ability to manipulate the new lights,” said Anthony E. Malkin, president of Malkin Holdings, an affiliate of the entity that owns the building. ...“We want the Hong Kong experience,” he said, referring to the often-dramatic lighting seen on buildings there, but “we won’t be showing TV shows on the side of the building.” ...

With the new LED fixtures, bought from Philips Color Kinetics, based in Massachusetts, the Empire State Building will be illuminated with millions of deep, rich colors and subtle pastels, compared with a limited palette of 10 colors from the existing lamps, which also tend to flicker and produce different brightnesses depending on the color.

The installation will be complete by the fall, will save the building's owners 75 percent in energy costs annually, and will last three to six times longer that existing fixtures, according to the Times.

Empire State Building owner Malkin said it will cost "a few million dollars" to install and will pay for itself in six years.

I think the modern eye will probably adjust to the coolness of LED lights, and like it. Any thoughts?

Photo: Guian Bolisay via Wikimedia Commons.

Switching on more LED stories from SmartPlanet:

In an Empire State of mind?:

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure