The Light’s Fantastic!

Colored LEDs add visual appeal to a Calgary lift station and help the public understand what goes on within the building walls.

The Light’s Fantastic!

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Unlike most wastewater lift stations whose owners try to hide or disguise them, the Calgary Forest Lawn Lift Station in southern Alberta sits on the crest of a hill in full public display.

It’s adorned by an artistic arrangement of LED lights mounted on two walls of the metal-clad concrete block building. The lights change color as the flow to the lift station varies.

“Combining art and infrastructure works great for us because it tells the story to the public of what’s happening underneath their feet,” says Chris Huston, manager of drinking water distribution for Calgary. “It also allows us to see from outside the building whether the station is working.”

Team venture

As one of the Calgary Utilities & Environmental Protection department’s 39 wastewater lift stations, the Forest Lawn station has become a centerpiece for the combination of an artist’s creativity and management’s planning. “Its location and prominence overlooking the city makes it a highly visible piece of infrastructure,” Huston says.

The creation was a collaboration between artists, engineers and architects. Plans were being made in 2011 to replace the original station, which was built in 1960 and had reached the end of its life cycle and capacity. At the same time, the city was initiating a public arts program named Watershed+, developed to integrate art with infrastructure.

Funded in part through the city’s directive to spend 1% of capital project budgets on public art, the 23-by-36-foot lift station building was constructed not just to perform its normal function, but also to reveal what happens inside the walls. A chain of Nemalux GS industrial luminaires are arranged on two walls, representing the lift station’s catchment network of underground pipes.

Ingenious automation

Varying in length from 4 to 60 inches, a total of 71 lights change color between blue (the lowest flow rate), green, yellow, orange and red (the highest flow rate). Custom brackets attach the lights to the building’s exterior, behind a perforated metal architectural screening façade that shrouds the entire building and protects the lights. 

“Control of the lights is based on level change in the wet well, which varies with influent flow rate,” says Daniel Schaefer, operations engineer. The level change is transmitted to the station’s PLC by way of a 4-20mA signal from a Siemens 200 MultiRanger ultrasonic level controller. The PLC calculates the flow rate based on level change and provides a digital output to a Nemalux controller, which changes the color of all the lights at the same time.    

Public understanding

As the lead artists of the city’s Watershed+ program, a Calgary-based international art firm named Sans façon created the wall-mounted abstract image of the underground piping system.

Rather than introduce art after the project was completed, the artists were embedded within the Utilities & Environmental Protection department to learn about lift stations and collaborate with engineers. “There was a great balance between what the artists needed and what the engineer’s needs were,” Huston says.

Since at least 60% of a lift station’s infrastructure is underground and people don’t see it, the early design and art collaboration made it possible to show the public what a lift station does. “The Forest Lawn lift station links the public to what the city does each and every day within our wastewater system,” Huston says. “It helps us tell that story.”


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