The Tribute in Light Memorial

This spring, powerful spotlights shone from lower Manhattan, just north of Ground Zero, creating two mighty columns of light that stretched to the heavens. Those 88 lights made up the Tribute in Light, a temporary memorial that was illuminated on March 11, marking six months since the attacks on America. The lights were on from dusk until 11pm from March 11 through April 13.

“The idea of light equals life, love, spirit, and regeneration,” says lighting designer Paul Marantz. The idea of the tribute is that it is a temporary and evanescent image, while further, more permanent ideas for a memorial are being developed. “The tribute is a sense of what was lost, it is not intended to represent the buildings,” says Marantz.

As the saying goes, “Success has many parents,” and this project certainly had many originators. The idea of a pair of light columns was conceived at roughly the same time with three different sets of artists and architects. The creative team consisted of architects John Bennett and Gustavo Bonevardi of PROUN Space Studio, artists Julian LaVerdiere and Paul Myoda, architect Richard Nash Gould, and lighting designer Marantz, principal in the architectural lighting design firm Fisher Marantz Stone. Two non-profit cultural institutions The Municipal Art Society and Creative Time provided production support, with the assistance of Battery Park City Authority.

The two artists, LaVerdiere and Myoda, had only just moved out of their studio in the World Trade Center a month earlier. They were developing a light sculpture that would mount from the antennae array on top of Tower One. Architects Bennett and Bonevardi also had a similar idea as well as a third, separate architect, Richard Nash Gould, whose SoHo office looked on the twin towers. A number of ideas were kicked around, including lasers to provide the columns of light. Lighting designer Marantz volunteered his time and expertise to bring the project into reality. The Municipal Art Society and Creative Time brought all the creative teams together to work towards the common goal of a memorial to give some peace and closure to the victims' families as well as to New York City and the nation as a whole. “The tribute provides a sense of peace and order,” says Myoda. Adds LaVerdiere, “The medium of light is so universal and so universally embraced. Light can heal, as well as be spiritual and be a celebration.”

The memorial is funded entirely with private monies and a lot of donations, not the least of which include the Space Cannon xenon spotlights, the xenon arc tubes from General Electric, and power from Con Edison. The fixtures are on loan from the Las Vegas-based Light America, the exclusive rental and sales representatives for Space Cannon in the United States. The memorial consists of two banks of 44 Space Cannon model Ireos Pro 7kW luminaires. The banks are 50' square and situated on a vacant lot in Battery Park City. The luminaires use 7kW xenon arc tubes and are powered from a Con Edison substation that is scheduled for a new hotel under construction at the site. The Battery Park City Authority did not want any more generators adding to the already crowded, noisy, and polluted area. Con Edison estimates the cost of the electricity at $10,000 for the month-long tribute.

Light America had been in contact with the organizers and was ready to pull this vast quantity of fixtures together on short notice. “We had been in conversation with the Municipal Art Society for some months and were just waiting for the final call,” says Gary Evans, director of new business development for Light America. “We had units at a lot of varying events including the Super Bowl in New Orleans, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, as well as a number of units around Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics. We also bought more units from the factory in Italy and stored them in New York City.” Evans adds, “We did a test for the creative team in the desert outside of Las Vegas. We used 10 units and built a corner that the team could then drive around and see the results from many angles.”

Light America had five technicians on-site working with a local crew during the installation. Michael Burns, production manager for Light America supervised the install as well as programmed the fixtures. “Michael was the production manager overseeing the day-to-day details,” says Evans. “He has more time on the Space Cannon than anyone.” A Light America technician was on-site each of the 32 nights of the tribute, along with a local crew person. The tech phoned in and got clearance from the FAA before firing up the lights. “If the cloud cover is too low or the lights present a hazard, the tech can power them down,” says Evans.

The luminaires were fired up each night at 6pm and doused closed. At dusk the units were opened up in a dark color that was slowly faded lighter. At the end of the night, the process was reversed with a fade-out. All of the units were controlled via DMX from a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console. The fade-up and -out made for a smoother transition, not abruptly cutting the lights off.

“We are so proud to be a part of this whole tribute,” says Evans. “When the lights came up, it was the most emotional and proud moment for everyone involved with it. Nothing can compare to that moment.” Adds Toni Rose, senior vice president for Light America, “We hope the people of New York City and the people of the world view the Tribute in Light while remembering the victims — as it fosters strength and healing.”

There was total silence at the throw of the switch that launched the columns of light skyward. There was a small ceremony and 12-year-old Valerie Webb, who lost her father, Port Authority Police Officer Nathaniel Webb, on September 11, threw the switch. The silence was followed by gasps. It was a haunting, ghostly presence that could be seen for over 20 miles, like the World Trade Center before it. It was a temporary memorial to mark the void left in our hearts at the tragic loss of life. For a brief period of time, the tribute acted as a marker, helping us get our bearings and setting us off in the right direction.

Contact the author at