Tower of Tetris

By Lisa Onaga '00 / July / August 2000
May 3rd, 2007
On the evening of April 14, colored lights began mysteriously rotating, moving sideways, and cascading down one side of the Sciences Library. Visible all the way to Narragansett Bay, this eleven-story light show was not the result of alien manipulation but the the work of members of Techhouse, a residence hall for students interested in science and technology. They were playing Tetris - and using the Sciences Library as their video screen.

Fondly dubbed "La Bastille" (a reference to the prison-like look of the Sciences Library), the project was a towering example of the kind of creative mischief that can result from the teaming up of engineering students with visual-art concentrators. To most students the Sciences Library is a vertical concrete slab with a bunch of antennas on top of it, but to twenty-five Techhouse members and their friends it's an opportunity.

Soren Spies '00, who managed the construction of the project, says the Sciences Library was "built for" the Tetris project. To him the sides of the fourteen-story library look like blank screens to begin with, and the internal mechanics of the building are perfectly suited for running wires all over the place.

Volunteers spent five months cutting and soldering wires, designing customized circuitry, and stapling 10,000 Christmas lights to square wooden frames that were then placed inside the library windows. An unused dumbwaiter shaft allowed the students to connect the third through thirteenth floors into one large grid. (Fortunately, the building's power outlets were in just the right places.) By the time Techhouse was done, the windows on the library's southern facade had been transformed into one huge, centrally controlled game.

La Bastille's debut was so successful that the project has been written up in newspapers and magazines all around the country, and Techhouse has been approached by the Minnesota Science Museum to help set up a permanent version of the project.

For Spies, however, the real value of La Bastille has come from watching the expression on the face of onlookers. "Just to stand there," he says, "and have someone comment, 'Wow, this is the coolest thing anyone's ever done with the SciLi!' - that's pretty cool."

For more information, or to watch the La Bastille in action, visit

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July / August 2000