In July 2005, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a new $632 million dollar investment, linking Charleston and Mount Pleasant on US Highway 17 was slated to open. The bridge with its diamond-shaped towers replaced the two old cantilever bridges. With its pedestrian and bike lanes, the bridge was a much awaited addition to the Lowcountry.
To celebrate the opening of the bridge, the city planned a one week celebration with a black-tie gala on the bridge and a firework extravaganza.
When we first heard that the city was thinking of doing a gala in the middle of the new Ravenel Bridge, we knew that PDA should be involved. We thought, this is the only time this will ever happen. The old bridge could still be used for traffic during the gala and we knew the city would never again have the opportunity to close the new bridge to cars, except once a year for the bridge run – of course.
We approached the Mayor’s office and pitched the idea of illuminating the new Charleston bridge. We had lots of ideas of what we could do to it, such as static beams of light on top of the structures, lasers arching across the sky, LEDs washing on the cables, and of course, illuminating the towers.
They loved all of the ideas and wanted it all, but when reality stepped in and we found out what their budget was, we decided to illuminate the towers with color changing intelligent fixtures, which turned out to be brilliant and the best fit.
One of the things we liked most about this event was the setup for the job. We started 3 days prior to the show with cabling, power distribution, fixture placement, etc. We would start working at night around 5pm and we had the bridge all to ourselves. The Ravenel Bridge offers the the most incredible views of Charleston and the Harbor. There we were, on a brand new multimillion dollar bridge with nobody but the PDA crew onsite. It was an experience we won’t ever forget.
When it was time for the event, everything was set and ready to go and we fired up the lights. The bridge was scheduled to be lit for the first time after the gala ceremonies. It is then that we noticed the lights had not held their presets and would not be focused in the right position. To say the PDA crew was stressed would be putting it mildly.
All the hard work, programming, fanfare, and expectations could quickly have turned into a disaster. Since it was still daylight, we had our crew get to the towers with radios and we got on consoles. Trying to focus lights outside on 400’ tall structures that are hundreds of feet apart in daylight is tough, but somehow we did it. When the sun went down, the show started and it was absolutely beautiful.
We still get compliments about our work with the bridge on a monthly basis. It was one of our favorite jobs. We got to light an enormous structure and work in a fabulous work environment with a view that couldn’t be better. The lights on the bridge were the centerpiece for what people attending called “the party of the century in Charleston.”
The event led to articles being published in international lighting magazines, but the best part of the event is that we had complete artistic control on how to light the bridge.
Whenever someone comes to our office and sees the pictures of the event on our walls, they always say, “That’s awesome. Will the city ever do that again?” My reply is always, “probably not, but if they do PDA is ready.”