Washington, D.C.’s National Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual tradition, marks the true arrival of spring in the city. Tourists and residents alike flock to the Tidal Basin to observe the 3,000 sakura trees gifted to the United States in 1912 by the mayor of Tokyo. This year, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, part of the Smithsonian, commissioned an interactive installation—“Lantern Field,” designed and run by students and faculty from the Virginia Tech Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology—which ran over the course of three days.

The public participated in a day-long workshop where they created lanterns by folding mulberry paper, which is commonly used in Japanese shoji screens. The paper lanterns were then hung from bamboo poles (so as not to interfere with the structural integrity of the museum’s historic building status) in the 12-foot-wide by 70-foot-long loggia facing the museum’s courtyard.

The Virginia Tech team wanted to create a highly interactive and multisensory experience. To that end, they positioned a combination of linear, color-changing LED fixtures and ultrasonic sensors along the loggia’s east wall, and a series of white LED spotlights at the base of the loggia arches. As the sensors detected visitors in the space, the luminaires and speakers would activate, projecting reflected light onto the paper lanterns above. The more people who were present, the deeper and richer the color, hue, and tone that they experienced. Once the installation was complete, it pulsed with a spectrum of sound and color—from cool white to deep magenta, encouraging guests to explore the space and activate the light and sound around them.

Project: Lantern Field, Washington, D.C. •  Entrant: Virginia Tech Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, Blacksburg, Va. •  Owner/Clients: National Cherry Blossom Festival and Smithsonian: Freer|Sackler, The Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art, Washington D.C. •  Architect: Aki Ishida Architect with Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va. •  Lighting Designer: Virginia Tech Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, Blacksburg, Va.  Team Members: Aki Ishida and Brennon Bortz •  Photographer: Jeff Goldberg/ESTO •  Project Size: 820 square feet •  Project Cost: Withheld •  Lighting Cost: $30,600 •  Watts per Square Foot: 0.68W •  Code Compliance: Not Applicable •  Manufacturer: Philips Color Kinetics Jury Comments: An engaging backdrop of light, color, and sound for festival participants. • The installation and accompanying public programs, including a lantern-making workshop, provides the public with an introduction to light and lighting, and area of design they might not have been previously familiar with.