The Connaught Christmas Tree by Michael Craig-Martin

Avco is very pleased to have been involved in the design and build of 12,000 RGB controllable lights for artist Michael Craig-Martin’s ‘Christmas Tree’, outside the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair for Christmas 2018. This challenging project was successfully completed within a 7 week timeframe. From the launch on the 22nd November until the 4th January the tree was constantly photographed and shared on social media.

The Team

Avco was the lead contractor with Jonathan Gittens from Atelier Ten provided consultancy and electrical engineering calculations. Artist fabricator Richard Grimes worked on bracket design and cabling and installation.

The Challenges

The project presented several key challenges. The sourcing and purchasing of a large number of addressable LEDs direct from China. The length and specification of cabling required: over 700 meters of heavy duty power cabling, 700 meters of ethernet cable and another 700 meters of lights. The short 2-day install with minimum disruption to the hotel’s operation. The unknown visual impact of 12,000 low voltage addressable RGB LED lights.

The cabling and lights were assembled at our studio in East London in the preceding weeks. We made estimates of LED density and calculations of cable lengths – having enough length was critical for a smooth installation. An interesting question soon presented itself: do we start fixing the lights from the top or the bottom?

We needed time for testing and sequencing in the final week, to do this we had to finish making up the cables, label the cable tails and connect up all the ethernet boxes in good time. We anticipated that the installation in a real tree, with its random and non-linear character, would be unpredictable. Would the branches hold that many lights at their tips without drooping too much or snapping? What would the total load of several hundred kilos do to the tree? How would the installation cope with the winter wind and rain? Health and safety was a particular concern, with the location outside the busy entrance to the hotel.

The Installation

A team of 4 successfully completed the installation in two days. One person inside the tree, one at the tree base and two on the cherry picker. The weather was challenging, temperatures just above freezing with rain and sleet.

By covering the tree with these 12,000 RGB LEDs and controlling them via a computer with a refresh rate of 30fps and what was effectively a large ethernet network we transformed the real-live tree into a 9 meter high video display.