Breathing Cathedral – Breath of Life/Dresden - CODAworx

Breathing Cathedral – Breath of Life/Dresden

Submitted by Stuart Williams

Client: City of Dresden, Germany

Location: Dresden, Germany

Completion date: 2015

Artwork budget: $140,000

Project Team

Environmental Artist

Stuart Williams

Stuart Williams / Environmental Art

Photo Documentation

Craig Collins

Craig Collins Studio / Photography


Martial Barrault

Buster Films, Paris & Lyon

Filmmaker, Photographer

Christopher Burke

Shoot Art, New York


City of Dresden, Mayor's Office


Dresden Sister City, Inc.


Dresden Department of Culture and Monument Preservation


Free State of Saxony, Germany


Columbus Sister Cities International

Industry Resource

Bauen mit Alpintechnik, Dresden (installers)

Industry Resource

Stagelight, Coesfeld, Germany (lighting technicians)

Industry Resource

Philips Lighting, Königsbrunn, Germany

History Consultant

Stephanie Dieckvoss, Art Historian, London


WildKat PR, Berlin


U.S. Embassy, Berlin


New York Foundation for the Arts


U.S. Consulate, Leipzig


The bombed out Dresden Cathedral “breathes with light.” For the 70th observance of the fire bombing of Dresden in WW2, New York artist, Stuart Williams, transformed the historic Dresden Cathedral with waves of light that rose and fell at the pace of human breath… causing the Cathedral to appear to “breathe.” Said Williams, “in a city where tens of thousands suffocated in a searing fire storm sparked by 3 days and nights of saturation bombing, I think the vision of one of its most treasured landmarks appearing to breathe is deeply moving.”

The City of Dresden was very supportive of Williams’ installation as they saw it as both a peaceful and potent counter balance to the neo-Nazi groups who march in the streets at the annual observance the bombing which took place at the end of World War 2. Each year they descend upon Dresden from all over Europe to decry what they call the “Allied Holocaust.” The bombing of Dresden has become their “cause célèbre.” Furthermore, the city has become a hot spot in Europe’s immigration crisis, as other right wing groups march to protest immigration to Germany, while peace groups counter by marching in support. Can public art help illuminate a path to peace and reconciliation?


In the waning days of the war, Allied forces dropped 2,600 tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs in punishing air raids on the historic German city, sparking a three-day firestorm so massive it generated searing hurricane force winds and incinerated the city’s 13 square-mile center, devouring its oxygen and suffocating at least 25,000 victims… mostly women and children. A Baroque city of unparalleled architectural treasures, Dresden’s destruction was a profound loss to the cultural heritage of the world.

Completed in 1738 (then destroyed in 1945, and rebuilt in the 1980s), the Dresden Cathedral is one of Dresden’s foremost landmarks. A light installation here, towering 80 meters above the heart of the city, became an artwork on the scale of the cityscape. On the night marking exactly 70 years since the bombing began, 10,000 people formed a human-chain around the old city and the Cathedral as Williams’ “breathing” light installation soared above. The bombing of Dresden in World War Two has become an icon in the horrors of war, and this public artwork, by the son of an American soldier who fought in Europe against the Third Reich in the most deadly war in human history offered a breathing beacon for hope, and a compelling message for peace.


In 2011 Williams was commissioned to create a large scale outdoor installation in downtown Columbus, Ohio. “Breath of Life/Columbus” was installed in 2012. During the planning of the Columbus project, Columbus Sister Cities International and Dresden Sister City Inc. commissioned Williams to travel to Dresden, Germany (sister city to Columbus) to research potential sites for a “sister installation” in Dresden. Working hand-in-hand with Dresden city officials and the provincial government of Saxony, Williams played a leading role in selecting the historic Dresden Cathedral Ss. Trinitatis as the project site. It took more than three years to obtain all necessary permits and permissions. Sponsors included: the City of Dresden, Dresden Sister City Inc., Columbus Sister Cities International, the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, and an anonymous foundation in New York, among many others. The artist hired lighting technicians from Coesfeld, Germany and a team of specialized installers (“climbers”) from Dresden to secure an array of energy-efficient, computer-controlled LED lighting fixtures onto the facade of the Cathedral. Working with a French film crew and a film director from New York, a documentary film on the project is currently in development.

Additional Information

Here is an outdoor public artwork offering a compelling message for world peace, set in the heart of a city that is iconic in the horrors of war. As conflicts rage around the planet, humanity needs to find a path to reconciliation. “Breath of Life/Dresden” was a Nominee for the ”Global Fine Art Awards.” They called it… “an emblematic artwork of timeless and far-reaching importance.” PROJECT IMPACT: The project drew global media attention with words of praise from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Buckingham Palace in London, the White House and the United Nations. [“Breath of Life/Dresden,” ©Stuart Williams. All Rights Reserved.] You can see all Williams’ work at