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Somerville startup at the heart of Times Square attraction

ALBA VIGARAY/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

A little girl poses for photos in Aranda\Lasch + Marcelo Coelho's 'Window to the Heart' in Times Square in New York City.

By Globe Staff 

It might be one of the most photographed places in the world, but New York’s Times Square has never seen a lens like this before.

As part of an art display for Valentine’s Day, the Somerville 3-D printing startup Formlabs created a giant lens by manufacturing 1,000 clear plastic tiles that was assembled into a 10-by-12-foot circular installation with a heart-shaped cutout in the middle.

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Titled Window to the Heart, the installation has become a magnet for selfie seekers at the tourist hub. The tiles are assembled to create a Fresnel lens, which are flatter than traditional glass lenses and were originally used in lighthouses. The ring-like arrangement captures and exaggerates the light of the famous neon signs of Times Square, bending it toward the heart at its center and illuminating the installation in the process.

“The final product is quite beautiful, and it looks like a sculpture, so at a certain point you don’t know whether this was someone carving with their hands,” said Debra Simon, director of public art for the Times Square Alliance civic group, which paid for the project. “I think the technology is magnificent.”

Formlabs makes 3-D printers, which create objects from photopolymer resins under the guidance of sophisticated design software. Given the scale of the job, Formlabs had to run 50 of its compact, desktop-size devices day-and-night in Somerville for more than two weeks, using about 300 liters of resin to create the tiles, which range in size from a few inches, to 5 by 6 inches.

The components were shipped to Brooklyn, and it took another two weeks to assemble them on an acrylic core and metal base. The assembled installation was trucked to Manhattan and unveiled Feb. 1.

Formlabs head of design Marcelo Coelho, who designed and built the project with the studio Aranda\Lasch, said he got his first inkling the lens would work during the ride from Brooklyn, when it captured light from other cars and trucks on the road.

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“It was like, all right, this works,” he said in an interview. “We’re not wrong. Our math is correct.”

Window to the Heart was chosen in an annual competition for public art that celebrates affairs of the heart in Times Square.

When the installation arrived at Times Square, he said he was pleased to see it begin to draw in the many colors of the brilliant displays lining the area.

Window to the Heart was chosen in an annual competition for public art that celebrates affairs of the heart in Times Square. Formlabs and the alliance said the lens has caught the eye of countless visitors who have used it to frame pictures of their time in New York.

The project will remain in place through February.

Coelho said he is enjoying a rare public reception of his work by following the many social media posts coming out of Times Square that feature the lens.

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“Those are really special,” he said. “It’s great when you create something and it resonates with people like that.”

Formlabs

Formlabs printers created the tiles for the lens.


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com.