Los Angeles International Airport’s (LAX’s) series of 100-foot-high colorfully lit pylons and 32-foot-high letters spelling out “LAX” have become a landmark and symbolic gateway of LAX since their commemoration on August 8, 2000.
The distinctive, architectural structures welcoming travelers to LAX were part of an overall multi-million dollar construction and landscaping program designed to make the airport more welcoming and convenient for the nearly 62 million passengers who use the airport annually. The LAX Gateway pylons are the most well-known example of public art in Los Angeles, and are visible to airline passengers from 3,000 feet high.
The 1.5-mile lineup of 11 translucent, tempered glass columns increase in height from 25 to 60 feet along Century Boulevard and culminate with a “Gateway Circle” of 15 100-foot-tall columns at the intersection of Century and Sepulveda Boulevards. The pylons are lit from dusk to dawn daily.
The pylons consist of structural steel support frames that are encased in a layer of translucent, tempered glass. They are part of an overall design developed by a team headed by the architectural firm of Ted Tokio Tanaka in Marina del Rey, California. The primary theme of the Gateway LAX project is aviation and the diverse culture of the City of Los Angeles. The pylons are oriented skyward and are designed to mimic an aircraft takeoff pattern.
The original kinetic program of color sequences that illuminates the pylons was created by Los Angeles lighting artist Paul Tzanetopoulos in 2000. Additional color sequence programs designed by internal Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) staff have been installed.
The pylons were built as a $15-million component of a $115-million Gateway LAX Enhancement Project. The project’s improvements also included improved signage and lighting, an improved public address system for the terminals on the Lower/Arrivals Level, public art installations and practical and aesthetic improvements.
During 2006, LED (light-emitting diode) technology was installed during a major refurbishment of the pylons performed by LAWA staff. The LEDs are 75 percent more energy-efficient than the original theatrical lighting system. Because the LEDs burn less electricity while providing more vibrant hues, LAWA’s annual electricity costs for the pylons was cut by 75 percent to $18,000, as compared to $73,000 with the original system. The new, more reliable system also requires less maintenance, reducing annual maintenance costs to $20,000, compared to $1 million with the former system. The new system also offers a display palette of more than 16 million colors.
The total cost of the upgrade was $2.5 million, including $1.18 million for the LED light fixtures, installation, and contracts for programming and sequencing the displays. Replacing the original theatrical-style lighting equipment with new but similar parts would have cost $4.3 million.