Illuminating the IPL Building Window Displays

It’s an American flag. It’s a horseshoe. It’s a … wait … is that a … a blue sunflower bending in the breeze?
Some of the designs in the window-light displays of the Indianapolis Power and Light headquarters may take a while to decipher—ahh, it’s a capital P for Pacers!—but for locals, downtown visitors, and millions of people watching blimps-eye cutaways of the Circle during nationally televised sporting events, they are an integral part of the city’s nightscape.
When the sun sets, 276 LED bulbs at the base of 276 uniform rectangular windows awaken to transform the stern Depression-era building into the state’s largest Lite-Brite. A heart for Valentine’s, or a flag of the Fourth. A horseshoe for fall and winter Sundays or a blue “B” for the basketball Bulldogs as they make their annual postseason run. Or a twisted ribbon: Pink for breast cancer awareness or yellow to pray for the troops’ safe return. Even in November, when the light-and-garland-strewn Monument overshadows the entire Circle, the windows quietly spell out their own little trees in green and red. “It’s our way to really demonstrate our support of the community,” says IPL spokesperson Crystal Livers-Powers. “It’s a way for us to participate.”   
When IPL first started participating in this way some 20 years ago, the operation, ironically, ran on manpower. The designs were mapped out by hand on a numbered grid, and employees would go to 276 windows and change the colors on 276 bulbs. Installing a new design would take several days. In 2008, the power company plugged in an automated system equipping each window with red, yellow, and blue that can be programmed to 256 shades of each color, creating a mix that can yield more than 16 million hues and be synchronized and staggered to present more intricate patters and even the illusion of movement.
Controlled by a small terminal located in a closet-sized room in the bowels of the building, the IPL windows are a decoration and an indicator of the seasons, holidays, and what’s going on in our city—our own Times Square marquee. And on an average night, when there is no particular holiday or game or cause to commemorate, the 276 bulbs in the 276 windows glow a soft incandescent yellow, the building that powers the city, keeping the lights on for people returning to the city’s core.

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Rehagen is a writer and journalist. He joined Atlanta magazine as senior editor in 2011. Prior to that, he was staff writer and then senior editor at Indianapolis Monthly. He has been a finalist for City and Regional Magazine Association (CRMA) Writer of the Year in each of the past five years. His April 2012 feature “The Last Trawlers” was included in the anthology Next Wave: America's New Generation of Great Literary Journalists. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a Missouri native. He lives in Atlanta with his family.