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Innovation

Green tech that shimmers. Raleigh uses LEDs, aluminum flaps for convention center's new Cree Shimmer Wall

What do you do with an exterior wall a city block long that fronts your building's heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems? That's the challenge that was posed to Thomas Sayre, who specializes in designing what people typically call public art installations.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

What do you do with an exterior wall a city block long that fronts your building's heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems? That's the challenge that was posed to Thomas Sayre, who specializes in designing what people typically call public art installations. Sayre's design firm was one of three companies hired by the city of Raleigh to work on its brand-new convention center.

The problem, as the designer saw it, was that the wall in question would need to accommodate air vents. Sayre's solution was to design the facade out of thousands of tiny aluminum flaps that rotate on an axle and allow for air blow. Think of fishing lures dangling in the wind. Some of the flaps are shiny silver and the others are matte black, arranged in the design of an oak tree that spans 210 feet long by 44 feet. When a breeze hits the wall, it creates a shimmering effect that waves through the design. All in all, though, it's a very low-tech green-tech solution. "In a sense, the entire wall is a louver, but it is a very cool louver," says artist Sayre.

Here's a photo of what they look like:

And, here's a larger perspective that lets you see the design.

Gorgeous in the daytime, perhaps, but what happens after dark?

This is where LED tech company Cree stepped in. Raleigh, which actually was the first city to sign up for the LED City program, had been trying to figure out how to light up the wall on the new building. The streetlights all around the facility use LED bulbs as does the parking facility, but conventional lighting was being considered for the Shimmer Wall. That is, until Sayre and Greg Merritt, vice president of corporate marketing, began to talk about using colored LEDs to light up the wall at night.

The result is pictured in the image below.

Cree actually donated $1 million to the project, which is a pretty impressive branding opportunity. More than 120,000 cars will drive past the wall each day; which is an ironic statistic when you consider that LED lighting is a testament to energy conservation.

You can see the wall shimmer for yourself on this beautifully edited video by a journalist at Raleigh's News & Observer.

Mesmerizing.

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