SPECTRA: All you need to know about the Rainbow Tower Building at Coachella


In the midst of Coachella, you’ve probably seen tons of pictures of happy festival-goers, and there’s usually something unmistakable in the background: a colorful, shiny, and often rainbow structure. What is this structure? Stuff in LA goes deeper into SPECTRA, the building that’s giving the iconic ferris wheel a run for its money.

spectra coachella rainbow structure building
SPECTRA fits in well with the Coachella Valley sky.

What is SPECTRA?

SPECTRA is a seven-story spiral walkway that takes visitors six revolutions up all the way to a viewing deck.

During the day, a succession of Perspex window panels bathe the space inside with intense colors and offer vibrantly colorized views of the surrounding festival grounds.

At night, radials of LED cove lighting in the ceiling illuminate the panels, turning the tower into a solid beacon of dispersive refraction and throwing those inside into silhouettes for everyone on the ground.

Who’s behind SPECTRA?

Credit: Don Indio

Conceived and realized by UK-based creative studio, NEWSUBSTANCE, the structure was one of six art installations commissioned for the 2018 festival. Spectra returns this year and will remain in place for at least the next three years as the first resident art piece.

In other words, it’s not going anywhere, so expect to see it in your friends’ posts for years to come.

Why is it called SPECTRA?

Credit: Don Indio

NEWSUBSTANCE Creative Director, Patrick O’Mahony, explains, “It was the color shift element that originally drew Coachella’s organizers. The title SPECTRA refers to how people move through the color spectrum on each floor; they walk around and see the whole site and the viewing deck at the top shift through different perspectives.”

Is it air-conditioned?

One word: yes!

Can you dive into the engineering behind SPECTRA?

Huh, interesting question there. We always knew our readers were incredibly intelligent, and we’re glad you asked.

The structure of the tower is comprised of identical steel sections, prefabricated at NEWSUBSTANCE’s UK workshops.

Each section – essentially two bays of the tower – is repeated 90 times, wrapping round on itself to form a spiral that gains one floor with each loop. The modular nature of the structure meant preliminary tests could be carried out using a single bay, before undergoing a full test build of one complete layer at Church Fenton airbase, near the company’s headquarters in Leeds, UK. They basically did their research and then some.

Credit: Eric Jon de Leon

Each wrap of the structure features 31 custom cast Perspex window panels that together form one complete cycle through the color spectrum, a cycle that repeats with each story. As the windows spiral up through each level, the colors are offset by one pane to produce a staggered effect that echoes the natural angle of refracted light.

During Coachella’s daylight hours, all fixtures are set to 3500k, but as the sun goes down and the light levels inside slowly increase, the scheme becomes more dynamic – fluctuating between 3000k and 5000k.

“We don’t want to be running big disco chases or anything like that,” says O’Mahony. “Instead, we begin with very gentle temperature changes in the white – almost as if the tower is breathing – then, later on, we send very slow pulses up through the space. It is really interesting because whenever we introduce even the smallest effect, people inside the structure respond to it instantly – it is very easy to control the mood in there.”

Do people like it?

Well, most people at the festival definitely do; just look at all the pictures, for Pete’s sake!

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Taking it all in. #spectra #newsubstance #coachella

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While pictures tell a thousand words, we can add a few more: the reaction to the piece has been universally positive. “The response last year was amazing,” says O’Mahony. “We are extremely proud to have picked up an Architecture Newspaper Best In Design Award and Gold at the International Design Awards with many more shortlisting and commendations. We have had people messaging us and writing to us from around the world to say how much they loved it – including Coachella veterans, who have been coming to the festival for over a decade, saying how great it was to see the festival from a different point of view and in a different light.”