John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Artist Leo Villereal is still hoping to outfit the iconic span with a carpet of white lights that's 1.5 miles long.
This winter, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge might appear to have become home to a humongous colony of lightning bugs.
That's because artist Leo Villareal is planning to drape it with 25,000 white LEDs for an installation called "The Bay Lights." Initially scheduled for a 2011 debut, the Lite Brite-esque project is in the final stage of a fundraising drive to cover its roughly $8 million cost. The goal is to get it shining by late this year or early 2013, so if you have an extra $1.8 million lying around to get this grand artwork off the ground, you can donate it here. But you'd better hurry: Organizers are warning that if they don't raise what they need by July 1, it may never happen.
"The Bay Lights" is meant to honor the span's 75th anniversary and – suck it, France – will be "seven times the scale of the Eiffel Tower’s 100th Anniversary lighting," according to its website. The immense light curtain that Villareal's designing will stretch horizontally for 1.5 miles and be taller than a 45-story building. It will also be rigged to a processor controlling how the lights flicker, as is the case with several of the artist's previous diode-based works, such as this tunnel of light at D.C.'s National Gallery of Art.
So can you expect to see the Bay Bridge sporting scrolling advertisements for JOE'S CABLE CAR FAMOUS FRESH HAMBURGERS? Thankfully not, as Villareal is settling for abstract patterns that shimmer in the dusk like blooms of bioluminescent algae. Drivers on the bridge will not risk plummeting off the structure or smashing into each other in fits of rapture/glare-blindness, either, because the LEDs won't be visible to anyone on the actual bridge. It's meant for long-distance viewing from San Francisco and regions north, perhaps while sipping from a cool glass of Chardonnay with your arm around a comely lad or lass. Ideally.
The project's boosters claim that during its planned 2-year run, "The Bay Lights" will attract nearly $100 million in tourist cash to local businesses. The San Fran mayor and California governor are both on board with the artwork. Here's Villareal explaining why you should be, too: