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Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee, USA

Issue 43 Jun / Jul 2008 : Architectural : Façade

Lighting Design: FOCUS LIGHTING

Light and art converge in the newly illuminated face of the Marcus Center for the performing arts.

A 40-year beacon of cultural celebration in downtown Milwaukee, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, has transformed its classic exterior to reflect the dynamic and diverse programming that it houses. Made possible by cutting-edge LED lighting technology, the building’s exterior now shines in endless colour combinations and kinetic effects that reinvigorate its presence among Milwaukee’s pre-eminent venues.

Focus Lighting created a Light Painting for the centre by projecting a mixture of colours onto the façade of the building. Paul Gregory and his team have created an exterior exhibition of “Light Art” that the entire community can enjoy. The strong building designed by Chicago architect Harry Weiss and the sensitive colours that are found within local artist Georgia O’Keefe’s work, inspired the designs that paint the building with light. The art of performance that fills the inside of the Marcus Center is mirrored in creativity on the outside of the building.

The flower paintings by Georgia O’Keefe inspired many of the colour combinations and soft blending of the light. Look for the “Red Cannas [KAN-us]” and the “Sunset” light paintings.

“It is really a celebration of the beauty found in nature,” says Gregory.
Focus Lighting was approached by the Marcus Center to create a world class lighting sculpture. Their unique vision and philosophy of analysing the strengths of a building and researching the architects’ original intent allowed them to create a new and original lighting design.

One challenge was to test the amount of light needed. The idea was to heighten the occasion of a night at the Marcus Center without tarnishing the mood with light that was overly bright or garishly coloured and insensitive. LED technology was chosen for its maintenance value.

Approximately 900 LED-based lighting fixtures manufactured by Color Kinetics (now Philips Solid-State Lighting Solutions) illuminate all sides of the building, which occupies its own block and is therefore prominently visible. Each fixture can be digitally programmed to produce millions of colours and colour-changing effects without the cumbersome use of gels, filters and mechanical colour scrollers. Focus anticipate 15 years with no maintenance and no lamps to change. This LED source also gave very low wattage and an ecology friendly system.

“It has long been our mission to provide a world-class entertainment experience in a state-of-the-art facility of the highest quality. This promise extends to the exterior face of our building, which required new life to reflect our present-day identity,” said Paul Mathews, the centre’s president. “Not only have we been given a new face, but one that can be aesthetically tuned through colour and light to coincide with performances, holidays and other special occasions.”


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