From Christmas lights to Chanukah candles, the holidays are upon us. Light is a key element in this season of festive window displays, public adornment, and moments of quiet reflection. A trio of lighting installations here and across the pond has caught our attention for their themes, innovative technologies, and design concepts.

Saks Fifth Avenue snowflake pectacle

Adding to the tradition of their already famous Christmas windows, the department store Saks Fifth Avenue has partnered with Philips Lighting to create a high-tech snowflake spectacle-a sound and light show at the store's flagship Fifth Avenue location. The display was engineered and specified by New York City-based lighting design firm Focus Lighting in conjunction with lighting vendor American Christmas. Decor-ating the entire west-facing façade, 50 giant, fully programmable snowflakes (14 of the flakes are 20 feet high; 36 are 8 feet high) are illuminated by 72,000 Philips LEDs and choreographed to a modern rendition of the song 'Carol of the Bells.' The two-minute show with over 450 different cues, rivaling that of a Broadway show, will run every half-hour after dark throughout the holidays.

The snowflake motif for the show, inspired by Wilson Bentley's photographs of the 1920s in which he discovered that no two snowflakes are the same, utilizes 13,000 feet of cable, 1,500 connectors, 720 LED dimmers, 8,000 feet of steel, 15 multicolor changing uplights, and 40 strobe lights. The spectacle took many sleepless nights to program (in part to avoid the New York City traffic), and hours of pre-production to create the snowflakes and organize the technology behind the event. LEDs were chosen for their light intensity, ease of maintenance, limited heat transference, low-energy consumption, and ability to be used for outdoor applications.

'We wanted something traffic-stopping,' says Focus Lighting's principal Paul Gregory. 'People in New York expect the best; we wanted to create the quality and excitement of a Broadway show in the middle of Manhattan. It was important that people walk away with a lasting memory.' And so they shall for at least the next four years.

Unicef's snowflake of hope and peace

A few blocks north at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, a new Unicef snowflake is gracing the intersection. Noted lighting artist Ingo Maurer was invited by the United States Fund for Unicef to create a new snowflake to replace the existing one, first installed in 1984, comprised of what now seems ancient technology: a 20-foot steel frame, gold tinsel, and hundreds of 11W bulbs. In 2002, the snowflake was dedicated to Unicef by the Stonbely Family Foundation, as a symbol of hope and peace for children at risk around the world.

The new snowflake is an outdoor crystal chandelier, measuring 14 1/2 feet high by 17 feet wide. The 12-arm sculpture is fabricated out of stainless steel, light (445 high-performance LEDs and 12 CDM spotlights), and more than 12,000 sparkling crystals, donated by Baccarat. Suspended 75 feet over the street from cables attached to each of the buildings on the four corners, the snowflake will aid Unicef in its fundraising efforts, through events and miniature crystal snowflake replicas sold by Baccarat.

evergreen abstraction in london

In a different take on the presentation of a holiday lighting scheme, London-based Coin Street Community Builders, owners of Oxo Tower Wharf, commissioned artist Simon Corder to create a piece for the wall of its Bargehouse in London's South Bank. Entitled Bough 1, the installation recalls 'the tradition common to many cultures of taking evergreens into the home in midwinter,' notes a press release. The 55-foot-high light sculpture, comprised of green, red, and yellow fluorescent tubes was unveiled in conjunction with the Lord Mayor's Parade firework display in November. The piece is visible from the riverside walkway along the Thames and Warterloo Bridge. Although commissioned for the holiday the installation will remain intact after the holiday season.