3D Design Study: The John Hancock Center’s Crown of Lights

The 100-story John Hancock Center, once the second tallest building in the world, embodies the tough persona of Chicago, a football linebacker elegantly clad in a black tuxedo with a white bow tie. This iconic accent lights up in colors at night, powered by a new LED system installed in 2017 -- READ THE STORY.  Before then, the crown was illuminated with an array of 552 8-foot (2.4m) fluorescent lamps, colored by plastic sleeves.

For many years, I looked at the crown and wondered how its lighting system was structured.  It was decidedly low-tech. Fixtures housing three fluorescent tubes were simply faced outwards behind window glass on the 99th floor. When I finally got behind the crown in 2009 - READ THE STORY -- I discovered the fixtures were contained within "lockers" that have white backgrounds to reflect and diffuse the light.

CityEngine is about mass-modeling, but I was introduced to 3D visualization as it was starting to be used as an actual design tool for bridges, highways, etc.  This meant starting designs at the component level.  The Crown of Lights was a perfect subject, with lighting fixtures comprised of three components -- the fixture base, fluorescent lamps and lamp sockets -- plus the repetition theoretically needed to model a band of 184 three-lamp fixtures behind a layer windows around the top perimeter.


Fluorescent light fixture with colored lamps (L); a plastic sleeve used to color the display.


Fluorescent light fixture with colored lamps (L) and the CGA model (R).


Modelling steps: The initial sectioned fixture shape; the fixture and the lamps with connectors.


Lamps with parameterized colors (L); lamp fixtures and building facade done in SketchUp (R).


The crown (top) with massing of modeled fixtures (bottom).


Three-layer view with window glass, lamp fixtures and a white background.


Layered section study as would be used in a detailed model of the building top; the stack with a front layer of black structural elements (R). Exterior windows would be in the second layer, lamp fixtures in the third and opaque white panels in the fourth.

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