Rainbow of lights illuminates Target’s downtown office building

Turquoise, navy and baby blues streak across the sky 33 floors above Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis before fading into dancing yellows and crimsons.

These colored lights are part of the Target Light System’s Fire and Ice show.

Every night from dusk until dawn, a rainbow of colors transforms Target’s office building into a work of art. The lights turn on at 4:30 p.m. and stay illuminated until 2 a.m. They come on again at 5 a.m. and stay lit until sunrise.

Jim Boylan, a technical architect with Target for eight years, creates these five-minute light shows.

Using a computer program originally designed for theater lighting, Boylan chooses the color, intensity and behavior for each of the 130 lights.

“I found an artistic talent that I didn’t know that I had,” said Boylan, who has an electrical engineering degree.

Boylan is now developing this year’s holiday show. He takes about a week to design each show that will be displayed for about a month.

He has fashioned more than 10 shows for the Target building, which included celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and memorializing the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Radio City Rockettes inspired last year’s holiday show – red lights appeared to shimmy and kick-line their way around the building.

Boylan also created a show to support the Minnesota Vikings. The popular show depicted a touchdown pass to Randy Moss that caused the crowd to go wild in shades of yellow.

University students can look forward to one day having maroon and gold shining proudly above downtown.

The University is on Boylan’s list for future show themes.

“I think it would be fun to have a Gopher show for an event like homecoming,” Boylan said.

Choosing his favorite show would be like asking him to pick a favorite child, he said.

“I love them all,” he said.

But he can easily pick the best elements of his job.

“One of my favorite things about my job is giving tours to Target employees,” he said. Tours of the Target Light System are not available to the public.

When Target Corporation was building its new headquarters two years ago, chief executive officer Bob Ulrich wanted to create an architectural signature that was subtle yet fantastic. He turned to 3M’s industrial lighting department for help.

They then created a one-of-a-kind lighting system, Boylan said.

The Target lights are similar to giant flashlights, Boylan said. A powerful bulb sits inside a large reflector at the bottom of each light. Colored slides move across the reflector according to computer commands.

The color then shines up through a 30-foot tube made of what Boylan called “3M’s magic material.” A mirror placed at the top of the tube causes the colors to bounce off the reflectors.

Milky windows then diffuse the light across their panes and into the night sky. Each 600-pound light hangs suspended from the ceiling, protected from the wind but not from changing temperatures. The light’s cable allows the apparatus to tighten and loosen with the weather.

The Target Light System’s technology is constantly changing and improving, Boylan said.

The self-titled “czar of the lights,” Boylan revels in this creative process.

“I love the challenge of designing something new and different each time,” he said.

Amy Carney is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]