Re-Illuminating the Charlotte Skyline with Focus Lighting and Acclaim Lighting
It's hard to miss the Bank of America Corporate Center among the buildings dotting the skyline of Charlotte, North Carolina. The tower, Charlotte's tallest, is among the grandest on the east coast, rising 871' above the city.
The Center's crown adds to the building's remarkable presence during the day. Built in 1992, Bank of America's world headquarters building is said to be visible to the naked eye as far as 35 miles away on a clear day.
As the tower aged though, it became apparent that a much-needed lighting upgrade would help the building maintain its position as the city's crown jewel at night. Its existing system -- the original 400W metal halide fixtures -- lacked the "oomph" owners wanted from the exterior lighting scheme. After 25 years the light was tired and muted. And, while the fixtures' color could be changed with filters, the process gobbled up time and labor.
"It would take four guys almost a full day to tape gel over the old fixtures," said Joshua Spitzig, senior lighting designer at Focus Lighting in New York. "Once they put on the gels even more light was filtered out and the effect was even more muted."
"Fortunately, we found a lighting system from Acclaim Lighting that enabled us to realize our artistic vision and enhance the beauty and depth of the architecture. We knew the new lighting design had to accentuate Bank of America's brand and reputation, while beautifying the skyline."
"We started with a vision -- 'light paintings' composed on the building's crown. The light paintings are inspired by scenes of nature found in North Carolina, and by other sources of Charlotte pride like the city's beloved Panthers football team or a beautiful Carolina sunrise," says Focus Lighting principal Brett Andersen.
The lighting designers knew they needed to find the right fixture to meet their vision. The team tested numerous fixtures at their New York office. They looked at lumen outputs, photometric models, and small-scale mockups to find a high-output RGBW fixture with a tight beam and excellent color mixing.
"Using a narrow-beam RGBW fixture was a big departure from the existing metal halide floodlights," Spitzig said, noting that the team also staged a large-scale mockup on the tower in Charlotte before finalizing the specs.
For this large mockup the lighting designers tested multiple fixtures from several different manufacturers by illuminating two tiers of the tower's crown and reviewing the results from afar. One of the tested products, Dyna Drum in both SO and HO versions from Los Angeles, California-based Acclaim Lighting, stood out during the testing.
"After our mockups, the Dyna Drum was not only the preferred fixture based on output and performance but it also met the job's budget requirements," Spitzig said.
Dyna Drum SO and HO are energy-efficient, IP66 wet-rated, high-powered, quad-color architectural lighting fixtures with a wireless digital multiplex (DMX) control option for facade and large-scale area flood lighting. Both feature RGBW chips and single-color versions available in 2,700K, 3,000K, 4,000K, and 5,500K, providing more than 7,500 and 10,000 lumens at their highest output for brilliant Illumination and superior color rendering.
For easy control, Dyna Drum has an adjustable yoke, onboard digital control display for menu selections and addressing, and a 100W - 277W internal power supply. The lights are available in beam angles of six degrees standard, with 25-, 40-, 60-, and 10x10-degree lens options. The SO model only consumes 160W, while the HO model utilizes only 228W.
Once the building's owners approved the Dyna Drum, the electrical contractor, WB Moore of Charlotte, began engineering and implementing the lighting upgrade under Focus Lighting's direction. 436 Dyna Drum SO RGBW fixtures were installed at the top floors of the building to light the crown's multi-layered tiers of soaring masts. The change in appearance with the higher-intensity light was immediately noticeable.
"Creating a memorable lighting design is not an out-of-the-box process. We had to conduct extensive research, develop and revise renderings, test aiming and programming strategies, and continually improve the design to achieve our goal," Spitzig said.
The designers did several tests of the fixtures' aiming and programming at different stages of the implementation. During each round of fine-tuning, the new lighting scheme was observed by the community. "We're accustomed to doing live tests, but they're not usually visible to an entire city," Spitzig said. "Every time we tested something new on the building we heard comments and received media coverage. That raised the stakes a bit."
The new lighting is controlled with an ETC Mosaic Show Controller. It distributes data over a network via streaming ACN to a series of gateways, converting to DMX before running out to fixtures in the field. The show controller enables each light painting to be recalled either through an astronomical timeclock, programmed event dates, or manually through a custom web interface.
"We programmed a spare Mosaic here in our New York office," Focus Lighting project designer Erin Ryan explained. "Using the software, we were able to get a good idea of what the lighting scheme looks like before we implemented it on the tower."
In addition to the lighting at the crown, the team also installed white-light fixtures on the tower's lower balconies to create a cohesive design for the whole building. With the original metal halide fixtures each of these balconies was only lit with a dim glow.
"We made those areas brighter and more prominent by replacing the old fixtures with 4,000K Dyna Drums to create a more consistent white lighting scheme," Spitzig said. "One big challenge was working with the existing wiring and gaining access to areas without disrupting the ongoing office environment inside the building."
With the help of WB Moore, the Focus Lighting devised a mounting system to install the Dyna Drum fixtures on the balconies in strategic locations to project light onto the building at precise angles. This mounting strategy added to the speed of the installation. Altogether 140 of the 4,000K Dyna Drum SO and HO fixtures were installed at balconies on the 13th, 44th, 48th, 53rd, and 56th floors.
With the new lighting system, Bank of America can display vibrant new light paintings on its building's crown. In the end, Spitzig said the "lighting upgrade has already greatly enhanced the tower's aesthetics. And with the LED technology the light output is much more efficient and dynamic without any additional electrical costs. But these are more than just new lights on a building," Spitzig added.
"I've been visiting Charlotte for many years and the Bank of America Corporate Center has always been my favorite building in the city. The top reminds me of a soaring gothic cathedral. But the old lighting just wasn't doing the building justice at night. I think this upgrade brings new life to one of Charlotte's most beautiful icons."