Designed by scenic artist Mimi Lien, the 81’-tall Eiffel Tower under the vaulted glass ceiling of The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia was lit by Greg Emetaz, a filmmaker who served as lighting designer for the tower project. “I went to NYU with Mimi,” he says. “I used to do more lighting design and couldn’t resist the idea of an Eiffel Tower.” Built for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA), which ran April 18-May 1, this mini version of Gustave Eiffel’s iconic 1,063'-tall landmark was so popular it was extended until June 18, attracting large crowds for nightly light shows featuring a range of music from the can-can to Stravinsky’s Firebird.
Proof Productions, Steve McEntee’s custom fabrication shop, built the tower, which was installed from the top down, with the uppermost sections raised in scaffolding to add the lower sections, then covered with incandescent light bulbs. “The original idea was a cage full of Edison bulbs, as if the whole tower was full of light bulbs to create a deconstructed version,” Emetaz explains. “Another idea was to make the glass rotunda seem like one giant Edison bulb with a huge filament, but that wasn’t practical.” Instead, the tower itself became the mega-filament, lighting up the lobby.
Emetaz intentionally did not use LEDs. “When people think of Paris, the last thing they think of is LED,” he says. “We didn’t want a space-age feel but wanted warmth in the lighting. I liked the little filaments and wanted them to be real.” As a result, the tower sparkles with almost 6,000 clear Halco 25W 5,000-hour 130V A-lamps, which came on pre-manufactured strands with sockets. The spacing allowed them to be attached to the Tower, either screwed in or zip-tied where the tower is made of wire mesh. Trains, planes, and a Zeppelin on cables moving through the space also evoke turn-of-the-century Paris.
Dennis Moore, assistant electrician at The Kimmel Center and master electrician for the project, helped with the programming of the light show. “We programmed for about five nights, but only five hours each night from 6-11pm, and had to be quiet if there was a concert going on, so time was limited,” says Emetaz. The show was programmed on the center’s in-house ETC Expression 2 console, with DMX control via Leprecon dimmer packs tucked into the base of the tower and ETC dimmer units on platforms higher up on the structure. “The idea was to be self-contained, rather than run cable throughout the lobby,” notes Emetaz.
“Both Mimi and I felt strongly about no color,” the LD adds. “We wanted to maintain a certain purity about the whole thing, and colored light was not true to that time period. We didn’t want a rock concert look, or the Moulin Rouge, but more like the municipal lighting of the time. Constraints are great, and in this case the constraint was no color.”