Australian lighting technology and design scored a huge hit recently with the lighting of the spire that proudly adorns the Victorian Arts Centre in Melbourne, Australia. The 530'-high (160m) spire, recently rebuilt due to structural fatigue, crowns the arts center which is situated on the banks of the Yarra River on a site steeped in Australian entertainment history. It housed Australia's first permanent circus back in 1877.

Recognized as one of the country's premier performing complexes, the arts center now boasts a striking nighttime attraction, as the new spire is uniquely lit up with 22,000' (6.5km) of optical fiber woven through the lattice framework to enhance the sleek shape. The new-look lighting is courtesy of the combined talents of Barry Webb & Associates (BWA) and Bytecraft P/L. In an effort to move away from the original static floodlit look, the designers came up with the concept of making the spire glow from within.

One of the major challenges was to develop an appropriate weatherproof fiber-optic illuminator, and a joint venture between two Australian companies met the challenge. Lightmoves Pty Ltd. and Digilin designed and manufactured a new fiber-optic light illuminator which has a dual rotation color wheel and internal thermal protection.

Along with the 22,000' of optical fiber, the spire is lit with 14,000 incandescent lamps on the skirt of the structure and 460' (150m) of neon tubing on the mast in addition to strobes and twinkle effects. Ten custom-designed color changers by Showcraft (each weighing 117lb) are positioned on the outer edges of the spire base, about 130' (40m) above street level and rigged onto Arena Vision metal-halide floodlights.

The issue of control presented the designers with a substantial challenge. First there was the weather to contend with; at 530' high, lightning strikes, severe winds, and extreme temperatures were a major concern. Dimming equipment is placed all over the spire and this also had to be weatherproof and capable of operating long-term without frequent maintenance.

The lighting for the spire actually consists of eight separate lighting systems, with each one independently controlled to allow for coordination and diversity of lighting states. Since the spire has a wide range of lighting fixtures, from 3W strobes to 2kW floods, it was a challenge to produce an integrated system that would cater to the complete rig. BWA in partnership with Bytecraft saw the solution as melding the technologies of theatrical and architectural lighting with high-reliability engineering.

The result is a unique distributed lighting control system which Bytecraft christened "Inspire." It has an ARC (Bytecraft's architectural lighting control system) as the head-end controller with two transmitters on each of the eight spire legs and 322 receivers distributed throughout the spire. The ARC is the central computer which runs the system using Bytecraft's "E" language (an event control language very similar to BASIC) to determine the lighting states. The ARC is also the source of the DMX512 signal that controls the system.

Since it is a long, hard climb to replace a color or change a blown lamp at 530' above street level, the maintenance of the spire lighting has been meticulously devised. The design specification calls for five years of operation before the spire should need to be accessed for repairs and several features were incorporated into the spire design to ensure this would be the case.

Each lighting effect is generated by two illuminators, and a feature of the design is that it allows for gradual component failure over time that won't be obvious to spectators. To safeguard the effects of the fiber optics, light is sourced from both ends of the fiber-optic run, and if one illuminator fails, the other can provide sufficient light to ensure continuity of the effect.

With a final cost of around AU$2.5 million (US$1.85 million) the spire lighting is truly spectacular and occasionally threatens traffic chaos as enthralled drivers catch their first glimpse. Not only is the spire lighting innovative, it is also energy efficient, drawing a mere 25kW; not much more than your average show preset.