Lightswitch and Elation transform Morton Arboretum into magical wonderland of light

April 11, 2024

When leading design group Lightswitch debuted Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, in 2012, not only did they curate a series of never-before-seen attractions, they ushered in a whole new kind of experience. As one of the nation’s most beloved light displays, Lightswitch works with the Arboretum each year to develop new lighting elements for the wintertime walk in the woods and all-weather Elation luminaires continue to form the foundation of the magical lighting scheme. Lightswitch works closely with Intelligent Lighting Creations (ILC) on the Illumination project and again this year the Illinois-based design and rental house supplied the lighting fixtures.

As guests journey along a one-mile paved walking path amid festive music and lighting effects, they pass through enchanting woodlands and landscapes filled with dramatic lighting and colour-changing illumination, mesmerising environments that are rich with visual depth. Each year, Lightswitch designers explore fresh layouts and re-envision designs in order to keep the one-of-a-kind encounter with nature evolving.

Tree Lights Exhibit 1Last season’s walking experience, which ran from 18 November until 6 January, was flipped 180 degrees so that what was the exit in previous years was now the entrance. The reasons were both practical (a new ADA compliant walking path was installed for guests with limited mobility and the route worked better that way) and experiential (the reverse route allowed guests to experience the trees in a different light). “What we wanted to do is rethink the show in ways that were compelling and different,” explains Lightswitch principal John Featherstone, who has served as lead designer on the project since its inception. “The experience is about seeing trees in a different light and when you walk a different route, you get a new perspective and become aware of different parts of the Arboretum.”

The year 2022 marked the centennial anniversary of the Morton Arboretum, alongside the milestone of the tenth anniversary of Illumination: Tree Lights, when several new experiences were introduced. According to Featherstone, 2023 unfolded as a natural continuation of this celebration. The long running, cold weather conditions prove an ideal environment for the multi-environmental Proteus series (including Proteus Hybrids, Proteus Beams, Proteus Rayzor 760), which remain integral to several designs including the Crown of Light by the esteemed artist collective HYBYCOZO, in addition to Enchanted Forest, Symphony Woods, and others, including the new Grand Garden added in 2022.

Tree Lights Exhibit 2Another of the new colourful light features added in 2022 is Meadow Lake Magic. Here, Lightswitch conceived floating pontoon towers that ebb and flow as the water moves. Made up of vertical sections of truss clad in mirror panels and lit with Elation IP-rated Paladin floodlights, on top of each pontoon sat a Proteus Excalibur beam light.

“The pontoons respond to the flow of the water and as beams from the Excaliburs penetrate into the night sky, you get a wonderful, fluid kinetic show as nature and artifice interact in a really interesting way,” Featherstone describes. “The natural flow of organic input – the movement of the water – meant the Excaliburs were always slightly alive and dynamic in an interesting and unpredictable way. The wind and waves effected the look in ways that would have been super challenging to program.” Excaliburs featured in other areas of the experience as well.

Moreover, Lightswitch continued to embrace the transition from Elation’s legacy Level Q7 IP Par lights (which formed the bulk of the lighting fixtures used on Illumination since Lightswitch started on the project years ago) to the Arena Zoom Q7IP Par colour changer with its enhanced aesthetics and overall better light quality.

Illumination: Tree Lights continues to surprise and delight hundreds of thousands of guests each year. Firmly entrenched as a yearly tradition, for many it stands as an essential part of their holiday celebrations

Tree lights Exhibit 3