But luckily that’s not the case. Head Engineer Roy Swanson, with his team of electricians work together to light up the south side of the well-known building.
The process starts with Ashley Bullock, a communications consultant who receives the requests from community partners. Sometimes they want to highlight a city event like Lollapalooza or remind people to get their flu shot. It’s her job to design a message that fulfills the request while staying within the guidelines of her “canvas.”
“A lot of the times organizations come to me and they ask for specific phrases and colors to represent their cause, or their organization. But if not, then it’s kind of fun for me to use my creative license and come up with messages,” Bullock said.
Her creativity has a few limits though. Each word is 50 windows wide and every letter is five floors tall.
After the message is decided, she sends it over to Swanson, who uses Microsoft Excel to plan out which shades to open and which need to be closed. While it’s a pretty quick process today, it wasn’t always that way. Before Swanson, the team used to draw each design by hand, so making a mistake was pretty time consuming.
Finally, everyone receives a printed copy of the design, but it doesn’t look like what is seen from the outside of the building. Their paper displays a mirror image of the message so the team knows what they should see from inside the building. To do this, Swanson learned to write backwards.
So as the team walks from floor to floor they are proud of the role they play in creating the messages.
“Especially when you nail it, when the lights are like perfect, the reds and the greens,” Swanson said. “There’s certain messages we put up, we don’t know how they’re gonna look on the building because you’re looking at it from a piece of paper. Once you see it on a building, it’s like, wow, that looks cool. Then you get to go home and eat.”
Check out our latest episode of The Chicago Minute, to see the team in action.
Produced by Emily Soto and Anna Retzlaff
Edited by Kiernan Sullivan
Sound by Kiernan Sullivan
Animation by Julia Hester
Header graphic by Bridget Killian