The Bay Lights

The Process

The pivot from artist vision to the technical and physical realities of hanging 25,000 networked LEDs on the side of the California's busiest bridge required a tremendous and collaborative team effort.

The Process

1936-era blueprints of the Bay Bridge’s western span were unfurled across the table. A team of more that a dozen engineers, networking professionals, and bridge maintenance and safety experts began talking. There were tasked with doing something that had never been done before. Something many thought impossible; Translating artist Leo Villareal’s inspiring vision for a new artwork called The Bay Lights into the real-world of wind, fog, rain, lightening, traffic, vibrations, power, wires, cables, computers. It had to be viable and it had to be safe–and it had to work.

So began one of the greatest and most successful collaborations in public art history. With Caltrans providing access and Parsons Brinckerhoff taking the design lead, and with incredible leadership and creativity from Zoon Engineering and technical insights from Philips Color Kinetics and Kapsch, a plan began to emerge. Making sure that plan was executable, was Bleyco Inc, an woman-owned electrical contracting firm whose employees would be tasked with hanging from the side of the bridge in the dark of night to install the work. There were even heroics from the maker community who stepped forward to solve an intractable problem with a form of rapid prototyping that saved the project.

The full story and more can be witnessed in the exhilarating documentary on the making of The Bay Lights, Impossible Light, by filmmaker Jeremy Ambers.

Special Thanks

Illuminate the Arts would like to thank the following indivuals and organizations for their generous support of  The Bay Lights permitting and design process.

  • Caltans
  • Bay Area Toll Authority
  • City and County of San Francisco
  • San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission
  • San Francisco Board of Supervisors
  • San Francisco Arts Commission
  • United States Coast Guard
  • Parsons Brinckerhoff
  • Zoon Engineering
  • Bleyco Inc.
  • Kapsch
  • Philips
  • World Headquarters
  • Governor Jerry Brown
  • Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom
  • San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee
  • San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim
  • San Francisco City Engineer Fuad Sweiss
  • Hon. Karen Bass
  • Hon. Lois Capps
  • Hon. Judy Chu
  • Hon. Jim Costa
  • Hon. Anna Eshoo
  • Hon. Barbara Lee
  • Hon. Zoe Lofgren
  • Hon. Doris Matsui
  • Hon. Jerry McNerney
  • Hon. George Miller
  • Hon. Adam Schiff
  • Hon. Jackie Speier
  • Hon. Pete Stark
  • Hon. Mike Thompson