Jim Campbell, Electrical Engineer Turned Artist, Lights Up San Francisco's Salesforce Tower

This MIT grad spent decades as an engineer before turning to art full time. Now his skills are on permanent display in San Francisco’s skyline

Salesforce Tower, the new skyscraper dominating San Francisco’s skyline, lit up for the first time in April. That first show was just a test, but now, every night starting at dusk, silhouettes of dancers and other images move against a bright background across the façade of the top six floors of the 62-story building. The show is called “Day for Night,” and it goes on until 2 a.m.

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For now, the tower remains dark for the rest of the night. But in a few months, another installation will light up, a three-dimensional starscape that will twinkle until dawn.

This approach is something new in skyscraper art, going far beyond the bands of colored lights that celebrate holidays and major events (such as the lights of the Empire State Building). And the Salesforce installation is thought to be the highest piece of public art in the world.

The creator of this dramatic display is Jim Campbell, an artist with works in nearly two dozen museums and installations around the world. Campbell is also an engineer, with dual degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics from MIT and more than 20 years of experience as a design engineer at Faroudja Labs.

At Faroudja, Campbell first created analog circuitry and, later, digital algorithms to reduce noise and enhance the quality of video images. He collected, he recalls, between 15 and 20 patents. And while the Salesforce Tower project didn’t require him to use high-level algorithms, he still needed that engineering experience—and a lot of FPGAs—to pull it off.

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