The Crossing Signal Mosaic

Imagine how dangerous life would be without a crossing signal. Thousands of pounds of moving, motorized equipment don’t mesh well with fragile human anatomy.

The system is remarkable when you stop and think about it. There is a lot of beauty to appreciate in a crossing signal, and that is the idea Therese Lahaie, a professional artist in Emeryville, California, was trying to show with her public art project, Crossing Signal Mosaic.

In my mind, Lahaie’s Crossing Signal Mosaic represents the underlying beauty of communication at a busy metropolitan intersection where heavy vehicle traffic meets dozens of pedestrians.

Lahaie brought my company, Sign Effectz, Inc., in on the project through a referral I had received from Ned Kahn, an artist we had recently served on the Wind Palms kinetic sculptures project.

Waiting to Cross

Lahaie designed this art project for a new condominium in Emeryville. The entire system is roughly 15-by-40 feet long and contains thirty-two custom cabinets that project images on a LuciteLux® diffuser lens.

What was “in the box” was the core challenge for her and for Sign Effectz.

How it got hung in the entryway of the condominium complex was a calculated formula to determine loads and hardware requirements.

Some key elements came from our consultant Frank Berry. Because of the California location (which is prone to earthquakes), we had to consider seismic factors, and Berry is very good at teasing those out and helping determine the right structure.

To kick off the design, I built a CAD model, incorporating a number of LED light sources. It consisted of six segmented zones in the box, each with an aluminum panel and a laser-cut image.

The LED light is placed behind the opaque sheet, similar to how a reverse projector works. Each cabinet was a different size, allowing us the zones.

Lahaie’s vision was to have a halo glow around the perimeter of the cabinet. At this point, I set out to build a plan for it.

We made prototype GOBOs with projection lenses for her to evaluate. GOBOs are often seen at malls or sporting events; they project images onto walls or the floor with dramatic effect.

We implemented project management right out of the gates, which was comprised of weekly phone calls to determine what was working and what wasn’t. The challenge at this stage was to get the images as large as she wanted.

We considered several options, ultimately landing on the idea of dot pixel image. Lahaie hand-punched each image with a mallet (as opposed to using our CNC plotter). As an artist, she appreciated being directly involved in the fabrication of the project.

In the end, she chose to illuminate twenty-four boxes. (Note: Others were left as architectural elements.) Several of these boxes contain countdown timers similar to the ones you may see at an actual crossing signal location.

Lahaie did hand layouts of perforated aluminum, opaque material, etc., which created an array of light dots.

Our role was to provide her with the tools to make this happen. She ran with it, which is what great artists do—they experiment with these tools to create their desired outcome.

CrossingMos2Proceed with Caution

After roughly two years of design, fabrication, and local approvals, the mosaic was installed.

We created the entire “unit” at our shop, so the installation would go off without a hitch.

We had an extensive series of shop drawings to ensure that what we fabricated in the shop accurately represented Lahaie’s vision.

Numerous decoders, power supplies, LEDs, countdown timers, etc., meant that the wiring schematic was quite elaborate. Essentially it was modular, allowing us the ability to connect patch cables as needed. You couldn’t ask for a better system, and it worked beautifully.

In total, the installation panned out extremely well. I wish I could say the same for the logistics!

Look Out for Obstacles in the Road

The Sign Effectz team in Milwaukee assembled everything from nuts-and-bolts to complete wiring harnesses along with an extensive series of program testing. They then broke it down and packaged it so that the appropriate product was accessible at the right time to match the installation plan.

We crated it and shipped it to Emeryville, then hopped on a plane to meet it there. However, the crates got lost in Utah and then somehow got stuck in Fresno. (At least they didn’t land on the opposite coast!)

As problem solving is second nature to our team, we rented a truck, and with some added windshield time, we retrieved the crates in Fresno to avoid delaying the installation.

Almost There to the Other Side

The site installation took place over a staircase at the entrance of the building. To our advantage, the scaffolding was left in place by the drywallers that had just completed tightening up the exterior of the building.

We performed the entire install off this scaffolding and ladders positioned three stories up.

We shipped supporting brackets out several months earlier to have them pre-installed. We were happy to see that the contractor had installed them perfectly.

The mounting frame assembly process was similar to putting together an inverted dock or peer. If any of you remember the toy erector set, envision it on a large scale. It was essentially a frame structure installed in the ceiling with bolts, nuts, and screws fastening it together.

Also we attached a junction box, electrical wiring, harnesses, patch cables, etc. You get the point—truckloads of wiring!

The mosaic was connected to a power supply and controller in the building’s utility room, roughly seventy-five feet away. (We called it the “umbilical cord.”)

CrossingMos3

The system has several access options. If needed, the mosaic could be programmed with a computer in the utility room by direct connection. But it can also be connected via Wi-Fi, which enabled Lahaie to be outside in front of the sculpture when programming the mosaic. This benefit allowed for viewing during the programming process.

David West, from Wunder, is a lighting and controls consultant in Huntsville, California and served as a great addition to our team.

The system is so subtle that you can’t even see it, which means it doesn’t take away from the aesthetics of the mosaic.

Before we left California, we ran the mosaic through rigorous test cycles.

These tests were performed for the building owner, construction management, Lahaie, and ultimately, our peace of mind. It performed beautifully and passed with flying colors.

Another surprising tidbit of info is that the sculpture is so large that it has its own sprinkler system. This is a requirement to prevent the mosaic from interfering with the building’s sprinkler system.

Made It: Award-winning Outcome!

With more than one hundred control points, the programming of the mosaic can be compared to conducting an orchestra. Any production on such a large scale can be hugely challenging.

How does one organize the lights to change in unison at any given time and any given color in any given sequence? In my mind, so many options could lead to decision paralysis.

Lahaie did a phenomenal job. The end-result is a masterful symphony of lights, shapes, colors, etc. I’m sure the public release of the mosaic was a great source of pride and sense of accomplishment for her.

In fact, Crossing Signal Mosaic won the LuciteLux “Just Imagine Award” for public art. These awards celebrate designers who embrace the originality of working with and creating light sculptures using LuciteLux acrylic.

I may be a little biased, but I’m not surprised Lahaie won this award; she has the talents and creativity of the best of maestros.

By Adam Brown, president of Sign Effectz, Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

All photos: Sign Effectz, Inc.

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