January 16, 2022
Built in 1962 and inspired by the Space Age, the aptly named Space Needle is a staple of the Seattle skyline known for stunning views from the flying saucer-like observation deck. In 2017, the Space Needle began an ambitious multi-year renovation to modernize the visitor experience while also honoring the tower’s history. As a homage to the original concept art from the 1960s, the Space Needle now features a floor-to-ceiling glass interior and expanded glass panels on the upper-level observation deck, which provide enhanced and uninhibited views of Seattle and the Puget Sound.
Since the tower’s long-time outdoor lighting fixtures created excessive glare through the all-new revolving glass floor, the Space Needle needed a new, more versatile system that provided the same iconic lighting while reducing glare and shadows cast through the glass floor at night.
To meet these requirements, LVH Entertainment Systems, in partnership with the Niteō lighting design firm, installed a cutting-edge and innovative system featuring Martin Exterior Projection 500 and 1000 fixtures from Martin Professional Lighting Solutions that debuted on New Year’s Eve to welcome in the year 2022.
“Early in the process for the top hat design renovations, we flagged that by putting in a glass floor and maintaining the existing 1,000-watt metal halide lights mounted down at the ground level – even from that height – the visitor experience could be impacted by glare from those fixtures and light trespass into the space,” said lighting designer Erik Crowell of Niteō. “Our goal in redesigning the exterior lighting was to enhance the nighttime visitor experience on the new rotating glass floor while maintaining the iconic design of the floodlighting done by Ross De Alessi Lighting Design, which everybody associates with that nighttime view in Seattle. We started thinking, ‘Well, in an ideal world, what would we do?’ The answer is that we’d light up just the opaque parts of the structure, which were the legs and bottom pan, and we’d trim out all of the lighting that went through the glass floor.”
After a series of trials, the Niteō team found that specially designed gobos that intricately outlined the Space Needle’s structure and blacked out parts where the glass floor was visible would dramatically reduce glare and unwanted shadows in the observation areas. In order to determine each gobo’s design, the Niteō team worked with Jason Davis, Vice President of LVH Entertainment Systems, and the installers to insert a custom-designed grid pattern in each projector to clearly map which areas needed to be blacked out. Niteō’s designers then used this information to create the gobo patterns in Photoshop. The Martin Exterior Projection Series’ high-contrast image capabilities, wide zoom range and high output, were all crucial to the success of this installation.
“In most projector bulbs, there’s a reflector behind it that’s designed to push and scatter as much light out as possible,” Davis explained. “Instead, the Exterior Projections form the light into more of a tight beam, which allowed us to take a more accurate reading of the grid on the Space Needle. The gobo of the grid was literally as big as a watch face, but we were still able to take something of that size and project it with a high resolution. You can’t even read the numbers when you’re staring at it in your hand, but the light from the projectors came out perfectly and allowed Erik to be able to surgically remove the light from where we didn’t want it.”
“I think that the solution is about as technical as it gets from an exterior lighting perspective, and as nuanced and precise as you can possibly be with an exterior lighting application,” Crowell added. “All creative aspects aside, we had more than our work cut out for us to make it all come together.”
Featuring a weatherproof design on long-term and permanent installations, the Martin Exterior Projection 1000 ensures solid beams and striking washes in any weather condition –– necessary characteristics for any installation in the famously wet and overcast Seattle area. Additionally, the Exterior Projection 1000 supports full CMY color-mixing and remote control via DMX, giving Space Needle staff an easy and safe way to change the lights’ colors for holidays and occasional civic special events.
“With the old lighting system, changing the colors of the lights involved somebody physically going up to each fixture and putting a theatrical gel on it to get the color that they want,” Crowell explained. “So the ability to change those things safely and quickly with the push of a button on a screen is huge. The tower’s management brings it up in every meeting how excited they are about that. I don’t think they’ve envisioned a use for all of the capabilities of the Martin projectors yet, but the ability for those fixtures to project patterns and create kinetic moving things along the façade is another tool that they can use during shows on their façade or other special events.”
The Martin Exterior Projection 500 offers many of the same features as the Exterior Projection 1000, but in a smaller enclosure, making it an ideal fill light for the Space Needle’s lower legs and curved surfaces. The resulting new lighting system maintains the Space Needle’s iconic nighttime look from the outside, while the glass interior and observation deck’s views are uninhibited by the lights below. Organizers for the Space Needle are pleased with the teams’ inventive solution and are thrilled with the Martin fixtures’ cutting-edge technology and potential for future events.
“These Martin lights have features that other lights are struggling to even incorporate,” Davis stated. “They’re pretty cutting-edge in terms of what they’re able to do and they’re really high-quality. I think the Space Needle will be in good hands for a long time with this rig.”