'Bay Lights' would create curtain of light a mile and a half long

Art project would festoon the San Francisco Bay Bridge with 25,000 individually programmable white LED lights to create a gigantic, shimmering "light sculpture" that responds to its environment.

Edward Moyer Senior Editor
Ed is a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world who enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch. For nearly a quarter of a century, he's edited and written stories about various aspects of the technology world, from the US National Security Agency's controversial spying techniques to historic NASA space missions to 3D-printed works of fine art. Before that, he wrote about movies, musicians, artists and subcultures.
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Edward Moyer
2 min read
As lovely as this image is, it doesn't do the project justice. Check out the videos below. Screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

The Golden Gate Bridge turned 75 this past weekend, with a spectacular fireworks show to celebrate.

Unfortunately, some of us were home with spring colds and could only listen mournfully to the endless booming while imagining the historic show that was passing us by. Luckily, though, there's another bridge birthday happening in the Bay Area, with a related light-based extravaganza which, if all goes according to plan, should be pretty amazing -- and pretty hard to miss.

As our friends at Wired noted recently, artist Leo Villareal and his supporters want to honor the neighboring Bay Bridge on its 75th birthday by festooning it with 25,000 individually programmable white LED lights. "The Bay Lights" project will create a gigantic, shimmering "light sculpture" that responds to environmental stimuli such as the underlying water, the overriding traffic, and the surrounding weather, and will remain in place for two years.

The project is set to debut in late 2012 or early 2013, to tie in with not only the bridge's birthday but also the opening of the new east span of the bridge (though the piece will be displayed on the historic west span). The Bay Bridge opened to traffic on November 12, 1936. "The Year of the Bay Bridge" started November 2011 and officially runs till November 2012, with various activities planned to celebrate the structure.

Villareal and Co. still have to raise $3 million to complete the $8 million, privately funded project. They also have to finish up the permitting process.

Wired reports that the "Bay Lights" organization has been reaching out to Silicon Valley companies for contributions, setting up a "tech challenge" designed to get people to create fundraising teams and to tap social media to drum up support. Top-raising teams receive various goodies. The challenge wraps up at the end of June, and details can be found here. Individuals can also contribute through Causes.com.

As the "Bay Lights" site says, the project will be enormous: a mile and a half wide and 500 feet high, "a monumental tour de force seven times the scale of the Eiffel Tower's 100th Anniversary lighting." It will be visible from San Francisco and points north but shouldn't distract drivers, because they won't be able to see it. (And it will be powered by solar credits offsite, donated by CleanPath.)

Despite the size of the project, however, Wired reports that the custom software driving the whole thing will likely be housed on a single Mac Mini. (It'll run on Windows, via Boot Camp.)

Here are a couple of videos showing how the piece should look -- if Villareal and friends can pull it off. (And we hope they do -- it would certainly help make up for the spring cold and the missed fireworks.)