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September 25, 2008

CL lighting up for festival

The Cathedral of Learning and Stephen Foster Memorial will become colorful lighted sculptures next month as part of the Pittsburgh 250 Festival of Lights. Two different designs will transform the buildings during the month-long festival.

With six area buildings featuring artistic lighting installations and 15 others enhancing their existing lighting, the Pittsburgh festival is being touted by organizers as the largest in the nation.

Artlumiere, which projected vibrant images onto buildings in Pittsburgh’s cultural district during last year’s Festival of Lights, is working in conjunction with German design team Casamagica to turn the Cathedral of Learning into a symbolic candle on the birthday cake as part of the city’s 250th birthday celebration, said festival spokesperson Lissa Rosenthal.

The designs are crafted carefully to complement the existing architectural features of each building. Strong projectors set up at strategic vantage points bathe the buildings with the colorful patterns. Examples of other installations can be viewed at and images of last year’s Pittsburgh festival are among those showcased in a portfolio at

Rosenthal said Casamagica’s designers were inspired by the symbolism of the Cathedral itself as they developed the images that will be projected onto the Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard facades.

“It is among the most spectacular buildings in the City of Pittsburgh and because of what it represents — an education Mecca serving as a beacon — it’s an iconic image in itself,” Rosenthal said.

In one of Casamagica’s concepts, the Cathedral will be covered with multicolored bands of alphabet letters inspired by the Gutenberg press. The letters, projected in reverse to resemble movable type, will carry only a metaphoric message and form no words. Their cool tones, including gold, magenta, jade, blue and white, will be drawn from hues found in the illuminated lettering of medieval manuscripts.

A second design is based on the artists’ concept of “visible mathematics through geometry,” Rosenthal said. Jewel tones of magenta, purple, aqua and gold will bathe the building facades in abstract geometric designs that festival organizers hope will spark on-campus conversations on the concepts behind the designs and the principles involved in the projections.

No decision has been made on which of the two concepts will be projected first or when the designs will change, Rosenthal said. The same pattern will appear on both facades of the Cathedral and a coordinating design will swathe the Stephen Foster Memorial.

Phil Hieber, senior area coordinator for Pitt’s Facilities Management, is working with the artists on the unique event, although he said most of the work has been done at a distance. Facilities Management approved the sites where projectors will be placed and will erect the 5-foot scaffolding that will hold the equipment.

He said light from inside the Cathedral should not impact the appearance of the design, nor should the projection present a disturbance to anyone inside.

Oakland’s part of the celebration begins Oct. 15 immediately following the opening performance of Squonk Opera’s free Astro-rama show, which begins at 8 p.m. on Schenley Plaza. The lighting will continue through Nov. 20. The projections will go dark long enough to accommodate Pitt’s traditional homecoming fireworks and laser show but will be re-lit immediately after the Oct. 24 event.

Downtown, the festival begins Oct. 10 with artistic lighting projections on the facades of the Omni William Penn Hotel, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and buildings near the Katz Plaza and at Penn Avenue and Ninth Street. A “flip the switch” event will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Katz Plaza.

A new addition this year is the inclusion of 15 houses of worship including Pitt’s Heinz Chapel and several others nearby. The churches, temples and synagogues will leave their lights on to showcase the beauty of their buildings and stained glass windows during the festival.

Music is scheduled at Schenley Plaza and Katz Plaza on selected nights throughout the festival.

A schedule of events and maps pinpointing festival sites will be available online at

Organizers also plan to link to online photo-sharing site Flickr and social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook to enable visitors to post their photos of the festival online.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 3

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