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ConneXion Helps Re-Light Chicago Skyscraper

ConneXion Helps Re-Light Chicago Skyscraper

The Chicago skyline has a new and improved king. The already notable and recognizable John Hancock Center now boasts a stunning new crown of light, one that already has amazed and entertained Windy City residents and visitors.

This stunning facelift comes from installing new high-power Pixel Graze LED fixtures from Acclaim Lighting. The fixtures produce a bold, quad-color spectrum that enables the building to colorfully highlight unique events, activities and causes, from holidays and change of seasons to supporting various charities and wearing the colors of Chicago sports teams.

ConneXion and Lombardi Electric supported the John Hancock Center lighting project.  Buffalo Grove, Illinois-based ConneXion is offers a wide array of electrical products, flexible logistical services and clean energy efficient business solutions.  Lombardi Electric, Inc., Bloomingdale, Illinois, a member of the National Electrical Contractors Association, (NECA) and the Electric Association, provides “turn-key” electrical installations.

“As an iconic building along the Chicago waterfront, the John Hancock Center’s lighting change easily will be noticed globally thanks to the beautiful schemes produced by this efficient and energy-saving solution,” says said Marc Pilipuf, owner/principal of PG Enlighten, Westmount, Illinois, the contractor overseeing the lighting system install. “Transitioning from the past to the future was more pronounced on this building than other projects. These compact, new LED fixtures really provide a noticeable change with best-in-class color mixing and saturation. It was a real jump in technology.”

Historic Skyscraper, City Icon

The John Hancock Center is the home of the world-renowned tourist attraction, 360° Chicago, where people can view every angle of the city.  One of the most famous buildings of the structural expressionist style, John Hancock Center’s distinctive X-braced exterior displays the structure’s skin as part of its tubular system. Bangladeshi-American structural civil engineer Fazlur Khan and chief architect Bruce Graham used this technique to achieve the skyscraper’s record height. The tubular system structurally keeps the building upright during wind and earthquake loads, while the X-bracing enables higher performance and gives the building the ability to open up the inside floorplan. In fact, the design structure allows only five to eight inches of sway in a 60-mph wind. The center has been tested to withstand winds of 132 miles-per-hour.

Such original engineering features, combined with a keen architectural aesthetic, have made the John Hancock Center an icon, not just in Chicago, but globally. The building’s unique site just off Lake Shore Drive influenced its design. Surrounded by huge, residential high-rise buildings and facing one of the city’s most attractive, well-known commercial streets, Michigan Avenue, the building needed to at once blend in yet still stand out.

Including its two antennas, the John Hancock Center rises a vast 1,499 feet, making it one of tallest buildings in the world when measured to pinnacle height. Even its observatory elevators of the John Hancock Center, manufactured by Otis, travel 96 floors at a top speed of 1,800 ft./min. (20 mph). They’re the fastest elevators in the United States.

The building also features an impressive 897,000 square feet of Class A commercial space; 172,000 square feet of retail space; 34,000 square feet of TV and radio broadcast facilities/antennae; 700 privately-owned luxury residential condominiums; and a 710-car public parking garage.

Old Dingy Crown

Its new owners, the Chicago-based Hearn Company, which purchased the building in 2013, wanted to add value this already impressive landmark. One of its most recognizable features at night is its Crown of Lights, comprised of 552 eight-foot-tall fluorescent tubes mounted in cabinets up against the windows on the 99th floor.

The color changing process for this obsolete system was pretty simple, but at times a little scary. Building engineers would climb to an interior 99th floor catwalk, remove the fluorescent tubes, slip them inside colored plastic sleeves, and replace them. Changing all 552 tubes took about 40 hours for two building engineers.

All was completed from inside the building, so workers never faced the danger of falling to the street below. But, they met another occupational hazard each summer. Moths were attracted to the lights, which in turn attracted a significant numbers of large spiders. In fact, workers in the summer needed to wear long pants and shirts with their sleeves and cuffs duct-taped closed. They also wore hoodies to keep spiders from going down their backs.

New Light

This changed when building owners decided to replace the fluorescent tubes were replaced with Acclaim Lighting’s Pixel Graze LED fixtures. The new Acclaim fixtures offer easy color changes, operating via remote computer under the guidance of PG Enlighten. The company offers its clients a unique combination of lighting and controls product lines combined with a personalized approach to meet specialized design and specification needs. It did just that for Hearn Company on the Hancock Center project.

“After reviewing the specific lighting parameters, Pixel Graze was ideal for the Crown of Lights because of its unique quad chip that delivers bright pixel control,” said Lisa Bernacchi, Specification Specialist at PG Enlighten.

ConneXion worked to make sure the lighting upgrade was done correctly the first time, so the project would not have to be fixed if the white light did not match correctly.

The new lighting fixtures are located almost adjacent to the wall in a 12-foot room. They had to be brighter than the existing configuration. However, space was not available to allow single colors to blend the way the lighting experts wanted them to project.

“That’s why we needed the quad chip. As a result, sample fixtures were mocked up to help choose the right fixture for the Crown,” Bernacchi explains.

Pixel Graze is a high power, indoor/outdoor LED fixture with quad color spectrum or dynamic white options.  It is available in 1’ and 4’ sections with robust IP66 housing, features a compact profile, and offers best-in-class color mixing and saturation. Its multiple control options, including pixel control, round out a feature set that makes it a perfect option for any structure requiring indoor or outdoor linear grazing.

John Hancock Center’s new lighting system includes 160 LED pixel fixtures – (88) one foot and (72) four foot. Fixtures are located above the 98th floor in cabinets. The controller, Art 500 also from Acclaim Lighting, is located in the engineer’s office on the 16th floor. The Art 500 is a touch-panel DMX Controller with 1,024 DMX channels and 500 preset scenes. It’s designed to be the most effective control solution for architectural lighting control.  With an easy to navigate interface, the ART 500 includes a software package compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10 (ESA Pro), Mac OS X (ESA2).

“There is a huge jump in functionality between controllers in the Acclaim line,” said Bernacchi. “The Art 500 is easy to program, making it was the natural choice.  The touch panel makes is extremely easy to change color schemes remotely, without spiders.

The project utilized 600 feet of cables between the fixtures going to three DMX Splitters optimize the lighting system.  The DMX Splitter features one RDM/DMX input and six outputs to provide flexible signal configuration.  Each port is electrically isolated to ensure a maximum total run of 3,900 feet for each signal line for ultimate control.

“The overall system eliminated past occupational hazards and also provided easy lighting control, which has a positive, major effect on the local community,” said Pilipuf. “The lighting can keep up with all the activities of a magnificent city.”

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