As dusk shrouded Lower Manhattan in darkness last night, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum extended an 88-cannon salute to those whose lives were indelibly-changed by the events of September 11, 2001. Now in its 12th year, the Tribute in Light sent two high-intensity beams of light four miles up into the night sky in a poignant memorial marking the absence of the original Twin Towers. Several dozen onlookers including victims’ family members and city officials watched the beams emanate from the top of a parking structure just blocks from Ground Zero in a solemn expression of remembrance.
Last night’s light show marks the second year the 9/11 Memorial has produced the Tribute in Light. “It makes total sense for us to be custodians of the memorial. It makes sense as a museum to curate this as a piece of our extended collection,” said Ryan Pawling, assistant director for public programs at the 9/11 Memorial. “It’s a symbol of New York and of the resilience of New Yorkers after the attack.”
The Tribute in Light concept was imagined immediately following the attacks in 2001 as a group of architects and artists organized by the Municipal Art Society (MAS) and Creative Time, a non-profit devoted to public art and was first displayed on the six month anniversary of the attacks. Designers included John Bennett, Gustavo Bonevardi, Richard Nash Gould, Julian Laverdiere, and Paul Myoda with lighting consultant Paul Marantz. MAS continued the show annually through the tenth anniversary in 2011.
“Most people see the beacons from far away. Not a lot of New Yorkers know the high-tech design that goes into putting on the show,” Pawling said. The technology behind the Tribute in Light and skill required to pull it off are as impressive as the display itself. During the previous week a team from lighting design studio Fisher Marantz Stone worked tirelessly to align the 88 Italian-made light cannons—each equipped with a 7,000-watt xenon light bulb—to create the dual beacons.
While the official Tribute in Light was only one night, New Yorkers for miles around could see the beams at night as crews traveled ten to fifteen miles away in several directions to ensure the beacons were plumb. Pawling said each cannon had to be individually aligned—beginning with the corners of each of the squares—to ensure the light beams point directly skyward with one unified glow. The cannons were adjusted fractions of a degree using specialized mounting gear that miles up in the sky accounts for a wide berth. If the lights are not all in sync, the beacons would appear fuzzy from far away.
The group brought in observers from the Audubon Society to help mitigate the effects of the lights on the migratory patterns on birds. Pawling said the time of year and New York’s geography makes it a prime route for birds, and that while the city itself with its ample night lighting can cause problems for the birds, the Tribute in Light hopes to steer clear of the birds. For instance, Pawling said the light show was turned off last year for two twenty minute periods to allow flocks to pass through without distraction.
By taking the reigns from MAS, the Museum was able to gain around $300,000 in funding from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) to put on the Tribute in Light. LMDC’s three-year grant, reallocated from unused transportation funds, extends through next year. With the LMDC phasing out its role in coming years, funding sources for the Tribute in Light will need to be found elsewhere, likely from private sources. Pawling said the museum has not begun exploring new funding options but will meet with various groups in the coming year to help determine the future of the display.
All photos by Branden Klayko / AN.