Skip to main content

Uncommon Common Areas


As attention has turned from enclosed malls to open-air shopping centers, all eyes this December are on open-air holiday decor—and for good reason. The common space in a lifestyle center presents a creative canvas that is as much about challenge as it is about opportunity.

Exactly one year after Cleveland-based Forest City’s 1.2 million-sq.-ft. lifestyle center Northfield Stapleton in Denver debuted a one-of-a-kind holiday light show, the extravagant program encored this year on Nov. 17 at Northfield Stapleton, and an adapted version premiered on Nov. 18 at the company’s new town center The Promenade Boling-brook, in Bolingbrook, Ill. Both shows will run through Dec. 31.

Computer-controlled and choreographed to the thunderous sounds of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, “Symphony in Lights” at both centers has involved intense collaboration, miles of electrical wire and steel cable, thousands of ornaments and hundreds of thousands of LED lights (see sidebar). The 2006 Northfield show was conceived by Forest City’s VP of marketing Jane Lisy, who was inspired by the nationally publicized holiday light and music show designed by artist Carson Williams for his Mason, Ohio, home.

“We were challenged to create a holiday attraction for our new Northfield Stapleton center that wasn’t already being done in the Denver area,” said Lisy.

Symphony in Lights was the answer. The unique, energy-efficient holiday light show was programmed and choreographed by Williams, and all design and construction was handled by Scotch Plains, N.J.-based Parker 3D. According to John Carter, design director, the greatest challenge to executing a program of this magnitude is the sheer coordination of it all.

Symphony in Lights, Backstage

While the public holiday light shows illuminating both Northfield Stapleton in Denver and The Promenade Boling-brook near Chicago this month both march to the beat of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and both feature 250,000 LED lights, each display has differences.

Northfield Stapleton features:

More than 30 lighted trees ranging in size from 4 ft. to 36 ft. tall;

Nine lighted wreaths from 4 ft. to 10 ft. tall;

Aquarter mile of garland;

6,000 ornaments; and

More than 60 miles of electrical wire.

Promenade Bolingbrook features:

40 huge snowflakes that dance around a 50-ft. tree in the central gathering area;

8,000 lbs. of holiday decor;

Enough pine needles that, if stretched end to end, would reach Cleveland; and

47,000-plus miles of copper wire to run the circuits.

The use of LED lights in both shows allows extraordinary energy efficiency—each program runs on the amount of energy used in a typical American home.

“We’re talking about hundreds of people working in different locations around the U.S. I get my metal done in Alabama, my trees are made in Florida, my hightech electronics are made on Long Island [N.Y.], and my programmer is in Cincinnati,” he said. “It’s all these different ant farms that come together. And it’s a real orchestration challenge.”

Carter is best known for the department store windows he designed in New York City (among them Saks, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor), but applying his design technology and holiday decor expertise to town-center proportions has prompted him to think in larger-than-life scale.

“Both Northfield Stapleton and Promenade Bolingbrook feature football-sized displays,” he said, “with 250,000 LED lights embedded in thousands of feet of holiday foliage.”

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds