Al Borden Responds to “What Is Philadelphia’s Spectrum of Bright LED Night Lighting Saying?”

In this Article
Alfred Borden, Principal

Since first designing Avenue of the Arts in a vibrant, customizable spectrum of colors in 2006, The Lighting Practice has worked closely with the City of Philadelphia to illuminate buildings from the waterfront to Center City, to the neighborhoods and beyond. In July 2018, Philly’s color-changing skyline was the subject of an article that questioned its lighting design coherence and message. TLP Principal and Founder Al Borden responded to the commentary, noting “we enjoy the many voices that tell their story each night on Philadelphia’s skyline.”

In the Inquirer’s Viewpoints section, author Ashley Hahn commented on the array of colors that pepper the city. Citing Boathouse Row’s rainbow illumination for Pride Month, she argued that Philadelphia’s nighttime skyline is most coherent when its color-changing buildings are lit in a unified scheme for “causes, memorials, playoff games, or holidays.” At other times, she noted, the colorful buildings make “this wondrous, complex city feel flat.”

As a leader in lighting design in Philadelphia, Al offered the following insight in a follow-up opinion piece in the Inquirer.

“I am writing in response to Ashley Hahn’s commentary on the animated LED lighting systems that embellish many of Philadelphia’s most prominent buildings. Our firm has been fortunate enough to work with many owners on their exterior lighting projects. Philadelphia’s earliest – The Avenue of the Arts lighting system – is still one of its most successful. Center City District’s vision for the lighting was related to placemaking: create a nightly display that draws attention to Philadelphia’s performing arts venues. Each of the 12 building owners along the six-block expanse of the system joined with CCD in a common mission to enhance their destination neighborhood. The coordinated lighting display gives this district a distinctive identity. But not every building or every neighborhood should be tied to the same message. We applaud the enthusiasm that empowers building owners to invest in the creation of a unique nighttime appearance for their property. As Ms. Hahn has noted, lighting is a powerful communicator. We enjoy the many voices that tell their story each night on Philadelphia’s skyline.

Our firm is disappointed that Ms. Hahn does not appreciate the beauty and spectacle in the variety of individual expressions that are on display each evening. Each building is owned and operated by separate entities. Each has their own mission for the lighting and their own measure for success. Confining each owner to a prescriptive schedule of colors and sequences or tying them all to a central controller seems like a vision more suited to an authoritarian or top-down environment. Where Ms. Hahn sees chaos, we see exuberance. Animated nighttime lighting reveals details and creates a visual interpretation that is not possible in daylight. It is a new way to regard our skyline, the composition of our views and the diverse energies that power a big city.”

Check out Ashley Hahn’s full article here.

Avenue of the arts lighting colors

Photography by Barry Halkin

lit bros philly

Photography by Jeffrey Totaro

PECO Crown

Photography by Akira Suwa, Courtesy of Cloud Gehshan