Jonathan Bloom

‘Night Bloom' Dazzles Guests With Light at San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers

Expertly-designed lighting and soundscapes for each of the Conservatory's different indoor plant habitats will let visitors see the historic building in "a whole new light"

The sun may set early in the wintertime, but at San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers, that just means more time to enjoy Night Bloom — the light and sound installation that will keep the historic indoor gardens open late into the evening on select nights through January 6.

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The Aquatic Plants gallery at the Conservatory of Flowers is kept at nearly 100% humidity all year round. That's the ultimate stress test for the theatrical lighting equipment used during Night Bloom: even lights rated for outdoor use may not be built to survive a tropical rainforest.

"We have this 139-year-old national landmark Victorian greenhouse, and it's a shame that people don't come here at night," said Conservatory director Matthew Stephens. "The crickets come out, the plants are still here, and so with Night Bloom, we figured we could activate the Conservatory for our local community in a way that has never really occurred before."

The Conservatory of Flowers is lit up for Night Bloom, with glowing lawn games to play in the dark. It's not the first time the 139-year-old Victorian greenhouse has been lit up at night -- but Night Bloom is the first time it's been lit up inside too.

Stephens said organizers of the display reached out to Lightswitch, a theatrical lighting design firm with experience lighting exotic gardens and other outdoor spaces. Designer Austin Shapley said the Conservatory's various indoor climates — ranging from chilly alpine to muggy rainforest — make for harsh conditions that test even the most rugged lighting equipment.

Shapley and his team worked in the evenings during the week leading up to the show's opening, mounting lights and creating subtle animations of color and intensity, to give each room a distinct mood.

Jonathan Bloom/NBC Bay Area
Austin Shapley, a designer from the firm Lightswitch, says he stood at this console for nearly 24 hours total, wheeling it from room to room as he created the subtle pulsations and animations that make the Night Bloom light show feel organic and alive.

"We are certain we will get people who have never been to the Conservatory," Stephens said. "We've been running ongoing evening events over the last year, year and a half, and what we hear at every single one of those is, 'I drove by or a biked by or I ran by literally every day, but I've never been inside.'"

Adult general admission to Night Bloom is $27. Kids 8 and under can get in for free.

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