Luna Park
Luna Park

Light & Aerie

Amazing how some buildings can look truly hideous in the daytime, while by the light of the moon or artificial illumination they are suddenly remade into ethereal works of art. Some structures, says architect, architectural historian, and Brown University professor Dietrich Neumann, are actually designed to look especially dazzling at night. The trend emerged in skyscraper central, New York City, where the Woolworth and American Radiator (now American-Standard) buildings each rose in the early part of the Twentieth Century to grace the skyline in their Gothic-inspired glory. Chicago followed suit, erecting its tall Tribune Tower and imposing Wrigley Building, headquarters to the chewing gum company. But not all nocturnally favorable buildings reached toward the sky. Built in 1903, the low-slung Coney Island amusement center Luna Park (dubbed an electric Eden) cut an awe-inspiring figure in the evening, thanks to more than 250,000 lights. (Architect Morris Lapidus recalls his boyhood vision of the sight gleaming at night as a life-changing experience.)

As part of D+A month, Neumann will present Architecture of the Night, a slide lecture examining the past and present of the subject. Neumann, author of several books including Film Architecture: Set Designs from Metropolis to Blade Runner, is currently writing a tome and compiling an exhibition about edifices and their night-time visages, which he considers a relatively unexplored specialty. A couple of Miami landmarks may be included as examples: I.M. Pei's curved Bank of America building (originally the CenTrust Tower), which often glows in gaudy colors, and the majestic 1920 Miami-Dade County Courthouse, its stepped ziggurat-like peak alluring to birds of all feathers. Of course, there are some things to be said about daylight. Turkey vultures, possibly the courthouse's most famous feature, are invisible at night! On second thought, maybe that's preferable.


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