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A tower of strength and light

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The Christchurch control tower, seen here lit in all its glory, was built to resemble the Christchurch Chalice. Photo / Supplied/City Life
The Christchurch control tower, seen here lit in all its glory, was built to resemble the Christchurch Chalice. Photo / Supplied/City Life

Next time you're passing through Christchurch International Airport during the hours of darkness keep an eye out for the control tower.

Yes, I know a control tower mightn't sound the most exciting thing in the world, but - trust me - this one is worth a look.

For a start, the architects, Paris Magdalinos of Napier, designed it to look like the chalice sculpture in Cathedral Square, and it does a bit.

I rather like the chalice, created by sculptor Neil Dawson to mark the 150th anniversity of the founding of the city. It's certainly a lot more appealing than the public art that has been erected round Auckland (eg the $250,000 glass and light river outside the Civic Theatre which gets me going every time I step on it).

As a tribute to the chalice, the control tower has also been built in a cone shape with a ribbon rolling up the side, which gives it a pleasantly distinctive appearance. It's not only the tallest control tower in the country - at 45m high - but also, I'd hazard a guess, the most interesting.

But it's at night the tower really comes into its own when it becomes the focal point of a light show.

Airways, which runs New Zealand's air traffic control operation, employed a trio of lighting designer Kevin Cawley, Philips Lighting and Cosgroves Electrical Engineers to develop a unique proposal to illuminate the tower.

Although apparently disheartened with the small size of the budget, the team came up with a cunning plan to overcome this by using LED lights with the same intensity of much more powerful floodlights, and to control them with a playback device called an iPlayer3, which has a palette of 360,000 colours.

As anyone who's been to the airport at night will know - I saw it for myself on a night flight back from Dunedin - the resultant display of colours is extremely eye-catching. And it survived the earthquake so it's obviously built to last.

There are plans to go even further during next year's Rugby World Cup by projecting the colours of the various teams on the tower (England might represent a bit of a challenge).

It's a nice idea and a good example of how to create an interesting and distinctive atmosphere without having to spend a fortune.

As Airways project manager John Pringle says, when talking about the plan to have team colours shining on the tower, "What an amazing welcome this will be."

- NZ Herald

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