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Rahm's City of Lights Plan Would Fill Skyline With 'Neon Popsicles': Expert

By Paul Biasco | June 9, 2014 5:09am | Updated on June 9, 2014 8:24am
 A rendering in the city's bid document for the citywide lighting framework plan
A rendering in the city's bid document for the citywide lighting framework plan
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City of Chicago

LINCOLN PARK — One of the city's experts on light, particularly on the stage, is urging the mayor not to "bathe our city in pink and purple light."

Jason Epperson, executive director of the Greenhouse Theater Center in Lincoln Park, published a scathing blog post in response to the city's design contest that seeks to turn Chicago into North America's "City of Lights."

Epperson is also the theater's lighting designer and has worked for an architectural lighting firm.

In his post titled "Dear Chicago, please don't bathe our city in pink and purple light," Epperson argues that the best type of lighting often goes unnoticed, unlike the renderings released that place more emphasis on neon lights glowing under the city's bridges than the bridges themselves.

"One of my issues with projects like this is often people go for whatever looks the sexiest," Epperson said. "It's not necessarily what would be the most visually appealing and long-lasting."

On the stage, Epperson's goal is to use light to show the audience where its attention should be focused.

"It's not as easy as it sounds, and when done well, rarely gets the recognition it deserves," he wrote. "So, it's with that in my head that this design contest concerns me."

Epperson said that well-done lighting should tell the viewer what to look at and guide the eye. It shouldn't say "Hey look, I'm light," he wrote.

"There are just so many great buildings here," he said. "When we start to highlight a few, it sort of detracts from everything else."

His post continues that argument:

"Has anyone ever looked down the classic view of the river at night and said “this needs fixing”? Or upon our skyline and said “this would be a much better view if we picked out a couple buildings and made them look like neon popsicles”?

The city launched an international design competition for a citywide lighting framework plan that seeks to elevate Chicago as a "truly iconic and world-class destination for tourists."

The competition bid, made public last week, asks teams to submit plans that would serve as an example of how cities integrate art, design, technology and satiability into their environment.

The deadline for bids is July 7, and teams are asked to envision ways to spotlight the Chicago River, iconic structures, 180 bridges, the "L" transportation system and Lower Wacker Drive.

The bid document shows concepts such as video projections lighting up the facade of the Merchandise Mart and bright blue and purple lights illuminating the banks of the river and bridges. 

The formal bidding process follows Mayor Rahm Emanuel's announcement in January of the light plan that will begin with the Chicago River and extend throughout the city to provide tourists another reason to visit Chicago.

Another goal of the project is to connect defined tourist paths such as Navy Pier, the John Hancock Building, Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River, Millennium Park, Willis Tower, Buckingham Fountain and the South Loop Museum Campus.

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