Wind turbines, LED light to illuminate Rachel Carson Bridge for Light Up Night
July 27, 2016 12:00 AM
Multi-media artist Andrea Polli, a professor of Art and Ecology at the University of New Mexico, was the artist behind “Particle Falls,” which illuminated the Benedum Center during 2014’s holiday season, similar to the one shown behind her on a building in Detroit.
By Ed Blazina / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Environmental artist Andrea Polli will fulfill a 15-year dream when she creates a signature project using LED lights and wind turbines to illuminate the Rachel Carson Bridge for Light Up Night and the holiday season.
Riverlife hopes the temporary piece will be the jumping off point for permanent decorative lighting to illuminate the three Sister Bridges that connect the Golden Triangle with the North Shore, something that’s been a dream nearly as long.
Pittsburgh’s Bicentennial Steering Commission announced Tuesday that Ms. Polli will work with Ron Gdovic of WindStax, a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer of wind turbines and alternative energy solutions, on a project called Energy Flow. They were selected for the $200,000 project after a request for proposals.
Ms. Polli, a professor of art and ecology at the University of New Mexico, has done numerous outdoor projects, including Particle Falls in Pittsburgh for the Heinz Endowments’ Breathe Project during the holiday season two years ago. That time, she projected lights that looked like rainfall on the side of Benedum Center, but the lights would burst into flames when pollution particles reached a certain level.
In an interview Tuesday, Ms. Polli said illuminating a bridge has been her “dream project” since she lived near the Queensboro Bridge that crosses the East River into Manhattan. After the World Trade Center attack, New York City shut off the necklace lights there to save money.
Ms. Polli developed a concept to use wind to create the energy for a new lighting system but numerous attempts failed to win approval there. New York City’s loss will be Pittsburgh’s gain.
“It was kind of like a perfect match” to work with WindStax and return to Pittsburgh, Ms. Polli said. They and a team of others will “hit the ground running” to install a series of LED lights and stainless steel turbines that will use the wind and a computer program to create light patterns on the bridge.
Covestro LLC and Duquesne Light Co. are the other partners in the project.
Jay Sukernek, vice president and chief financial officer for Riverlife, said the city’s interest in the temporary bicentennial project and Allegheny County’s plans to rehabilitate the Rachel Carson, Warhol and Clemente bridges over the next six years have encouraged the agency to dust off 2002 plans to illuminate the Sister Bridges. The Clemente Bridge is the only one with decorative lighting, which cost about $1 million in 2002.
“Now is the time, if ever we are going to do these plans, to move ahead with them,” Mr. Sukernek said. “The goal is at the end of six years to have all three bridges reconstructed with a light plan in place.”
Allegheny County, which owns the bridges, is cooperating by including the framework and utility placements that would be needed as part of the reconstruction plans for each bridge. The Warhol bridge will begin reconstruction next month.
Mr. Sukernek said no decision has been made whether to seek proposals for bridge lighting or use concepts initially developed for the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. The key will be lighting that is affordable, vandal-proof, weather resistant and doesn’t interfere with the night sky, airplanes or helicopters.
Done right, decorative bridge lighting could become a signature project for the city, Mr. Sukernek said.
“They’re amazing bridges and an amazing part of Pittsburgh. This will get attention. We have to make sure we get it right.”
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