In early October, Boston weather begins its precipitous decline into the cold, the gray, and the dark. Most of us resign ourselves to the turn of the seasons, but Lana Nathe, principal of Boston-based Light Insight Design Studio, knew that a little lighting magic could transform the city into a sparkling autumnal vision. “Boston offers a truly unlit canvas at night—one that would not require much help to make a difference,” she says. Inspired by the lighting festival in Frankfurt, during which hundreds of buildings are lit in whimsical ways during the international lighting trade show Light+Building, Nathe proposed a similar five-day celebration for Boston. This fall, illuminaleBoston will coincide with the official opening of the Rose Kennedy Greenway—the 15 acres of new parkland that Boston gained when Interstate 95 was rerouted underground during the Big Dig.
But overcoming a web of permitting, reluctant building owners, and city agencies to light 10 sites—five buildings, four bridges, and a temporary Ferris wheel—is not for the faint of heart. To get it done, Nathe called on 35 lighting colleagues in the area and solicited donations from lighting manufacturers. After a year of planning, her team chose sites that, as she explains, “reveal Boston's rich history and architecture.” The projects include South Station, a stately 1889 granite edifice designed by 19th-century American architect H.H. Richardson, and Northern Avenue bridge, a rare 1908 operable steel swing bridge that is still standing thanks to the pluck of a few vocal advocates.
The festival does have some homegrown critics, including those who question using energy to illuminate a few buildings when the United States is hunkering down for the next energy crisis. To address these concerns, Nathe asked her design teams to use the latest technology, including light-emitting diodes, when possible, and has ordered an energy audit for five of the sites at the conclusion of the festival. “Lighting does indeed take energy to produce results, but this is about creating excitement in the city,” she says. IlluminaleBoston is on display from Oct. 1–5, 2008. Sites are illuminated from dusk to 11 p.m. For more information, go to illuminaleboston.com.
Rachel Levitt is the editor of Boston Home, Boston magazine's design quarterly. She received her Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania.