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South Bend River Lights
Narrative by Christopher Chockley, RLA, AICP, LEED AP, Jones Petrie Rafinski (JPR), Engineering, Planning, Landscape Architecture


This view of the St. Joseph River in South Bend, Ind., looks south to the Jefferson Boulevard Bridge and Seitz Park (left). The lighting design by Bloomington, Ind.-based designer Rob Shakespeare includes the "Light Trio" (3 light towers on the west bank), the "Light Forest" (5 light towers on the east bank), the "Crescent Tower" (which lights the river's 250' spillway), Mark di Suvero's abstract "Keepers of the Fire" sculpture (within the spillway) and lighting of the Jefferson Boulevard Bridge (just south of the spillway).
Photo: Matt Cashore

In honor of its 150th birthday, the city of South Bend, Indiana celebrated its rich history with a yearlong schedule of events throughout 2015 for residents to deepen their connection to the community. South Bend (pop. 101,168) is a picturesque city with the St. Joseph River majestically flowing through its downtown area. In celebration of the historic waterway, South Bend's greatest natural resource, Indiana-based lighting designer Rob Shakespeare was commissioned to develop a one-of-kind interactive lighting display for anniversary celebration. This public art installation became known simply as "South Bend River Lights."


Mounted under the four 120' x 20' elliptical arches of the Jefferson Boulevard Bridge are 46 400-watt RGB (red, green, blue) LED fixtures, plus 46 more RGBs with white LEDs added, along with 15 wash lights. The piers and sculptural ornamentation (chalices) of the north façade of the 1905-constructed closed Spandrel deck arch bridge are lit with Philips Color Kinetics fixtures: 19 translucent LEDs in aluminum dome housings, and 16 ultra-thin submersible LED fixtures.
Photo: Matt Cashore

Beautiful and vibrant during the day, the St. Joseph River becomes a dark and foreboding waterway after the sun goes down. The goal was to activate a portion of the banks of the Riverwalk in the heart of South Bend in the evening and unite the different demographics of the east and west banks with a fun, interactive destination while illuminating the St. Joseph River.

Proposed in 2012 by Downtown South Bend Inc. (DTSB), a not-for-profit organization that promotes the revitalization of the downtown area in partnership with the city of South Bend, River Lights serves as not only a recreational attraction for the community and visitors, but also as a source of economic development and community advancement.


Mark di Suvero's abstract "Keepers of the Fire" sculpture sits atop a concrete pedestal at the spillway. In was installed in Oct. 1980. It is now illuminated by narrow beamed Lumenpulse LEDs: seven 60-watt 'Lumenbeam' RGB floodlights (26° beam), as well as spotlights from the light towers on the riverbanks. "Keepers of the Fire" is the English translation of "Potawatomi," the tribe that settled along the St. Joseph, Paw Paw and Kalamazoo rivers in southwest Michigan and northwest Indiana.
Photo: Richard Chapmann II

The project also showcases the city's on-going green initiatives by combining renewable power from a new hydroelectric turbine installed at a nearby dam with modern lighting technology that minimizes light pollution.

The South Bend River Lights installation is an interactive display of light over the St. Joseph River. The lighting system detects motion, which prompts the lights to change colors or alter their patterns. When people are present at either side of the river the towers light up and colored light floods across the spillway. As a permanent installation, the display is programmed to activate every afternoon 30 minutes before sunset and continue until sunrise, however, the interactive feature stops at midnight. The lighting is programmed to cease interactivity at 15 minutes before the top of each hour, at which time only white light illuminates the river. When the hour strikes, the current time flashes and the color sequences begin again. The design also allows for other color-themed lighting to correspond with holidays and special events.


'South Bend River Lights' debuted on the city's 150-anniversary celebration, eliciting 'oohs' and 'ahs' from the crowds here at Seitz Park on the east riverbank.

Architectural lighting fixtures were installed to illuminate the underside of the Jefferson Boulevard Bridge, which was built in 1905 and is one of the oldest bridges in the area. The design accentuates the bridge's many beautiful architectural details, including the long arches that sweep across the river and support it. The interactive lighting display is made up of five components: The Jefferson Street Bridge, the Mark de Suvero abstract sculpture "Keepers of the Fire"; the downstream crescent that lights up the cascades, the trio sculpture on Century City Island and the Forest Towers directly across the river at Seitz Park.

This ambitious project comprises nine light sculptures: eight interactive towers and a ninth that provides illumination for the river's 250'-wide white water cascades. A 500' bridge provides a dramatic architectural backdrop, with additional lighting under its arches to add a layer of reflected light off the water. The site, which opened on May 22, 2015, has become an exciting new destination for city residents and visitors.


The trio of freestanding custom TOMCAT trussed aluminium light towers stand on the southeast corner of the Island Park Century. The island, lying between the spillway and the west race, connects via a walkway to the Century (Convention) Center on the west bank of the river. The towers stand 22, 27 and 32 feet tall. They're illuminated by DMX-controlled LED 'Lumenpulse' fixtures: 33 60-watt 'Lumenbeam' large 26° RGBs; 3 28-watt Lumenbeam medium 60° RGBs, two 140-watt Lumenbeam LBX color changing 6° RGBs, and one 140-watt LBX color changing 6° 3,000K unit. 'Pharos' controllers with custom iPhone remote control apps handle the lighting program.
Photo: Matt Cashore

Trio, the first of the light sculptures, comprises three freestanding custom TOMCAT trussed aluminium light towers of 22', 27' and 32'. These towers are on the river's west bank and illuminated by a series of DMX-controlled LED 'Lumenbeam' light color-changing fixtures from Lumenpulse in various wattages and beam angles: 33 at 60 watts (large 26° RGBs), three at 28 watts (medium 60° RGBs), two at 140 watts (6° RGBs) and one 140-watt color changing 6° 3,000K unit. The LED fixtures point up and down every 5 feet along the brushed aluminum towers, which are very responsive to the lights.

This light display, located in Island Park near the South Bend Century Center, was carefully placed to provide optimal lighting of the river and sculpture and to provide for pedestrian interaction.


This crescent tower is a 45'-wide aluminum horizontal arc structure made by TOMCAT. To light the St. Joseph River's 250' wide whitewater cascades requires 14 RGB 270-watt 'ColorReach' long-throw color-changing LED luminaires, and 5 RGB 30-watt 'ColorBurst' fixtures. Three lighting playback controller units, one each for the east bank, west bank, and bridge, plus three TR-SL5s (for wireless point-to-point), and 18 motion sensors control the interactivity of the lights.
Photo: Richard Chapmann II

On the east side of the river, which lighting designer Rob Shakespeare refers to as "more playful than formal," stands Forest, crafted of five powder-coated aluminum freestanding towers of TOMCAT trusses--17', 19', two at 23', and 27' tall--and five powder-coated steel "trunks" that sit at 3', 4', 5', 6', and 7' above grade to evoke the look of trees. These are lit by 45 'Lumenbeam' LED fixtures in a variety of wattages and beam angles.

"Keeper of the Fire"
Narrow beams from LED fixtures illuminate a sculpture that was already positioned in the cascades: Mark DiSuvero's Keeper of the Fire, which had previously been invisible at night. It now glows under the light of seven 60-watt RGB floodlights as well as spots from the light towers on the riverbanks.

The Jefferson Street Bridge
The Jefferson Street Bridge, which spans the river with four elliptical arches 120' x 20', creates a long elegant backdrop to the entire installation. The fixtures mounted under the arches are by Harman Martin Professional: 46 custom variant exterior 400-watt RGB LEDs (beam angles of 14° and 31°), as well as 46 exterior 400-watt RGB fixtures (7° and 14°), and 15 'Tripix' wash lights. Philips Color Kinetics fixtures light the north face of the bridge.

The ninth light sculpture is titled Crescent, which lights the St. Joseph River's 250' wide whitewater cascades. This is a 45'-wide aluminum horizontal arc structure custom-made by TOMCAT. The structure is equipped with 14 RGB 270-watt 'ColorReach' and five RGB 30-watt 'ColorBurst' fixtures by Philips Color Kinetics. The lighting controls for River Lights is provided by three 'Pharos' LPC1 units, one each for the east bank, west bank, and bridge, plus three Tranzeo TR-SL5s for wireless point-to-point, along with 18 'Falcon' motion sensors.

Project Team
Project Manager: Aaron Perri, city of South Bend
Sculpture & Lighting Design: Rob Shakespeare, Shakespeare Lighting Design LLC
Control System: Mike Brubaker, Associated Controls + Design, Indianapolis
Programmer: Sean Smallman
Electrical Installation: Dan Holmes, Koontz-Wagner & IBEW Local 153
Landscape Architecture: Chris Chockley, PLA, Jones, Petrie, Rafinski
Light Towers: Fabricated by James Thomas Engineering (now part of TOMCAT). Tower support legs manufacturing Methods LLC

As seen in LASN magazine, April 2017.

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