Open Air Roundup: Insider Tips For Watching The Interactive 3-D Light Installation On The Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Every night for the next 20 nights, Open Air will illuminate the night sky above the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with the mesmerizing patterns of 24 robotic searchlights. (Photo by G. Widman for GPTMC)

Now that Open Air is closing in on its first full week, having kicked off last Thursday, September 20, we thought we’d cull together some key insider tips to watching the 3-D light installation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

We’ve given you suggestions for where to watch Open Air, including spots along the Parkway, hotels with great views and restaurants at which you can dine and see the night skies.

But now we’re diving deeper, with some intel gleaned from having watched Open Air, informally polling others on their own viewing experiences and talking to the Open Air artist himself, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. And remember, you have every night through October 14 from 8-11 p.m. to catch Open Air, so there’s plenty of time to implement these suggestions.

Ground level vs. elevated vantage point: You might think, seeing as Open Air projects beams of light up into the night sky visible from 10 miles away at their brightest, that watching from an elevated vantage point would be the best strategy. But actually, we’ve found that watching Open Air from ground level, especially when you’re right on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, gives the coolest effect, where it looks like the beacons of light are actually reaching over your head. Some people even find that lying down, in stargazing mode, grants you the most visually compelling view.

Where to actually hear the 30-second recordings that control the lights: As we’ve described, the 24 Open Air searchlights are controlled by vocal patterns, recorded in 30-second installments through the Open Air website. But when you’re watching from afar, the lights appear to be silently roving through the night sky. Which they are — but if you want to actually hear the recording that they’re interpreting, you have three options: download the Open Air app and play the recording on your phone; stake yourself at Eakins Oval, the project headquarters, with speakers projecting the audio; or grab a seat at Sister Cities Plaza down the Parkway, which has speakers as well.

Headphones: Which brings us to: use headphones to better hear the recordings if you’re using your phone. With atmospheric noise, wherever you are, it’s a much better listening experience when you have headphones to plug in.

Weather: foggy vs. clear sky: The cool thing about Open Air (well, let’s be honest, there are many cool things) is that it’s enthralling in a variety of humidity levels. If the night sky is cloudy or foggy, you can see the searchlights actually reflecting off the cloud cover, as if beams of light are shooting straight down from the sky. On the other hand, on a clear night when you don’t see where the searchlights end, they appear to be tunneling endlessly out into the atmosphere, making for a cool effect of its own.

How to use the app: The Open Air app, only available on iPhones, is called Open Air Philly and is available (for free!) in the iTunes store. You can use it on an iPod touch or iPad as well. If you don’t have an iPhone, you can check one out from the Eakins Oval Project Headquarters, 24th Street and the Parkway. It’s super user-friendly, with just three tabs: Info, Record and Listen. Bonus: If you use the app to record your message, it gives you a high priority and will point the lights toward you when your message is in the sky (so cool).

Open Air
Where: Benjamin Franklin Parkway; Project Headquarters – 24th Street and the Parkway
When: September 20-October 14, nightly 8-11 p.m.
Cost: Free
More info:

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One comment

  1. Seems like a fascinating project. Too bad 60+% of the world’s smartphone users will be unable to use the associated software given the developers choice in distribution platforms.

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