The Bay Lights: Illuminating the San Francisco Skyline

December 13, 2016

One of the most spectacular features of the new San Francisco luxury condos for sale at 181 Fremont is the view. Perched high above the vibrant streets of SoMa, the top 17 floors of this 801-foot-tall structure afford residents lovely scenes of the city skyline on one side and the San Francisco Bay on the other, where The Bay Lights, a unique, shimmering art installation illuminates the sky and water. Conceived by artist Leo Villareal, The Bay Lights was originally designed to be a temporary installation on the San Francisco Bay Bridge but became so popular that Illuminate the Arts, the San Francisco arts advocacy group that first brought the project to life, gathered support and raised $4 million to make it a permanent fixture in the city.

The installation is a work of artistic and technical magic, comprising over 25,000 individual LED lights running along the bridge’s 300 cables. Far from the quiet solitude of an artist’s studio, the San Francisco Bay Bridge is one of California’s most heavily trafficked thoroughfares, so planning for both the temporary and permanent installations of The Bay Lights was a formidable undertaking. Weather, traffic, the possibility of earthquakes, and the unpredictability of a busy urban bridge were all considered in making Villareal’s project a physical reality. Using the original blueprints from 1936, a team of engineers, IT professionals, and safety experts collaborated with Caltrans (the California Department of Transportation) and the engineering and design firms of Parsons Brinckerhoff, Zoon Engineering, and Philips Color Kinetics and Kapsch to draw up plans, while the women-owned electric firm of Bleyco Inc. took the lead on installation. The incredible design and installation process was documented in the film Impossible Light by director Jeremy Ambers.

Leo Villareal, the artist whose vision brought The Bay Lights into existence, is a gifted polymath whose site-specific light sculptures have brightened public spaces all over the world. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native earned a BA in sculpture from Yale University in 1990 and an MA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Interactive Telecommunications Program. His work is represented in several important museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But for Villareal, the objects shown in museums are just one part of his artistic practice, as the world outside and the elements of light and sound, space, weather, people, architecture, and cars provide him materials on a canvas writ large.

In 2012, Villareal created Cosmos, a site-specific work on the campus of Cornell University, which is composed of nearly 12,000 LED lights suspended above the Mallin Sculpture Court at the University’s Johnson Museum. At night, the work mirrors the stars in the sky, and the software that powers its illumination generates new patterns over time. The same year, he created a work called Buckyball in New York’s Madison Square Park, which features a 30-foot-tall set of illuminated spheres—one nested inside the other—that cast a colorful glow from within the park at night. For an earlier piece, Multiverse, Villareal designed 41,000 LED nodes to illuminate the walkway between the East and West Buildings of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

While most people who encounter Villareal’s outdoor works happen upon them during their travels, the residents of the luxury San Francisco condos at 181 Fremont can enjoy the elegant glimmer of The Bay Lights from the best seats in the house as they sit down to dinner or watch the sunset. From the luxury condo’s amenity floor—itself a dazzling display of ingenious interior design—residents can take in the spectacular views of this unique work of art and share it with friends in high style, as the perfect complement to sparkling conversation.

Image courtesy of ©iStock.com/beebuddy