Brooklyn Installation Turns Traffic Noise Into An Exuberant Light Vista

"Silent Lights" in Brooklyn transform a highway underpass into something a million times more beautiful

Do we ever pay attention to transit eyesores like the gloomy space below bridges and highway underpasses? Maybe if there's an accident, or if you were lucky enough to experience Rafael Lorenzo's Voice Tunnel, but for the most part, these are ghostly places that only get attention by traffic-related default. 

Interdisciplinary design and technology group Urban Matter Inc. is prompting New Yorkers to re-consider overlooked spaces through its interactive installation Silent Lights, which officially goes live tomorrow, December 17th. 

The project, a collaboration between Urban Matter and the Department of Transportation, includes a series of sculptural gates that line a pedestrian pathway underneath the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in New York. The gates are covered with 2,400 LEDs and microphones that are controlled by an arduino mega microcontroller, allowing the arches to respond to street sounds with dazzling light patterns. 

Imagine a massive 18-wheeler passing through a tunnel, and the space reacting with an array of colorful lights. Chaos becomes beauty. An over-stimulated environment almost gets negated with alternative (and artistic) stimulus. The gates are not intrusive to drivers' vision, but they will undoubtedly enhance the commute of any passer-by who's strolling under the BQE. 

Shagun Singh of Urban Matter Inc. explained to The Creators Project how the light and sound interact with street noise: 

"The sound currently has three thresholds. The base threshold is when all is quiet and is indicated as a blue color. The second threshold is the ambient noise. These are indicated by a change in the LED hue. The LEDs become redder based on the loudness and the third threshold is the loudest volume, like a huge truck. This is indicated by triggering one of 20 different LED animations which is randomly chosen and played when the highest threshold is broken through."

The project's location, the intersection of Navy Street and Park Avenue in Brooklyn, was picked because it exists at the crux of several different highways, roadways, and expressways, as well as various neighborhoods. Currently, pedestrians in this area only have a limited means of transit in this area, but Silent Lights exists in a space where foot traffic not blocked by surrounding highways. 

Singh noted that this is "an attempt to revitalize some of the city's millions of underutilized square feet of space under the New York street bridges and expressways....creating a playful, inviting, memorable space." 

Silent Lights opens tomorrow at the intersection of Park Avenue and Navy Street in Brooklyn and will stay active for a year. This is how you turn a forgotten metropolitan eyesore into a public spectacle.