Public art light installation angers nearby residents

Residents of Coal Harbour say they are being driven to distraction by a public art installation that uses flickering LED lights to illuminate the side of a building.

The installation in question, which was turned on July 13, covers the south-facing concrete exterior of the 36-storey west tower and the10-storey east tower of West Pender Place, at 1499 West Pender Street. Created by Dutch artist Tamar Frank, it consists of 8-metre-wide horizontal LED strips that flicker on an off in a variety of patterns, and was installed to fulfill the city’s requirement of a public art component in the development.

But rather than enhance their experience of the city, residents of neighbouring buildings say the installation has ruined their quality of life.

“The lights have this strobe-like effect, and they flicker on and off, and they get very, very bright as the days get darker,” said Guiseppe Cuzzetto, a resident of Palais Georgia at 1415 West Georgia, which faces West Pender Place. “It’s very distracting, very annoying. My roommate has peripheral neuropathy which means he has troubles with the sensations in his feet and arms, and when it starts to go into the strobing effect, he has to sit down because he’s on the verge of tipping over.”

Earlier this month, the city agreed to have the lights turned off during the day, and turned on from dusk to 10 p.m. at night, but Cuzzetto said this has not been adhered to.

“Sometimes it’s 10:15, sometimes it’s 10:40,” he said. “They’re turning them on way before sunset and it’s just a waste of energy.”

Don Sihota, a resident of Alberni Place two blocks away at 738 Broughton Street, said the lights have ruined his view. “Light is very intrusive, and it basically overpowers everything else in the view,” he said. “Whereas I had, as evening comes in, it becomes darker, the mountains turn different shades of green, the water goes silver, the lights come on in various buildings, it’s nice and peaceful, all of a sudden I’ve got this disco scene happening right smack in the middle, and that’s all you see.”

Cuzzetto wants the city to turn the lights off altogether but Brent Toderian, the city’s director of planning, said that was not in the cards. “The art was intended to play a role in the city’s public art landscape, as well as improve some architectural conditions of the proposed building,” he told the Straight. “We’re not contemplating requiring the art to be shut off. What we do believe is that its neighbourliness can be improved.”

Toderian said the city will be exploring changes to the installation’s brightness, the length of time it is on, and the patterns it emits in a bid to address the complaints raised by Cuzzetto and others. “The approach taken, and this was new ground for the city of Vancouver in terms of light art of this type, was that we made sure the technology was adjustable so we could review and assess its impact and its performance,” he said.

Sihota noted that a 2007 development permit staff committee report stated that “the suggestion that LED lighting of the elevator core wall...could fulfill part of the project’s public art requirement is not supported,” but Toderian insisted otherwise.

“There were different statements made at different times, but the city’s perspective is that it plays both roles—that it was developed as the contribution to the public art program as well as addressing architectural issues.” he said.

Councillor Heather Deal, who is the council liaison for the city’s public art committee, said she felt the city has taken appropriate steps to deal with residents’ concerns.

“Our public art process does not currently require us to have consultation with neighbours for public art, and we did follow our normal procedures for this, she said. “However, based on the fact that we’ve had these complaints we’ve been meeting with the residents and the artist and the developer and have been modifying it and turning it off at 10 o’clock at night. We feel we’ve done quite a bit to modify it and mitigate the impact on the neighbours.”

Deal acknowledged that it may be time to consider more public input when it comes to public art. “We’re going to look at our process, and see if it needs to be adjusted for different types of art,” she said. “But you know, I’m very, very strongly of the opinion that public art is not a popularity contest. However, when it does have an actual impact on people we may need to take a look at our processes and see if it’s sufficient.”




Sep 24, 2011 at 3:36pm

OK, this is ridiculous. They're wrecking residents' views and Deal calls it a "popularity contest." Could no one imagine this might bother people? They should shut the thing off.

I wonder who the developer is and how much money the company contributed to civic politicians.

A quick side note: It's always hard to figure out who I'm voting for in civic elections. Deal has helped me figure out who I'm not voting for.

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Dr Octagon

Sep 24, 2011 at 4:25pm

Wow..another bunch of provincial Vanshitty wankers whining and moaning about urban life. If these fools were forced to live in Shinjuku, Manhattan or Berlin for two weeks they would go completely batshit insane.

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Sep 24, 2011 at 4:45pm

suprise, surpise - vancouverites complaining....

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Mike (a downtown resident)

Sep 24, 2011 at 4:45pm

I think the NIMBYs should cease their whining. Where do you think you are? Deciding to live in the downtown core is deciding that you can put up with noise, lights, traffic, and all the rest of what living in a city core has. You could've spent your $500k and bought a ranch in Langley if you didn't want lights and noise, but chose Coal Harbour instead. Deal with it. You'll get no sympathy from me.

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Sep 24, 2011 at 7:33pm

Ugly, pointless and NOT art. If that's art, then so is a looping video of fireworks. And this is a residential neighbourhood not Granville Street which is where it belongs .

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Sep 25, 2011 at 2:38am

Hate to disappoint anyone, but this light show is not Art. It's a waste of time, talent, electricity and gives art a bad name.

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Coal Harbour Resident

Sep 27, 2011 at 8:11pm

This light installation may or may not be deemed art. Frankly, I don't care for it but it doesn't bother me because I live just east of the building that displays the "art". I can see how those living directly across thee street would be upset by it however, This installation does not belong in a residential area.

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Sep 28, 2011 at 4:20pm

It really has the potential to be beautiful. It seems to mimic falling rain. Maybe if the rate of strobing light were slowed down significantly and the brightness muted, the work could emit a more peaceful presence. It was wise that the artist and the city realized in advance that adjustments might be necessary. Seriously Vancouver, you don't know how good you've got it.

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