Maiden’s Tower Light Show

Martin Kuhn tells the story of Istanbul’s most iconic and important building with a spectacular light show designed to be viewed from both sides of the Bosporus.

With a long history stretching back beyond the 15th Century, Istanbul’s Maiden’s Tower is one of the city’s most iconic and important buildings, and the subject of many stories and fables. With the building in need of a complete renovation, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism commissioned contractors ASTEL to conduct an international competition for a light show not only to highlight the beauty of the tower but also to be visible from far and wide, which was to run fully automated every night.

The contract was won by Martin Kuhn of Berlin-based MKLD Lighting Design & Consulting, who conceived the idea of telling the tower’s story using light to accompany the narrative in the manner of a theatre piece or performance. “The process started in May 2021,” he told TPiMEA, recalling how the enforced downtime brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic provided the opportunity for him to delve deep into the folklore surrounding the building. “It allowed me to really dive into the history of the tower, gathering ideas to write the script.”

The lighting project was incorporated into the building refurbishment, and included all the architectural lighting, which served a dual purpose for both the show and the general architectural look at night. “My first priority was to ensure that the tower is lit adequately when the show is not playing, which led me to look around for all kinds of products on the market,” Kuhn commented. “The biggest issue was that the tower is so close to the water level, so everything had to be marine grade. I was amazed at how much this narrows down the options.” After talking to many manufacturers, Kuhn settled on Anolis for some of the linear in-grounds and SGM P-2 POI and P-6 fixtures to provide a more powerful wash from further afield.

Away from the architectural element, Kuhn selected 48 Ayrton Cobra units for the light show installation. “When I started to look into the project, I knew immediately that I needed to find the most powerful beam lights to be able to cut through the ambient light of the Istanbul sky,” he explained. “Michael [Althaus, Ayrton’s Global Sales Director] then told me in secret about the Cobra project and I was invited as one of the first to take a look at the newly developed fixture.”

With Ayrton offering a full marine-grade finish and IP66 upgrade, Kuhn described the Cobras as “the natural choice”. He described the positioning of the fixtures: “They are based at ground level and incorporated on the outer seawall of the island,” he explained. “They are hidden behind closed hatches in the daytime, so they do not interfere with the clean look of the tower. Once the island is closed to the public at night, the hatches are opened, and the lights exposed to take part in the performance.

Supplied by local distributor, Asimetrik, the Cobras were vital to the design. “They perform well and can be seen from far away,” Kuhn stated. “We use them almost exclusively in beam mode and with pastel colours to give a strong beam. I am very happy with them and 100% sure I made the right choice.”

Kuhn also introduced lasers as a second element to the show, working with LaserFabrik – whose founder, Daniel Brune, Kuhn met while working on large outdoor raves in 1990s – to set up and program the laser part of the show. “To fill an eight-minute show, it was clear that we would need more than just a couple of moving lights and colour on the tower,” Kuhn said of the decision to bring LaserFabrik onboard.

“I opted for very powerful lasers to match the Cobras, placing eight 50W RGB on the top balcony, and a further eight 24W RGB incorporated into the sea walls for projection on the walls of the tower,” he added. “There are also two 60W lasers, one on the Maiden’s Tower and one on the Galatea Tower 2km away on the other side of the Bosphorus, to build a visual connection between both.”

As the Tower can be viewed from near and far and is monitored tightly as a national monument, the show could not be programmed live on site, so Kuhn and his team programmed the show remotely in a studio using a very accurate 3D model created in Depence R3 and MA Lighting grandMA3 software. Additional programming and touching up was carried out on site very late at night.

Kuhn commissioned a seven-minute script from respected Turkish writer, Ayse Kulin, had it translated it into English and Arabic, found professional speakers for all three languages, recorded the story, and then edited it with music he also specially commissioned and produced with some Turkish musicians in Berlin.

Because the Maiden’s Tower is positioned 300m from Istanbul’s ‘Asian’ side and 1,500m from the ‘European’ side, broadcasting the story from speakers on the Tower was impractical, so Kuhn devised a method of using a website to send an audio file to visitors’ phones and synchronised it with the time-coded show.

While the show is designed to be viewed from both shores of the Bosporus, Kuhn’s personal favourite viewpoint is from the ‘Asian’ side. “Most tourists would view it from the other side, where you can see more of the beams,” he explained. “The idea was to think of the show in two different aspects – one close up where you can see more detail, which is my personal favourite, and one far away for more of a big beam show that been seen from a few kilometres away.”

Photos: Martin Kuhn, Amanda Holmes