Sandra Kuhns, president of Kuhns and Heller, is filled with special pride this time every year when the PPL building in downtown Allentown illuminates the 12-story high images of a Christmas tree and candle.
Although PPL’s holiday window lights have been a tradition dating to 1928 when the building opened, Kuhns and Heller, a window design and treatment company in Trexlertown, has made the window shades in one form or another that have helped create the colorful images since 1990.
Today, several hundred light-emitting diode lights made by ESG Systems Inc. based in Upper Macungie Township shine through the window shades from the ninth to the 20th floors on the east and west sides of the building to create the light display visible for miles. PPL’s window lights are on from dusk to dawn, beginning the day before Thanksgiving and ending on the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, which is Jan. 6 this year.
The lights, which provide the color, work in conjunction with the shades, with the shades providing a reflective surface and the angles and curves of the tree and ball at the top, said Mike Piltz, chief technical officer at ESG Systems and lead designer and project manager for the PPL holiday window design.
“It’s an old-school approach, but it’s an old-style building. Their main design intent was not to reinvent the look, but to honor the classic look of the building,” said Piltz, who has designed more cutting-edge looks with a number of the new buildings in downtown Allentown, including Tower 6.
Nearly 30 years ago, when Kuhns first got the order to design window treatments to create PPL’s annual holiday window lights, she was tasked with replacing an even older-school design.
Then, PPL used colored cellophane on its windows that were illuminated with lightbulbs. PPL wanted to replace the cellophane light design because it was a fire hazard and asked Kuhns to design window shades that would create the same effect.
It was a challenging design problem: How do you create a window treatment that projects light, instead of blocking it?
“At the time, they just told us what they wanted us to do. They gave us a diagram of the shape and what they wanted on this floor,” Kuhns said. “It was pretty challenging for us because we’d never done anything like this before.”
To complicate matters, PPL wanted the shades ready by the time it illuminated its building the day before Thanksgiving.
It was October.
Kuhns was stumped.
“I didn’t have any idea how we could get the color to come outward,” she said.
CHANCE ENCOUNTER, GOOD HUNCH
That is, until Kuhns happened to drive past a business that had a backlit awning. It created the effect she wanted.
Kuhns stopped, got the name of the company that made the awning and contacted it to find out what type of fabric it used.
“I ordered bolts of this material without knowing if this would work,” she said.
Kuhn’s hunch worked out splendidly.
With lights beaming down on the colored fabric, the shapes shone through the windows.
PPL used the window shades made out of colored awning material until it upgraded its windows and lighting about four years ago.
Now the window shades are off-white, creating a blank canvas on which to project the color from LED lights and to create shapes.
Except when it comes to the yellow candle. Kuhns said that color needs an extra boost, so those shades are still made out of yellow awning fabric.
And since the new shades can stay up year round, Kuhns’ employees no longer have to install and take them down every year.
ROLE OF PPL EMPLOYEES
But PPL employees whose office windows are part of the display still need to remember to pull down their shades at the end of each day, or there could be gaps in the light display that evening.
“The fun part about that is the employees play a role,” said Lisette Santana, senior manager of corporate communications at PPL.
“We put notices up and sent email. Everyone is aware that it’s an important role. We’re pretty good about this.”
A crew from PPL’s facilities department goes around each office and double checks, just in case.