Charleston In Charge: Lighting Ravenel Bridge


PDA lighting and sound of Charleston, SC, took on the task of lighting the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the largest cable-stayed bridge in North America, for its grand opening.

Company owner Jeff Nickles, production supervisor Keith Thornhill, and production coordinator Nikki Corriher spent months working with city officials and committee members from both the cities of Historic Charleston and Mount Pleasant, as well as members of the DOT to design and bring to life what was called Charleston's party of the century. Guests were treated to a gradual reveal of the bridge's distinctive diamond shaped towers, as they took on a life of their own with transitions of colored light extending over 6,000' of concrete.

“This bridge is the largest structure I have ever lit in my 30 years in lighting, and it had to make a statement,” says Nickles, who worked with his crew — including Thornhill, Corriher, John Folsom, Dave Ham, Matt Henson, Eric Corriher, Jeff Sanders, Brad Bettencourt, and Chip Frischesser — through one night and halfway through another to get the job done.

Throughout the planning of this event, there were many revisions to both design and budget, with input from city council, DOT, Security Council, FAA, and contractors. The initial drafts for lighting the bridge would have had every cable lit. However, given the restrictions and needs of all parties concerned, including light pollution concerns of local environmentalists, PDA had to focus on using less gear with a heavier demand for intensity and throw.

Because the diamond towers became the key points of interest, all fire power was focused on the three sides facing the harbor of each tower, using 14 Coemar iWash Flex units to extend to the peak of each diamond and 14 Coemar Panoramic Cyc lights to ensure a vibrant saturation of color at the base of each tower.

The diamonds of the bridge are roughly 1,600' apart, so it made more sense to operate each one's lighting system separately. Two Martin Light Jockey systems were synchronized using PC Timeclock, which proved to be an efficient way to manage timing of cues. Twenty-four ETC Source Four® PARs were used to highlight the hydraulic cable supports and create ambient lighting in magenta and blue. Aaron Bennett with GE Energy provided PDA with two whisper generators that were placed about 30' outside of each diamond to power the independent lighting systems.

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