By Clarissa Allison | September 11th, 2015
Tribute in Light was first presented on March 11, 2002, six months after the 9/11 attacks, and has been presented annually by MAS (Municipal Art Society) ever since. Comprising eighty-eight 7,000-watt xenon light bulbs positioned into two 48-foot squares that echo the shape and orientation of the Twin Towers, Tribute in Light is assembled on a roof near the World Trade Center site. The brilliant memorial reaches heights of 4 miles high and is the most powerful shaft of light ever projected from earth into the night sky. Even thirteen years later the void left after the shocking, violent destruction of 9/11 is ever palpable.
The idea was originally concocted by several artists and designers under MAS and Creative Time. The Light Tribute was designed by John Bennett, Gustavo Bonevardi, Richard Nash Gould, Julian Laverdiere and Paul Myoda with lighting consultant Paul Marantz. A grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation provided a grant with the generous assistance of Con Edison.
The beams are also a tribute to the power of light, a perennial symbol that has been a source of comfort and hope throughout human history. A silent reminder that the memories of those lost on that significant day will never be dulled. On a clear night, they can be seen from 60 miles away, including the Connecticut, New Jersey and Long Island suburbs where so many victims lived.
Since its debut, the tribute has been illuminated annually, appearing at sunset on 9/11 and gradually fading with the dawn on 9/12. It is striking and yet simple, a beacon that allows itself to be interpreted by the viewer.
It takes 10 days for a crew of 30 electricians, stagehands and production assistants, all wearing special eye protectors and gloves, to set up and aim the lights. Each bulb must be focused and leveled by hand because the slightest variation could ruin the effect.
Since 2007, the lights have been powered by clean-burning biodiesel, a fuel made from the used cooking oil of some of New York City’s 4,200 restaurants. One wonders how many meals were prepared, how many people fed, by the oil that lights these lamps.
The tribute also takes place during the peak migration season for tens of thousands of birds. Ornithologists found that the tribute lights lured in some flocks, causing them to circle inside the beams in confusion. Experts worried the circling could burn up energy the birds need to make their full migration. The Municipal Arts Society now works together with the Audubon Society each Sept. 11 night to ensure the birds’ safe passage. If flocks do get stuck, the tribute lights are turned off for 20 minutes so the birds can sort themselves.
Bustling, diverse, and enormous – in New York City there is a solemn agreement about the importance of this beacon. They aid us in the long struggle of coming to grips with that tragic day, and light a path toward the eternal presence of hope and rebirth.
The Louie Lighting Team wishes you and yours a safe and happy weekend.