It’s that time of year when some of Sydney’s most serious-minded buildings shrug off their sombre exteriors and pull on their amazing technicolour dreamcoats.
For the 23 days of Vivid Sydney’s festival of light, music and ideas, they’ll shine and sparkle and even sport, at times, fantastically frivolous candy-pink stripes over their facades.
“And they all love it!” said Iain Reed, founder of 32 Hundred Lighting, the company which has been creating many of the festival’s cutting-edge light and sound shows, as well as sophisticated audio visuals, which has turned Vivid into a world-renowned event over its 10 years of operation.
“When we started we perhaps had only three or four commercial buildings that wanted to be involved. But now we have 18 buildings, with 13 facades, and more every year, with everyone wanting to be a part of the show. It’s simply incredible,” he said.
Two buildings have been participants from the start, the AMP Centre on Bridge Street – the 45-storey building that was, at one time, Sydney’s tallest edifice – and the Four Seasons Hotel on George Street, at The Rocks.
This year they’ll again be illuminated with lighting systems, colours and patterns that become more intricate and technologically advanced by the year.
With Vivid Sydney now kicking off on Friday May 24, those designs will be controlled by a 3D interactive model at East Circular Quay, where passers-by can pick out their favourite blocks and dictate the colour or pattern they’d like to see.
Those buildings are being joined, among others, by the 67-storey Harry Seidler masterpiece, the MLC Centre, as well as his 44-level tower Grosvenor Place, the 40-floor office and retail complex Australia Square on George Street, the Shangri-La Hotel on Cumberland Street, the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay, the Pullman Grand Sydney Harbour on Macquarie Street and the 47-level Gateway Sydney at Macquarie Place, owned by Dexus.
But two of the former mainstays are no-shows this year: the 1966 tower Goldfields House on Alfred Street, which has been demolished to make way for the new ‘Sydney One’ development, and the old St George Bank building, also no longer there.
“Someone keeps stealing the buildings, which makes it more challenging,” Mr Reed said. “But then again, it can prove a bit of a godsend. It means we can activate the next layer of buildings behind them, which makes it even more interesting and different from previous years.
“It’s great for different buildings to be exposed and have the chance to join in. They all really like to have the chance to be lit up. The commercial owners and their tenants all really appreciate it.
“It’s great for their profile as it puts them on the global stage with so many photos, film of the event and so much social media coverage. They love being involved in such a high-profile event.”
With no commercial building ever refusing an invitation to be lit up – after all it is free to them – there are consistently more being illuminated each year. Many are being swathed in vibrant colour, are adorned with stripes or waves, or have lighting projected through cut-out patterns to create a kaleidoscope of shapes on their facades.
They often provide standout displays or prove an exciting backdrop to the major events of Vivid Sydney, like the six-metre-tall puppet Marri Dyin at the Barangaroo precinct, which will this year be accompanied by a school of fish, puppets operated by local students, and the ballerinas, clouds and interactive installations of The Rocks.
At Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Customs House will play their usual lead roles.
“Circular Quay is the logistical and cultural home of the harbour city and during Vivid Sydney it comes to life in the most spectacular way,” said Vivid Sydney creative director Ignatius Jones.
“From large-scale projects to lights on harbour-bound boats, and where detailed sculptures meet incredible innovation, it’s an intriguing and hallmark experience.”
The Opera House sails will this year be patterned by LA-based artist Andrew Thomas Huang with a fusion of contemporary dance and motion-capture technology; the MCA with Sydney-based artist Claudia Nicholson’s romantic homage to her birth country of Colombia; and Customs House with an underwater encounter by creative studio Spinifex Group.
The retail buildings and community areas of Chatswood on the north shore are again involved, with 3D projection mapping, and various light projects telling stories of community and place. The display there includes a hero light show, Co-existence, from Hungarian artist collective Limelight, which illustrates the relationships between individuals and the diverse community through patterns on building facades.
Vivid Sydney runs from May 24 to June 15.
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