Prepare the Space Cannons!

While the National September 11 Memorial’s opening to the public on Sept. 12 is getting all the press, many of us—by which I mean me—will always have a big place in our hearts for “Tribute in Light,” the magical, moving, magnificent artwork that goes up (and up) every September 11. Photographer Krystl Hall attended the beginning of the installation today—her wonderful photos are below, and you can find even more on her Flickr photostream.

First, please consider donating to help keep “Tribute in Light” going. The Municipal Art Society says the funding is not guaranteed after this year. Better yet, if you work for a company is in a position to do something about it, well, do something about it.

For those of you who don’t know what “Tribute in Light” is—or even if you do—here’s some background from the Municipal Art Society: “On Friday, September 2, a crew of 30 electricians, lighting technicians and stagehands will gather on a rooftop four blocks from the World Trade Center site. There they will begin the production process for ‘Tribute in Light,’ the unique memorial to the victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. The team will spend the day unloading and positioning the 88 refrigerator-sized, 7,000-watt xenon searchlights comprising ‘Tribute’ (future workdays will involve balancing and synchronizing the powerful beams). When the giant lamps are turned on just before sunset on Sunday, September 11, they will create two majestic blue beams whose shape and orientation echoes the twin towers’. The strongest shafts of light ever projected in the night sky, the beams will shoot four miles up and be visible for 60 miles around. ‘Tribute in Light,’ […] was co-founded by The Municipal Art Society of New York and Creative Time. The memorial was first presented on March 11, 2002, six months after the attacks, and has been presented by The Municipal Art Society every year since.”

And now, the photos!

The parking garage on which the lights are installed is on the right. The new One World Trade Center is going up just a few blocks north.

The command center for the installation.

The staging area inside the garage.

Rolling out the lights.

The roof, cleared for installation.

The project requires three tons of transformers. When they rolled these out, the whole roof shook.

A transformer.

"Tower One" starts taking shape.

The bolts are manually tightened and loosened at each corner to precisely aim the lights. They're considered "dumb" lights because they're not aimed by computer. (They were the first year, but the computer didn't have the fine control of a guy with a wrench.) Spotters in locations in a ten-mile radius that call in to let them know when they have it right.

The lights, which are called Space Cannons, are serious pieces of equipment.

Gerard MacMillan, head of union labor, maneuvers another light into the grid. Each one is about 550 lbs.

The Space Cannons are Italian. Obviously, no one proofed their English....

These lights are only used for this purpose. Afterward, they go into storage, where they sit until next September.

Looking down the barrel... You can't get this view when the light is on. They run incredibly hot. I have it on good authority that bugs fry when they fly even 20 feet above.

"Tower One."

One of two master breaker switches—there's one for each "tower."

Cables at the ready.

Laying out the cables on the roof.

One of the two generators for "Tribute in Light." One is redundant. The lights must not go off!

And the countdown begins....

Previous photo essays by Krystl Hall
••• Heavenly Bells: Bell-Ringing at Trinity Church
••• Arriving at the New York Academy of Art’s Tribeca Ball: Part 1, Part 2, Part Shoe



  1. Great pictures, a real behind the scenes look

  2. This Photo Essay is fantastic. After viewing the tribute last year from TriBeCa for the first time, we had many questions. This answers many of them.