PANAMA CANAL BRIDGE, submitted by Brilliant Lighting Design (also won commendable achievement in the Outdoor category)

» As part of a massive public recognition campaign, telecommunications company Bellsouth Panama decided to light one of the most famous structures in the country-the Panama Canal Bridge. From the beginning, the project faced an extremely tight budget. The original request was for a lighting solution not to exceed $60,000, notes lighting designer Robert Daniels, a bit incredulously. 'Upon seeing the bridge from a nearby shore location, we said that was way too low. That is the price to purchase a Mercedes, not to illuminate a bridge almost two miles long.' Indeed, the final price tag for the lighting equipment and installation was $167,000-higher than the original figure, but still a phenomenal feat given the size of the final project, which is more than three times longer than the 1,250-foot Empire State Building is tall.

Daniels' firm, Brilliant Lighting Design, in coordination with Panama-based Conceptos Brilliante, illuminated 4,200 feet of the bridge's total 1.7-mile length. Taking direction from the structure's architectural forms, the lighting highlights the bridge's center arch and side wings, distinguishing each with color. The arched middle truss glows with a 4100K white light, supplied by metal halide sources, as do the four 11-story-high concrete piers supporting this central span. A combination of 175W, 250W, and 400W sources illuminate the arch's cables, depending on the length, while 1000W fixtures downlight the piers. Additional sources define the horizontal axis of the roadway, and the bend in the arch above. The box trusses on either side stretching away from the central span are set apart with blue-filtered 1500W stadium lights. The same fixture is also used to light the bottom of the middle span, with four located on either side of the center section. Even with the depletion of lumen efficiency caused by the filters (30 percent, according to Daniels), eight 1500W fixtures are able to light a distance of almost 1,200 feet. As the arms stretch toward either side of the river, fewer luminaires are used to light the span between piers, causing the lighting effect to fade out gradually.

The project necessitated several inventive solutions. All fixtures mounted on the arch required a vibration dampener to eliminate damage from the shaking caused by heavy traffic on the steel bridge. The number and diversity of fixtures attached required custom equipment that could be easily adapted; a patent is pending on the solution. The lighting traverses the distance between piers aided by lighting platforms, which had to be clamp-welded to the structure. Invasive welding on or drilling into the existing concrete and steel was impossible, given the age and condition of the bridge. These platforms also facilitate maintenance, which involves a one-year relamping schedule for the blue horizontal fixtures and a three-year cycle for the rest of the sources.

Daniels points to several factors helpful in meeting the budget. Certainly labor costs are less expensive in Panama (though he notes, there were plenty of import/export fees on the fixtures to account for that are not usually encountered on a domestic project). Manufacturing some of the equipment in Columbia was also helpful. Perhaps most effective, Daniels and his team considered which of the bridge elements needed to be clearly visible. 'You can see the arch from the city, so this seemed the most important area to illuminate. Therefore, we went from a soft blue, building the intensity of the light at the center.'

Jury Comments
From a design point of view, the lighting doesn't split the bridge in half. Rather it creates a luminous whole. It takes the figure of the arch to the horizontal. In a minimal way, it is pretty successful in the disassembling of the bridge and the importance of the significant aspect of the bridge. The budget text was also impressive. They did accomplish it. It was minimal, but with a good lighting scheme.

project Panama Canal Bridge, Panama
lighting designer Brilliant Lighting Design, Miami
general contractor Conceptos Brilliante, Panama
electrical and structural contractor Antonio Navarro
photographer Robert Daniels

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