How the Bloor Viaduct’s Luminous Veil finally got itself illuminated

How the Bloor Viaduct’s Luminous Veil finally got itself illuminated

The “Luminous Veil,” as the anti-suicide barrier on the Prince Edward Viaduct is known, has never been as shimmery as its name implies. Dereck Revington, the artist who came up with the idea for the delicate assembly of steel rods in 1998, originally envisioned the entire thing being lit up at night. When the Veil was finally built in 2003, though, there was only enough money for the basic structure, no lights included. It wasn’t until ten years later that city council, looking for ways to spruce up the city ahead of this summer’s Pan Am Games, finally decided to allocate another $2.8 million to Bloor Street’s famous bridge.

In February, workers from Mulvey and Banani and Guild Electric began the long-deferred task of executing Revington’s vision: a 450-metre-long, LED-based lighting system that reacts to changes in wind speed and shifts colours according to the season. (Revington isn’t completely satisfied, though: in addition to the Veil, he originally hoped to light the underside of the bridge, but those plans were put aside to save money and time.) By Toronto standards, the work would need to proceed almost impossibly quickly, because the lights would have to feature in a pre-Pan Am celebration on July 4th, complete with a torch relay and live entertainment. Here’s how the whole project came together, on deadline.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

Dereck Revington’s design calls for the lights to react to changes in wind speed. Here, Mike Kaufman wires up the computer system that will take readings from a weather station on the bridge.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

This power cabinet, on the Bloor side of the viaduct, supplies the lights on the west half of the bridge with electricity. Another power cabinet, on the Danforth side, powers the eastern half.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

The lighting fixtures come in several different lengths to fit different parts of the bridge. Here, foreman Bruce Garvie holds a five-foot section.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

The lights are LEDs, set in housing that was designed especially for the Luminous Veil. The little strip of plastic visible in front of the LEDs is a custom optic that refracts the light downward, so it seems to travel along the vertical strands of the veil.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

When the Luminous Veil was originally installed, in 2003, the city knew there was a possibility that lighting would one day be installed. As a result, the design included this V-shaped channel, with just enough room in the bottom for the LED strips to fit inside. Installing the strips is pretty easy: they clip into metal brackets.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

Joe Inacio and Simon Hotari tap the LED strips into the brackets using wooden mallets.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

Once securely installed, the lights still need to be hooked up to the cables that carry electricity and data from the cabinets on either side of the bridge.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

Paul Wishnowski fishes data and power cables through metal conduits on top of the veil.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

Workers concentrated on one side of the bridge a time, to avoid snarling traffic: first the north side, then the south. Workers had to complete both sides in just four months to make their deadline.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

Dereck Revington, the artist who originally designed the Luminous Veil in 1998, also designed the lighting. “It’s essentially an instrument,” he says of the giant LED array. “It was like building a Stradivarius.” In this photo, he’s standing in front of the lighted bridge during a test run ahead of the official debut on July 4.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

When the bridge goes into regular operation after its debut on July 4, the lights will react to the wind except at sundown, sunrise and midnight, when they’ll follow preprogrammed routines. The hue of the lights will change with the seasons: cool greens and blues in spring and summer, and bright oranges and pinks in fall and winter.