Waterfront Art

Waterfront Vancouver will soon be bringing tens of thousands of people to the bank of the Columbia River. Imagine a light sculpture on Hayden Island that engages and entertains people on both sides of the river. That’s what this proposal is about.

A simple, organic installation that is useful and engaging is the goal. Holiday lighting technology is getting simpler, cheaper and better. Here’s an introduction to sequencing holiday lights. xLights is a free and open source program that enables you to design, create and play amazing lighting displays using DMX controllers, E1.31 Ethernet controllers and more.

LED Strip Lights can be voice controlled with Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Assistant. All manner of sensors are now cheap, small and powerful. Internet interactivity may also be integrated. Here are the top pitches from Amazon’s Alexa Accelerator.

A light sculpture might engage, inform and unify. On both sides of the river. High tech or not.

Hayden Island’s northern 20 foot high river bank is filled with huge boulders and is not accessible by the public. But imagine a large scale interactive light sculpture near the water line. People on both sides of the river could interact with it. A curtain of addressable LED lights draped over a series of poles might be an initial construct.

Projection Mapping projects images on buildings and organic shapes. A misting system can also make a great screen.

It may seem like a farcical vision, but The Port’s decision to sell some assets “for the people” may be sound policy. Imagine a focus on future trade technologies and trends. Joint partnerships enabling zero carbon emissions, self-sustaining energy, more efficient, cost/effective transportation, logistics, communications, etc. Think Amazon, Freightliner, Intel, Insitu, Vestas, Vigor. Mix strategically and with purpose.

The Port is an enabler and economic driver for businesses in the region. It could help develop and commercialize electric transportation, wind, wave, autonomous navigation, and sustainable energy through cooperation and joint ventures.

The mission of these Carbon Zero pilot projects would be to enable current businesses to become global competitors. We could become a catalyst for trade innovation. Determine where growth is. Where the puck is going.

A striking river sculpture, on the west side of the I-5 bridge, could capture the public’s imagination. That’s just branding. But that’s important, too.
The goal is to encourage engagement and collaboration on both sides of the river. It could be seen (and controlled) from both Washington and Oregon while bringing a smile to people. Even provide useful information.


This light sculpture might include the following features:

1. Interactive. Bluetooth mesh is all about lighting and Bluetooth 5 could have enough range to be controlled from across the river. Bluetooth light controllers control the lights from cues supplied by people or river conditions.

2. Organic. Light sculptures might only be visible at night. They could form images of common themes such as clouds, sun, the river, fish or birds. Lights could track people and objects with Bluetooth light controllers.

The theme on the waterfront could be repeated in a land-based sculpture. It could provide proximity lighting in the pedestrian tunnel or shelter in the Jantzen Beach Mall.

3. Useful. The sculpture can be programmed to indicate weather (clouds or sun) as well as current conditions for fishing or traffic.

Light Sequencers
DMX512 (Digital Multiplex) is a standard for digital communication networks that are commonly used to control stage lighting and effects. But LED light strings now offer the ability to program the color and intensity of each individual light, not unlike a giant flat screen. Sequences and interactions can be programmed on a computer screen, not unlike a MIDI controller for musical instruments. First seen in programmed holiday light sequences for homes, light sculptures can be simple or complex, garish or subtle.

Light O Rama, among other vendors, make creating industrial-scale light displays, relatively cheap and easy. Providing useful information such as traffic or weather conditions, as well as user interactivity, provided via a live streamed presence, could engage the public while providing sustainable revenue with participation from the Jantzen Beach Mall. Initial funding might be provided using 1% For Art, attached to the $4 billion Interstate Bridge replacement project.

Hayden Island Benefits:
The light sculpture would barely be seen by Hayden Island residents, although they could view it when near the river bank edge. It could promote Hayden Island hotels and businesses but it’s primary benefit may be to encourage mutual self interest and cooperation between Washington and Oregon through engagement.

The iconic I amsterdam sign was removed from the Dutch capital amid claims that they were encouraging too much tourism. The large letters had been tagged on Instagram 1.3 million times.

It was the inspiration for the Toronto Sign — each of its letters can be color-controlled by WiFi. The sign could spell out “Welcome”, even “OR”. A few extra letters might be built in secret, then substituted at random.

A sign on the Columbia would compliment the Portland Light Brigade, Winter Light Festival, and the Christmas Ships.

How about a 40 ft high totum near the Columbia River, just west of the I-5 bridge? The structure could be built around two, 30 ft telephone poles. A Bluetooth 5 Beacon on the top of the tower would broadcast a URL and a free WiFi connection could be made from across the river to control the light string.

The tower contains a cache for emergency preparedness, solar powered batteries, amateur radio and WiFi for local communications and generates an evening LED light show.

But its unique shape and location near the riverbank also make it an ideal location-based augmented reality landmark. A smartphone’s camera “recognizes” the tower and overlays a graphic on your phone’s live camera image. That’s augmented reality.

It moves when your phone moves. The Bluetooth Beacon lets users across the river connect to the app or website.

The Moai statues of Easter Island are 13 feet tall and nearly 14 tons on average, and have stood on the island since they were originally built sometime between the years 1250 and 1500. They are carved from compressed volcanic ash. They’re now digitized for modeling in VR/AR.

Imagine a dozen statues lined up, maybe 12 feet high. Mast in the middle. Like a boat. AR.

Jewell James stands with a totem pole he carved to urge the return an orca to Puget Sound. Build it in VR. See it on your phone. Just point your phone camera at the pyramid – the app will generate an overlay on the live camera image of the island. Anything you want.

Pole lights could act like a programmable barcode.

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a program that lets you trigger virtually any output (like a lightswitch) from virtually any input (like a weather report)

Bluetooth 5 incorporates a Flooding Mesh, which is a networking technique where every incoming packet to one (lighting) node is repeated to all connected nodes. Individual lights or light groups can be triggered by proximity, cameras, sound or programmed sequences.

A $50 LTE Beacon provides sensors with a gateway to the cloud. From anywhere in the State. Use available apps to transform and visualize the data or trigger an action.

PDX Hackerspace and Island in Space are collectives of engineers, designers and artists. The Things Network supports inexpensive LoRa devices enabling both sides of the Columbia to become entangled and collaborative.

The waterproof LEDs could be draped over a series of 12 ft poles, near the waterline. It could extend some 50-100 feet, near the river’s edge. Alternately, a series of 4x4s could be laid along the 45 degree slant of the river bank. Each 4×4 would have a number of translucent “quills” (for the LEDs). Projection mapping would require a large water screen from a fireboat, small barge, or piling.

Other examples:

The Vivid Sydney Festival turns The Bridge into an interactive light sculpture. Colour The Bridge, created by production company 32 Hundred Lighting in partnership with Intel, covers the bridge with 2,000 LEDs and over half a mile of fiber optics. The light display is controlled by the public who can choose from a palette of colors using a simple interface.

The Willamette Light Brigade sponsors the Portland Winter Light Festival. Public art along the Max Yellow line can provide inspiration. The Oregon Cultural Trust champions and invests in the statewide cultural exchange and creative expression.

An interactive light sculpture along the river bank could be appealing and mutually beneficial with the right concept and approach.


What do you think?

– Sam Churchill