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The Tribute in Light is an art installation of 88 searchlights placed next to the site of the World Trade Center to create two vertical columns of light in remembrance of the September 11 attacks. It is produced annually by The Municipal Art Society of New York. It initially ran as a temporary installation from March 11 to April 14, 2002, and was launched again in 2003 to mark the second anniversary of the attack. As of 2010, it has been repeated every year on September 11. It had been announced that 2008 would be its final year, but the tribute was continued in 2009. On December 17, 2009, it was confirmed that the tribute would continue through to the tenth anniversary of the attacks in 2011.
Those working on the project came up with the concept in the week following the attack. Architects John Bennett and Gustavo Bonevardi of PROUN Space Studio distributed their “Project for the Immediate Reconstruction of Manhattan’s Skyline”. Artists Julian LaVerdiere and Paul Myoda, who before September 11 were working on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center north tower on a proposed light sculpture on the giant radio antenna with Creative Time, conceived of a project called “Phantom Towers”. They were commissioned by The New York Times Magazine to create an image of the project for its September 23 cover.
Richard Nash Gould, a New York architect, presented the concept to the Municipal Art Society. Gould was part of a firm whose SoHo office looked on the World Trade Center. Other projects by Gould include Howard, Darby & Levin in New York City and Polo Sport, Ralph Lauren in New York City. On September 19, Municipal Art Society chairman Philip K. Howard wrote to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, asking him “to consider placing two large searchlights near the disaster site, projecting their light straight up into the sky.”
After some consideration it was decided to contact lighting experts in the field of high intensity light displays. A Las Vegas company was chosen to help design the installation and to supply the 88 fixtures that would be needed.
The project was originally going to be named “Towers of Light”, but the victims’ families felt that the name emphasized the buildings destroyed instead of the people killed.
On clear nights, the lights could be seen from over 60 miles away, visible in all of New York City and most of suburban Northern New Jersey and Long Island, Fairfield County, Connecticut, Westchester County, Orange County and Rockland County, New York. The beams were clearly visible from the terrace at Century Country Club in Purchase, New York, from at least as far west as western Morris County, in Flanders, New Jersey, and as far south near Trenton, New Jersey in nearby Hamilton.
Since 2008, the generators that power Tribute in Light have been fueled with biodiesel made from recycled cooking oil.
The lights have caused confusion for thousands of migrating birds, trapping them in the beams, and requiring that the lights be switched off for 20 minute periods to allow the birds to escape. To ensure the lights do not affect migrating birds, the Municipal Art Society works with the New York City Audubon on the illumination.