Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Lights, cameras, action

Light is the driver of the digital age. LED is the technology that creates the virtual realities on our electronic devices that our eyes follow all day long. What is more obvious than making the city the canvas to show we arrived in a new age?
Luminous Intervention, McKeldin Fountain
(photo: ArchPlan Inc.)

That is precisely what Light City Baltimore does which opened yesterday at the Inner Harbor on a blustery early spring evening. Fiber-optics, light-emitting-diodes and laser are all ways to see light in a new light. With those technologies precision is possible in the previously rather undirected light of the old light bulb (laser), fiberoptics allow light to be channeled through thin pipes and LED allows low energy, high intensity light in so many new ways that the explorations have just begun.

Projecting images on walls has existed since the days of the first silent movies but with the new technologies astonishing effects are possible.

Baltimore is eager to position itself as an innovation leader instead of an ailing rustbelt city that has lost its old industries. Light in spring can do this. Especially right around the anniversary of the widespread unrest just a year ago.

Well, the anniversary idea appeared to be also on the minds of masses of city teens that congregated at the Inner Harbor right before the festivities were to begin with equally large amounts of police eyeing them suspiciously. Were these teens here to see lights and innovation, listen to music or even participate in an interactive presentation that made police brutality and black on black murder the theme of their display showing young African American males who had become victims? That was the tough question that anybody not wanting to immediately jump to biased conclusions had to ask. Some groups of teenagers swarming the Gallery mall and a candy store seem to give the wrong answer.
waiting for drinks: Light City Baltimore (photo: ArchPlan Inc.)

But then it all went down smoothly anyway, the Dutch clipper Stad Amsterdam sat majestically at the West Shore with large French and Belgian flags billowing as a reminder that there are other issues out there in the world than Baltimore's internal wounds.

The Creative Alliance Lantern Parade with the drummer band snaked down the promenade from the Science Center to President Street, the concert by Brooks Long & Mad Dog No Good, the various light installations, the private reception in the Visitor's Center (shouldn't this be the evening where it is open to the public?), the interactive stepping stones and the "panel discussion" at the McKeldin Plza themed Luminous Interventions. (Grab yourself a chair, we couldn't set them up, they would fly away").

As a strong proponent of keeping the McKeldin Fountain preserved and integrated into a new plaza design, I was delighted to see that the Downtown Partnership had relinquished its earlier idea of fencing the fountain off as a demolition site and not allowing any display there. The display that showed faces and messages on the many concrete surface areas of the fountain was the most sophisticated of the first evening and very powerful for its message and for the place where it was held. After all, not only is the fountain McKeldin Plaza  basically on death row, the plaza had also become known as the free speech area in Baltimore after the Occupy movement had pitched its tent there. Good start, Light City Baltimore!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

 The trash wheel (Photo Andrew Ratner)

Pixel Promenade (Photo Andrew Ratner)

Luminous Intervention (photo: ArchPlan)

Luminous Intervention (photo: ArchPlan)

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Lantern Parade (photo: Bill Reuter)