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The Chicago Skyline's Wardrobe Changes

By Samantha Abernethy in Miscellaneous on Mar 17, 2009 8:20PM

In case you didn't notice, the Chicago skyline has been showing its Irish pride like everyone else by wearing its finest green outfits. Every few weeks a few brave individuals travel to the tops of the city to change the colors of the lights on the tops of our skyline, but how do they do it? "Magic and pixie dust," he said. Of course, Randy Stancik, building manager of the Sears Tower, was joking. It is actually a manual process, Stancik said. It takes two men about two hours to change the colors, attaching theatrical gels to the tops of the 22 spotlights that illuminate the antennae.

Although it would seem that the skyscrapers' wardrobe changes are coordinated with one another, there is little to no communication among the buildings' management teams. Many buildings choose to observe holidays, and sometimes they will acknowledge charitable causes if they are able to respond to requests from charities. Last fall some buildings changed to blue to honor St. Jude's Children's Center and celebrated Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October by tinting the skyline pink. They have also supported sports teams, the blue and orange of the Bears being most recognizable.

The colors of the Hancock Center are changed by a crew of two engineers who climb a ladder from the 98th floor to a catwalk on the 99th floor. There, the 552 cool-white high-output fluorescent tubes are set, and the workers must pull out each of the 176 different light fixtures and slide a gel over each fluorescent tube to create the eight-foot-tall "Crown of Lights."

At 150 N. Michigan, formerly the Smurfit-Stone building, engineers plot out words instead of colors to decorate the diamond-shaped, slanted roof of the building at the northwest corner of Grant Park. The roof has broadcast "Go Bears" or "Vote 2008.” The messages are available to charitable and civic causes and are reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis. While no one has ever used the canvas to propose, someone once tried to reserve it to ask a date to prom. "Despite his charming letter, we respectfully denied his request," said a spokesperson from the building’s management.

The messages are plotted out on a grid by the building's engineering team. They determine which messages will fit on the building's sloped roof and are responsible for installation, too. The 75-watt incandescent bulbs are installed behind windows of the unoccupied floors at the top of the building. Fortunately for them, they get to stay inside, while the Hancock and Sears engineers battle the elements.

Soon, 150 N. Michigan will be installing a different type of green lights: LED lamps to conserve energy, appropriate since many of Chicago's buildings will participate again in Earth Hour - a global initiative that encourages individuals and businesses to turn off their lights for one hour. The event takes place on March 28 at 8:30 p.m. and Chicago is one of the Key Cities.

Some of the buildings also turn off their lights at certain times for bird migration season. The spotlights that consume 32,000 watts illuminating the top of the Sears Tower would be plenty to blind the birds.

Tonight will be your last chance to see the green lights if you haven't already. Many buildings turn off the lights around 11:00 p.m., so take a moment to look up!