Memories In Light: The Pausch Bridge At CMU

Christopher Popowich and Cindy Limauro of C&C Lighting, LLC, used 7,000 color-changing LEDs in lighting The Pausch Bridge on the Carnegie Mellon University campus in Pittsburgh. Pausch—who was a professor of computer science at CMU—gave a popular talk called “The Last Lecture,” followed by a book of the same name, when he knew he was dying of pancreatic cancer (he passed away in 2008). “The lighting looks for The Pausch Bridge are inspired from visual metaphors in Randy’s book,” says Limauro. “The lighting runs for 15 minutes before repeating on a continuous loop.” Financed by CMU, the bridge connects the new Gates & Hillman Centers for computer science with The Purnell Center for the Arts.

In keeping with Pausch’s belief that even in dangerous waters, one penguin had to be brave enough to take the first dive, there are cutouts of penguins on the bridge, with lighting creating water imagery and motion to suggest the image of penguins jumping into water. “The double aluminum cutout panels of abstracted penguins are lit with a continuous run of Philips Color Kinetics ColorGraze fixtures at the top and the bottom,” Limauro explains. The span is about 220 feet with a brick wall at each end. The aluminum panels are lit with 93 4’ fixtures, 13 3’ fixtures and 12 2’ fixtures, while additional glass panels have a continuous run of Philips Color Kinetics eW Graze fixtures at the top focused down, with 43 4’ units and two 2’ units.

Another theme, Fun with Crayons, is based on Pausch’s talking about using only black and white crayons and then later on discovering color. “The bridge panels will start in darkness and will then fade up to white light,” says Limauro. The bridge will then start to change colors based on the favorite colors of Pausch, his wife Jai, and children Dylan, Logan, and Chloe. Space—The Last Frontier refers to Pausch’s interest in Star Trek and space, giving the lighting designers an opportunity to simulate a rocket blast off on a brick wall while the bridge panels create a panorama of space.

The other themes are:
Make the Most of Each Day—Time of Day Cycle, in which the lighting transitions from night into dawn, daylight into sunset, based on Pausch’s philosophy to live each day to its fullest.

Live your Dreams—the elevator in Randy’s bedroom: Pausch describes how important it was to be able to paint his bedroom and one strong image is the elevator. The lighting on the bridge creates the motion of a moving elevator stopping at floors with the wall culminating in beautiful colors to become a metaphor for Live your Dreams.

Disney and the Circus —Grand Finale: There are so many references in the book to Disney and the Circus. The Entertainment Technology Center program that Pausch co-founded at CMU is about exploring cutting edge technologies. “This section is a grand finale of the magic of light and shows off the possibilities of this cutting-edge lighting technology that is being used to honor Randy’s memory,” points out Limauro.

“Our 15-minute show, which runs on a continuous loop from dusk till dawn, will remain the same,” Limauro adds. “Eventually we are going to add wireless sensors to be programmed during certain hours to create new lighting looks triggered by motion across the bridge or environmental conditions. There will also be hours set aside for students to submit lighting looks for special campus events.

The biggest challenge for the lighting designers was integrating the lighting into the structural design of the bridge. “The panels are all different sizes and the bridge has a slight curve at both ends,” Limauro notes. The bridge was dedicated on October 30, 2009, with a dramatic light show to honor the memory of Randy Pausch and his commitment to combining the arts and technology in his work.

Related articles:

The Pausch Bridge Dedication

The Purnell Center For The Arts

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