The six botanical gardens featured in the 2023 edition of Lightscape share much in common. All are highly regarded in their communities; all support important botanical research, and all are home to stunning collections of beautiful, and sometimes rare or endangered, species of plants.
But there is also much that separates them. From the 37-acre (15 hectare) Fort Worth Botanic Garden to the 385-acre (156-hectare) Chicago Botanic Garden, they represent a broad range of sizes. Some, like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, are in urban areas; others, like the San DiegoBotanic Garden, feature ocean views. All have singularly remarkable features, like the former Santa Fe Railroad depot that resides in the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, or the historic carriage house and log cabin in the San Antonio Botanical Garden.
Creating a walk-through experience that resonates at each of these diverse sites, while still retaining its core thought-line might seem a bit daunting, but it’s a challenge that the team at Culture Creative readily embraced by incorporating the distinct features of each botanical garden into one-of-a-kind designs.
A UK-based group that specializes in creating site-specific projects in cultural and landscape settings, Culture Creative has been working with Sony Music to create Lightscape experiences throughout the world. This year, they produced over 20 enchanting multisensory winter trails at sites in different countries. Embracing the distinct characteristics of each location, Culture Creative rarely repeats a design, yet all of them share a common spellbinding quality. This was beautifully evident this year at the six US sites.
“Every design is meant to highlight and enhance the natural beauty of each specific garden,” said Christopher Wren of Chicago-based Keylight, who served as the chief designer in the US. “Because the gardens are so wildly different, each design is also unique, even though some of the building blocks such as the lighting fixtures we use might be similar. One of the features of Lightscape is that Culture Creative also commissions artists across the world to create light-based installations that work within different landscapes, and art pieces.”
An impressive collection of CHAUVET Professional fixtures helped Wren and his team of local designers light the six US sites. “The Chauvet fixtures are really the workhorses of the main lighting package and are used throughout the trails in every city,” he said. “Without doing the exact math, my guess is that 90 percent of the production fixtures at our Lightscape sites are CHAUVET Professional. They light almost every tree, path and piece of art that is lit. Obviously, we need fixtures to be outdoor rated, and Chauvet has a diverse range of IP65-rated units.”
In keeping with Culture Creative’s design vision, the fixtures in the massive rigs are often used differently depending on the location to best align with its particular qualities. As an example, Wren points to the various roles filled by moving fixtures at Lightscape: “In some areas, moving lights will create tunnels of light programmed to energetic music tracks, while in others they might be doing very subtle patterns and colour shifts across water or landscape,” he said. “It’s always site specific. We could be utilizing moving lights to create a pulsating dance party – or they might weave tightly focused beams over visitors’ heads.”
The CHAUVET Professional fixtures, like the rest of the light rig were supplied by Frost Lighting in Chicago and 4Wall Entertainment at the five other botanical gardens. Each site has its own local design teams.
In Chicago designers Lee Fiskness and Travis Shupe relied on over 300 COLORdash Par H7IP RGBWAUV pars, 19 Ovation E-260WW ellipsoidals, 16 Ovation E-910FC colour-mixing ellipsoidals, and 16 Maverick Storm 1 Wash fixtures to create an immersive, colourful panorama throughout the gardens. Their design dazzled with giant illuminated facsimile flowers, colourfully accented walkways through tree-lined trails and brilliant reflections on water.
“We had inspired efforts from the design teams at all of the botanical gardens,” said Wren. “I am very grateful for the efforts of Lee and Travis, as well as our entire team throughout the six sites, including Scott Gianelli, Zach Moore, Caleb Eckerman, Cameron Cornwall, Carl Everett, Devon Allen, Clay Van Winkle, Ryan Burkle, John Stewart, and Joel Britt. Of course, Ellie Barnatt, the senior US producer, and Scott Soriano, our production manager were also instrumental in making this bold vision a reality.
For his part, Wren finds it impossible to single out any one Lightscape look as being his favourite. “These trails basically take one year to complete, so when this one ends, we’ll be starting on the next version in a couple of weeks,” he said. “This intense effort leads to so many stunning looks, it’s hard to single out one. Each year I am surprised by the area that resonated most with me, because Culture Creative is very much committed to making each trail a dynamic experience that is specifically curated to give rise to the high energy moments.”
Wren adds that the design team is also committed to “carving out specific areas that lead audiences to stop and catch their breath.” Based on the awed reactions of the one-million-plus visitors who have enjoyed Lightscape since its inception, they have succeeded in doing just that.