How Window Washers Almost Sunk Salesforce Tower’s Interactive Light Sculpture

Electrical engineer and artist Jim Campbell explains the technology behind the highest public art installation in the world, and the challenge of avoiding window washers

On the top of San Francisco’s 1,070-foot Salesforce Tower, the new skyscraper dominating the cityscape, the show starts at twilight. The top 130 feet of the tower light up in yellow, and then dancers move across it. On a clear night, the show is visible for 30 miles. It’s the highest public art installation in the world right now.

This permanent installation, by electrical engineer-turned-artist Jim Campbell, is different from the bands of colored lights atop many skyscrapers. For one, Campbell explains, he’s showing imagery—the ballerina is only the first of what will be a broad palette of images.

For another, the LEDs that create the images shine in toward the building, not out. That might not seem like a big deal, but it’s the difference between images made up of visible dots like on a Jumbotron and a wash of color. And it took some serious engineering to make the latter happen.

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