An artful anniversary

Located on the campus of the University of Minnesota, the Frederick Weisman Museum is less of a museum and more of a work of art. The four-story structure, designed by Frank Gehry, is a unique combination of brushed stainless steel and brick that reflects the distant skyline of Minneapolis. Part art palace, part modern architecture, the building is filled with crevices and coves and has provided ample eye candy for the locals since its construction.

The Weisman Museum has been a part of the city for five years now. To commemorate the anniversary, there was a two-night celebration last November 20-21, which included the use of automated lighting on the exterior of the building.

The university contacted local lighting designers Stan Crocker and Michael Murnane. Says Crocker, "I've been driving past the Weisman for five years now,and each time I've thought, 'I'd love to put some light on it.'" Last summer, Crocker phoned the university, and left a message expressing his interest in doing exterior lighting for the museum. A few months later, preparations began for the anniversary celebration, which is when Murnane, who also fancied lighting the building, became involved.

Murnane didn't even consider using moving lights. "I was thinking much more along the line of HMI and movie equipment," he admits. "I thought I could get a lot more bang for the buck with the brighter units." Crocker, on the other hand, had just come from working with the Vari*Lite(R) VL7(TM) spot luminaire and thought the instrument was perfect for lighting the Weisman. So the two LDs calculated the budget and approached Eric Hanson, manager of VLPS Chicago. In the end, the pair used an all-Vari*Lite rig consisting of six VL7s, 15 VL5(TM) wash luminaires, and eight VL5Arc(TM) wash luminaires.

With the aid of Vari-Lite programmer Aaron Hubbard, they concentrated their efforts on the north and west sides of the Weisman, which are covered in panels of highly reflective stainless steel. "We illuminated the facade of it--about 35% of the building," Crocker says (the rest of the structure is covered in brick, like the other buildings on the campus). The museum is also full of angles and coves, which made the job more interesting. "One of the great things about the building are those wild angles," Murnane notes with a smile.

The VL7 proved the right instrument for the job. Says Crocker, "The zoom is amazing--it can go from the size of a half dollar and then jump up and light a building. It will hold its gobo focus as it's zooming, so you can see it build up without going out of focus." For the rig itself, the LDs placed all the instruments on floor stands, anywhere from 50 to 300' (15-91m) away from the museum, with some cable runs in an excess of 600' (182m). The pair also placed six VL5s inside the museum, aimed out of the balconies and windows, their colors a contrast to those aimed at the stainless steel skin of the building.

The event was hampered by only one thing: the Minneapolis weather. The temperature started at about 40 degrees then almost immediately fell to a less than balmy 5 degrees. "The equipment was quite a bit more responsive than my fingers," reports Hubbard.

The challenge of lighting the Weisman Museum went beyond simple illumination. "I hope people looked at this and said, 'You know, maybe my building could have better lighting.' It would be wonderful if we could draw a little attention to putting good architectural lighting on buildings," Murnane says.