Intelligent Energy

LEDs turn towering sow's ear into silk purse in Paris

LEDs turn towering sow's ear into silk purse in Paris

Posting in Architecture

A century after Picasso, the City of Light gets another blue period - and green, and orange - as Philips bathes the ridiculed Montparnasse Tower with LED artistry. Saves energy too.

Don't look down: The view from the roof of Montparnasse Tower cuts out the tower itself, which many Parisians can't stand the sight of. But new LED lights have perked up the edifice's appearance.

The joke about Paris' 690-foot tall Montparnasse Tower is that you get the best city view from its roof, because it's the only location where you can't see the monolithic structure that's so architecturally out of place that it prompted authorities back in the 1970s to ban more skyscrapers in the area.

Holland's N.V. Philips this week softened the ridicule, at least at night time. It has lit up the tower in LED lights that can change colors and brightness at the push of a button thanks to a digital control system. The tower's fundamental scheme varies with the four seasons: green in spring, blue in summer, orange and yellow in autumn and white/deep blue in the winter.

The lights' "scenography" also changes and pulses rhythmically, and will perform in sympathy with city events and festivals. Montparnasse's new lights even wink with the more famously elegant Eiffel Tower across town to announce the hour.

Looks aside, the new decorative makeover saves energy too, as LEDs - light emitting diodes - are known to do. According to Philips, the lights use less than 10 percent of the electricity of the fluorescent lights they replace - 25 kilowatt hours versus 272. Philips likens their energy consumption to the amount of electricity required to operate 10 irons.  (What do you want, a nice looking skyscraper, or wrinkle-free shirts? Your choice).

The lights are mounted indoors but aimed out, up and down the 56 floors of Europe's 13th tallest building. They'll last for 15 years, Philips claims (let's start the count now!). That represents another big savings in cost, as it cuts out the price of replacement bulbs and maintenance.

At last, a century after Picasso, the City of Light gets another blue period. And green. And orange. And white.

Photos: Paris city view from Benh Lieu Song via Wikipedia. Montparnasse Tower from Philips.

An LED sampler from SmartPlanet. (Want more? Enter 'LED' in the search box top of page. Be careful what you ask for, you'll get it!):

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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