Lights Out For NC State’s “Color Wall”?

May 21, 2009
By Cherry Crayton

Color Wall

Once upon a time NC State’s “Color Wall” — a kinetic, ever-changing colorful light mural visible through the first floor window of D.H. Hill Library‘s book tower — was an iconic campus landmark. Today? Goodnight, Raleigh!, an online magazine, reports  that “the mechanical switching system that operates the lights had suffered a total breakdown.” This means there’s no color in the “Color Wall.”

“So is this the final curtain for the Color Wall? – perhaps the most significant work of 20th century public art in Raleigh. Is the Color Wall “off again” ? Or will we be able to switch it back on again? — and this time permanently.

Goodnight, Raleigh! provides all the background on the “Color Wall” and its significance. It’s an enlightening read.

The “Color Wall” was the creation of Joe Cox, a Raleigh artist and faculty member in the College of Design (1954-1980). . . . While its concept was genius, its execution was technically quite simple. A 90 watt light bulb casts its light through a colored gel affixed to its housing. There are 23 bulbs. The patterns of hundreds of vertical bands of multicolored light are created when the beams pass over each other and against dozens of fixed, black metal vanes. The entire display was orchestrated by a mechanical system of switches and gears which Cox himself fabricated.

(Photograph courtesy of NCSU Libraries)

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