Anyone driving along Poplar Avenue this month has surely noticed that Clark Tower somehow looks ... different. During the holidays, the normally gleaming-white office tower has been bathed in festive green lights, an effect created easily enough by placing filters over the banks of spotlights that normally illuminate the 34-story building (below).
For more years than we can remember, the First Tennessee Bank building has also brightened downtown with its holiday lights. But theirs are a bit more complicated. The windows of the bank — on all four sides — are usually colored to form a giant red bell and a green Christmas tree during the holidays. But at other times of the year, those same windows have been used to spell out “Go Grizz” or they display a giant “M” for the University of Memphis. During 2014, the entire building was bathed in stunning blue lights, in honor of the bank’s 150th anniversary.
So how is it done? Most people — this writer included — assumed that the window panes were covered with big sheets of colored plastic. That would work pretty well, we thought, but that meant the employees gazing through those windows would see a red, or green, or blue city all day long — depending on where their offices were located.
And we were puzzled why the decorations weren’t visible during the day.
That’s because the windows aren’t covered at all. Last year, while Contemporary Media (the publishers of Memphis magazine, among other ventures) was producing The First Tennessee Story, the book celebrating the bank’s 150-year history in Memphis (yes, you may certainly consider that a shameless plug), we spoke with the building superintendent, who gave away the secret.
First of all, he uses a computer program to “draw” whatever designs or letters he needs on the outside of the buildings. This tells him what windows need to be colored, and as you can see, it takes a lot of windows. Then the trick is this: Each window has a short fluorescent tube mounted above it, on the inside, tucked away in a recess so it’s not visible from inside. The building superintendent’s crew slips tinted transparent plastic sleeves over these lights, which then color the entire windows at night, without shining any of that red, green, or blue back into the offices. The effect is remarkable, since it appears as if the entire pane of glass is colored, but nope — it’s just from that one light at the top of each window. And that explains why these designs aren’t visible during the day. They only form when those flourescent tubes are switched on.
At other (non-Holiday, non-Grizzlies) times of the year, those same lights (without their colored sleeves) make First Tennessee Bank a bright beacon on the Memphis horizon.