HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE CITY'S COLLECTION: LIGHT SPIKES
Alex Irrera, Civic Art + Design Assistant
It’s Flag Day! Every year, we take June 14th to commemorate the adoption of the United States flag by the 1777 Second Continental Congress. Although Flag Day is perhaps not the rowdiest of our patriotic holidays, it nevertheless recognizes an important symbolic moment in American history—a step in fashioning our national identity. Flags themselves also play a role in local identity. Historical flags such as the Texas state flag and the “Come and Take It” flag, are simple, memorable, and (especially in the case of the latter) with ample personality.
Today, the flags that can be seen around Houston are often representative of our city’s national and global partnerships rather than its political independence. When traveling through George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) for example, it is hard to miss the Houston Airport System’s luminous, flag-themed sculpture Light Spikes. Located near the air traffic control tower, between two of the airport’s winding roads, this towering sculpture is composed of eight tilted, rectangular columns, each one wrapped in the enlarged patterns of a different flag. Those flags represented are from: France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and the European Union. Arranged in a circle, the spikes all lean toward the center of their ring—the distance of each spike from the center of the circle calculated to mirror respective capital city’s distance from Houston.
Each of Light Spikes’ flags represents a political body that attended the 1990 World Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations. Held at Houston’s Rice University from July 9th to 11th, this 16th G7 summit primarily functioned as an opportunity for these self-selected industrialized nations to identify economic priorities and to support one another in the resolution of economic concerns. In a gesture of solidarity, the Houston World Economic Host Committee commissioned Llewelyn-Davies Sahni architect Jay Baker to commemorate the gathering. Although situated in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center during the summit, Light Spikes was thoughtfully relocated to IAH after the donation of the sculpture was accepted by the City of Houston in November of 1990.
When darkness falls, Light Spikes is transformed from an arrangement of colorful totems bursting forth from the grass and into pillars of light, glowing against the inky sky. Now over 25 years old, the spikes remain beacons—welcoming incoming travelers to Houston—as well as symbols of the city’s steadily expanding role as a hub for international travel, commerce, and comradery.