Call it an ingenious cityscape art form: messages spelled out in lighted windows. All you need are a lot of window blinds and a team of engineers.
A flashlight blinked from the upper reaches of the darkened building. It was a signal to the man on the ground, who consulted a complex building grid. A walkie-talkie crackled.
“Is there a chance the gentleman above you in the conference room is done so we can shut that blind?”
Operation Love was in effect, and the walkie-talkie chatter revolved around window blinds.
The blinds are the secret behind glowing skyline displays on the WaMu Center that have been showing up since last January. Blinds and lights have made it possible for the city to see a jack-o-lantern, a heart and the 12th Man on the building’s west side.
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Call it an ingenious cityscape art form: messages spelled out in lighted windows. WaMu isn’t the first — Chicago has the CNA Plaza, which has used similar window displays to salute the Bears, the Bulls, the White Sox and 2016 (when the city hopes to host the Olympics).
But WaMu can take credit for bringing the idea to Seattle.
“It’s fun, it’s quirky and provides a good opportunity to get in the spirit of the holiday,” said Darcy Wilmot, a Washington Mutual spokeswoman.
The building’s light messages began with a request in 2007 from the Seattle Seahawks, who were seeking 12th Man support from downtown buildings, said Bob Anderson, first vice president in corporate property services.
WaMu came up with the idea to manipulate blinds for a lighting design. Engineers already kept the building’s exterior lively with colored rooftop lighting, and a lighting design was a new challenge.
Building engineers scrambled to deal with the logistics and coordinated blinds and office lighting to make it work. The illuminated 12th Man was born.
“It’s been trial by error,” said operational engineer Josh Gaedtke. “The employees have been a huge help. Everyone gets excited when we do one.”
So far, the team at WaMu has heralded the Seahawks, Valentine’s Day and Halloween. (Perhaps a glowing Bigfoot would help Sonics owner Clay Bennett come around?)
A team comes up with ideas and sketches them onto a grid of the building. Architecture limits the designers to a dot-matrix pattern. The blinds also can be bewildering. Keeping the eyes even on the Halloween jack-o-lantern took some wrangling, since blinds cover different proportions of glass. They learned sheer blinds on the executive floor need to be blacked out. Lighting has to be timed.
“You start to look at buildings and lights differently,” said property manager Eileen Cloney.
Around 1 p.m. on the day the design debuts, employees are asked to turn the blinds down on the west side of the building, and engineers hustle from floor to floor, opening blinds according to the design. It helps that WaMu occupies the entire building, which eases coordination with employees, Wilmot said.
At twilight, engineers head out to the 17th-floor deck to check the design and work with engineers inside to close rogue blinds. Employees sometimes close or reopen blinds without thinking, Gaedtke said.
Just before “love” was set to debut last week, Cloney reminded the janitorial staff and security they shouldn’t touch the blinds for the next two nights lest they ruin the design’s effect.
“It’s worth it at the end of the night when it’s dark and done,” Gaedtke said.
Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or firstname.lastname@example.org