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‘Tidal Light’ public data sculpture transforms Boston Harbor

The 'Tidal Light' artwork in Charlestown, Massachusetts uses custom software and dynamic lighting to translate the water conditions in Boston Harbor into animated displays of light.

This artwork commissioned by National Development and located at Constitution Center in Charlestown, Massachusetts uses custom software and dynamic lighting to translate the water conditions in Boston Harbor into animated displays of light.

If you look north from Boston out across the water to Charlestown, you’ll see 10 glowing stripes of sparkling blue light rising up from the tip of Constitution Wharf. Part of a new public artwork by Sosolimited called Tidal Light, the lights show a real time visualisation of the tides in Boston Harbor.

Data is updated in real time from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The movement and colour of the lights are driven by the tide height and wave conditions for Buoy Station 44013, located 16 miles east of Boston in Massachusetts Bay. 

The lighting simulates a scene of water and sky, showing the current tide level with the height of the horizon and the wave conditions through the movement of the water. The colours of the artwork shift throughout the day, moving from a warm orange glow at dawn to a vibrant purple at dusk. 

National Development commissioned the artwork as part of the renovation of Constitution Center. Ten glowing pylons on the marina activate the public running path and form a beacon visible from all over the city. In addition to the pylons, an illuminated teak wall in the lobby – driven by the same tide data – greets visitors to the building with a dynamic surface of colour. 

“We thought about a lot of things, but I got really excited about this data driven design piece,” said Tucker Kelton, director at National Development. “It brought a real connection to the environment.”

“The installation celebrates the rich nautical history of the Charlestown Navy Yard and brings public attention to the environment by transforming the ebb and flow of the tides into moving light,” said Eric Gunther, creative director at Sosolimited.

As you walk on the public pedestrian path along Constitution Wharf and turn the corner at Constitution Center, you’ll encounter a spacious wood patio with contemporary landscaping. Ten illuminated pylons rise up from the grass, casting a sparkling glow onto the path, and forming an immersive field of light.

Up close, the pylons emit a striking mix of colours that add a pop of colour to the waterfront landscape. As you take a few steps back, the light of the 10 pylons forms a single image of a horizon, with moving water against a coloured sky.

The horizon line moves up and down with the tide, giving the visitor an intuitive sense of the ebb and flow of the water in the harbour. The architectural height of the pylons – the tallest one is 12ft – immerses the viewer in the light, translating a distant data point into a visceral experience.

The tide data is also expressed through an illuminated wall in the lobby of Constitution Center. As you enter the building, you are greeted by with a two-story teak wall with a pixel-like flow of coloured light panels. 

“We wanted to pull modern lighting into the system of nautical materials designed by the architects,” explained Wade Aaron, director of production at Sosolimited, “We replaced selected boards in the teak feature wall with custom designed LED panels. The panels combine to display an image of moving seas against a coloured sky.”

The blue light on the wall rises and falls with the tide, amplifying the water’s movements to an architectural scale. As you pass through the lobby at different points during the day, you will notice the shifting colour palette of the wall as it tracks the movements of the sun. 

During twilight and at night, the teak wall is visible by visitors to the USS Constitution, Bruins fans who have parked their cars in the Constitution Center lot, and patrons of local bars and restaurants near Constitution Wharf.

“In addition to activating the property, the installation works to bring attention to the environment and sea levels through a fundamental property of our planet – the tides,” explained Justin Manor, Sosolimited director of innovation.

“Boston has a long history of beacons,” said Eric Gunther, Sosolimited creative director, “We are excited to create a data driven artwork to the city that speaks to its rich nautical history, and provides an intuitive connection to the environment for residents and visitors.”