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Good Question: What’s Up With Target’s HQ Light Display?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – For a decade, it’s been an iconic part of the Minneapolis skyline: 30-foot tall vertical lines of light, dancing across the South Tower of Target’s Corporate headquarters. But for the past five months, the lights have been dark while Target installed a brand new display.

What do 700,000 LED lights look like?

“So this is the reveal, this is one panel of what we have installed here,” said Shawn Gensch, a Target vice-president in charge of sustainability initiatives.

Gensch took us inside the guts of company headquarters, to the thirty-fourth floor, where the south tower is now wrapped in LED light panels.

They’re metal grids, with clusters of 10 LED lights in seven rows. Each panel has 840 LED lights, the entire set-up has more than 700,000.

The lights are 8-inches apart from each other, so when you see the display from a distance, it forms clear images, but not television-like images.

“It gives us a ton more flexibility to create this public art, much more dynamic displays than the prior technology,” Gensch said.

Remember the old display? 30-foot-tall light tubes circled the building, and long vertical panels of light would dance across the building.

“The previous tubes were on this side of the floor. It was indirect light, with tubes that lit this entire white reflective wall,” said Gensch.

The lights were essentially theater spotlights with color wheels on top of them, shooting beams of light up that specially-designed light tube. But the huge spotlights sucked up a ton of electricity, and the design wasn’t very flexible.

“Fifty percent less energy use with new technology,” Gensch said. He said it is two-thirds of the maintenance cost, because the LED lights won’t have to be replaced every year. The spotlights burned out.

It took five months to take out the old glass tubes, recycle them, install the new grid of LED lights, and test out various designs. Minneapolis photographer Michael Mingo captured a series of test designs on his Twin Cities Photography Info blog.
One features a pug, one design is like an aquarium with goldfish, another shows a clownfish and lily pads.

“It’s really versatile. For us to see our neighbors reacting to what we’re testing here has been really fun,” Gensch said.

Designers create a video animation, and the software tells each LED light what to do. And Target guarantees that the display will never be used for advertising.

“That’s never been what this is about. It’s about public art, it’s about beautifying the skyline in our hometown,” he said.

After five months, Target debuted the display Monday night at 9 p.m., with a design that mimics the Northern Lights.

“Some of it can be controlled remotely. It will be fun to do pop culture moments,” Gensch said.

The designs are created in-house by Target employees, he said.

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