CHALLENGE Turning an unsightly power substation along Interstate 75 in Atlanta into an intriguing art installation using light-emitting diode (LED) technology required power of another kind: brainpower. Amy Landesberg, principal of Atlanta-based Amy Landesberg Architects, taught a student workshop at the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Architecture in spring 2005 to generate ideas. According to Landesberg, former Georgia Tech vice president for administration and finance Robert Thompson wanted a new substation to not be hidden, but rather seen as an opportunity to celebrate technology on campus. As the university has expanded into the industrial area that includes this station, a design review board evaluated the workshop suggestions, ultimately selecting the “louver wrap” proposal. Once the workshop was completed, Landesberg's office continued with the project, using louvered panels and LEDs to create a dynamic design that provides the variation wanted by the station's co-owners, Georgia Tech and Georgia Power.

SOLUTION The plan is for the substation's industrial location to become part of the Georgia Tech campus in addition to mixed-use development. Revisioning how to approach utilities such as this station was a challenge, Landesberg says, but creating a design solution to acknowledge it as an amenity rather than a detriment definitely was part of the motivation behind the project.

A scrim creates fluctuating views, neither entirely hiding the station nor leaving it in full view. Vertical steel flats camouflage the station's unsightly parts and are situated at various angles, which allow changing views when approaching the structure from different directions. LED technology was not the first light source choice for the project as Landesberg says it was just becoming available at the time. “The idea of colored lighting came from the workshop,” she notes. “Conventional floods with gels were considered but ruled out because they didn't give us the range of opportunities that programmable LEDs did.” Using 40 117W RGB LED fixtures capable of more than 16 million colors, the station is illuminated internally by beam-angle lenses with three degree spreads: 7, 30, and 60. Paul Benton, regional sales manager for Advanced Lighting Systems, which manufactures the luminaires used for the project, says problems arose when the electromagnetic fields generated by the transformers started to “cook” the units, which as a result had to be repositioned.

During the day, the louvers provide varying views and allow passersby to perceive more of the metal enclosure itself. At night, the steel acts as a filter modulating the light behind it, managed by a DMX controller. “The simplicity of the system, combined with the fixture's ability to produce different color schemes, makes the project look complex to the commuting audience,” Benton says. “The reality of it is there's a control box in a room and 40 fixtures chained to it.” With the flexibility from the LEDs and controls, the Power Wrap achieves its mission to mask this uninviting station and make it appear pleasing by utilizing daytime light and shadows contrasted with a choreographed color light show at night.

Project Georgia Tech Power Wrap, Atlanta
Design Team Amy Landesberg Architects, Atlanta (architect and lighting designer); Georgia Institute of Technology College of Architecture, Atlanta (student workshop); Jordan and Skala Engineers, Atlanta (electrical engineer); Palmer Engineering Co., Atlanta (structural engineer)
Photographer Neil Dent, Atlanta
Project Size 480-foot-long linear enclosure, 20 feet to 24 feet high, on 1.5 acres
Manufacturers Advanced Lighting Systems, Nicolaudie