San José Semaphore – FAQ

What are the dimensions of the San José Semaphore?

The San José Semaphore is 70 feet (21.3M) long and 10 feet (3M) tall.

Where is the San José Semaphore located?

It is situated inside the glass “lantern” at the top of Adobe's Almaden Tower in downtown San Jose, California, on the 18th and 19th floors of the building. The San José Semaphore is visible from Interstate 87, and from a large part of downtown San Jose, California.

What are the hours of the San José Semaphore’s operation?

San José Semaphore operates daily from 7 a.m. until 2 a.m., 7 days a week. Its hours of operation may change; please visit this web page for up-to-date information.

What is the San José Semaphore’s soundtrack?

The soundtrack for the semaphore can be heard via a low-power radio broadcast on AM 1680, which can be picked up within 2-3 blocks of the Semaphore’s location. It can also be heard as part of the Semaphore’s online simulcast. The audio supplements the information transmitted visually by the Semaphore, and it may be helpful in decoding its message. The audio is composed of several layers: a mechanical-sounding tick of the disks as they turn and come to rest, musical beeps and tones, and voices recorded by the artist. One voice is the artist’s friend Elisa Zuritsky singing numbers, and the other is sampled from a short-wave radio broadcast of an encrypted “numbers station” transmission the artist recorded while on a trip to the Mideast in 1990. Information about numbers station broadcasts is here.

What is the technology behind the San José Semaphore’s glowing presence?

The San José Semaphore is illuminated by 24,000 Luxeon LEDs made by San José-based Philips-Lumileds.

Can I go inside the building where the San José Semaphore is installed?

No. The San José Semaphore can only be seen from outside the building. A facsimile of the Semaphore may be seen via the internet.

What is the San José Semaphore’s message?

The message is encrypted, and until the code is cracked, the message San José Semaphore is communicating will not be generally known. If you are interested in cracking the code, you’ll find details here about the San José Semaphore decoding challenge.

What is a semaphore?

A semaphore is any device that uses visible signals or symbols to transmit information. Common examples of semaphores include traffic lights and railroad signals. Before the advent of modern telecommunications, radio communication, or even the electric telegraph, semaphore signaling systems (including moveable wooden panels, flags, and signal fires) were the fastest way to communicate messages over a long distance.

How did the San José Semaphore come about?

In late 2001, Adobe broke ground on its third office tower – the Almaden Tower – located on the grounds of the company’s world headquarters campus in San Jose. As part of Adobe’s commitment to San Jose, plans were made to include public art as part of the long-term site development.

How was an artist chosen?

In 2003, the San José Public Art Program facilitated a process to select an appropriate artist for the project. A Request for Qualifications was transmitted to over 100 new media artists; 44 artists submitted letters of interest and in June 2003 a panel composed of Adobe representatives and internationally-recognized media arts professionals reviewed the artists’ materials and selected a short list for interviews. In July 2003, the panel interviewed four artists and recommended that Ben Rubin be commissioned to design, fabricate and install an artwork for the Almaden Tower.

Why was Ben Rubin selected?

Ben Rubin is considered a leading American new media artist. He has firmly established himself as an artist who pushes the traditional boundaries of the design world. Adobe was drawn to Ben’s ability to marry art and technology in a work that engages people in compelling and progressive ways – inviting active viewer participation.

What is the significance of Semaphore to Adobe?

The Semaphore project is a testament to how business and public arts organizations can work together to enhance the urban experience, injecting new energy into areas where people work and live. Ben Rubin created Semaphore specifically for the Adobe tower and we believe Semaphore and Adobe share many things in common: both the artwork and Adobe as a company engage people in compelling and progressive ways that invite active participation.

What is the award for breaking the code?

Recognition will be posted on the San José Semaphore website.

How long did it take to design, fabricate and install Semaphore?

Approximately three years.