A shining

Via ArtsJournal: Philip Kennicott produces an excellent piece about the art, science, theater, and politics of illuminating the monuments and other public buildings of the National Mall at night.

A recent revamp of the lighting of the Washington Monument, employing focusing technology used to light sports events, reduced the amount of wattage thrown on the structure as well as light pollution (what a lighting designer would call “spill”). Nevertheless, 24 kW goes into keeping the obelisk bright at night.

The structures on the Mall have a hierarchy that is replicated in the lighting scheme:

… as lighting designers who have worked on the Mall discover, that hierarchy is an informally acknowledged rule, not a written one.

Claude Engle, a lighting designer who has lit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the [East Building] of the National Gallery, remembers a significant change over the years that he has been working in Washington. In the 1970s, when he lit the new [East Building] of the gallery, he just did it by feel, by instinct.

“We decided—and that was just us—that it should be less bright, maybe 80 percent as bright, as the Capitol dome,” he says.

And silly restrictions on information “for security reasons” extend to lighting the Capitol dome:

Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the architect of the Capitol, says that since 9/11, officials can’t even reveal what kind of light bulbs are used to light the structure.

“Any information regarding the current process for lighting the Dome,” she says by e-mail, “is security sensitive.”