Light for Public Space: New Wave of Public Lighting Designs

 

Artificial light in the public realm has transformed from a fixed entity to a tunable medium, making it a key moment to revisit lighting needs.

 

Light for Public Space is a collaborative publicationby Susanne Seitinger, Senior Technologist for Advanced Applications at PhilipsColor Kinetics, and Antonia Weiss, Strategic Designer at Philips DesignLighting. It explores diverse lighting projects that use contemporary lighting technologies to expand the possibilities for public lighting. Part one of the book explores ways in which lighting projects have shifted towards revitalizing urban nightscapes and activating public space.

In the first of three question and answer sessions, Laura Taylor, Program Manager of Research Design for Philips Lighting, joins Seitinger to weigh in on the future of lighting for public spaces and preview the first part of the book.

 

How did this collaborative project come about? How did each of your respective backgrounds in design, architecture, and technology, contribute to this effort?

SS: With a conversation! Antonia and I had been batting around loose ideas for a while. Then we did the empirical work to see what we would find. After reviewing examples from around the world, we began defining a structure for the book. Like many collaborations these days, we had to work over a distance, and bridge time and space with technology. I want to continue evolving the materials and text in this way to ensure that they stay fresh and relevant in coming years. More authors are turning to new tools for collaborative writing and research. I’ve enjoyed experimenting with those possibilities.

I think all of us share at least one discipline with the other, which facilitates our exchanges. In particular, I studied architecture and urban planning before really diving into the field of human-computer interaction, as well as science-technology and society studies in my PhD. These different academic perspectives provided an important context and grounding for the work.

Who is the audience for this collaborative publication? How do you wish to change their perspective on public lighting?

SS: Our goal was to address practitioners in the public and private sector – from architects and urban planners to lighting specialists. We structured the piece with many individual headings and sub-headings to enable readers to find specific sections of interest to them or read the entire paper in one go. More than anything, I hope the piece raises awareness for the important role lighting can play in urban design for pedestrian environments going forward.

LT: We would like to inspire people about the new possibilities of ‘digital light’ by showcasing these projects. We hope to show that digital lighting systems allow you to curate and control lighting more easily than was possible with conventional lighting.

City Hall Square, Sant Cugat, Artec 3

How did working on this project change your personal views regarding public lighting and its future?

SS:
I’ve been obsessed with lighting and urbanism for many years now so I’m continuously evolving my views on public lighting. What struck me most in this project is the multi-faceted nature of experiments taking place around the world, and that are outlined in the book. The flipside is also that we are on the cusp of understanding how these projects impact cities and citizens over the long-term.

 

LT: We’re going through an exciting phase of creativity and experimentation. There are lots of new lighting instruments, and we are getting better at using them.

Reflect, Ivan Toth Depeña, Focus Lighting (Photo courtesy of Ivan Toth Depeña)

What are the main reasons behind a city commissioning this new form of public lighting and why should citizens outside the lighting or architecture field want to be an advocate for these kinds of advancements?

SS: Many of these projects are the result of collaborations among different stakeholders. For example, innovative new institutions like Media Lab Prado emerge from strong public sector engagement at the city level coupled with educational and learning institutions. Additionally, citizens always want the best for their cities and public lighting should be part of the positive associations they have when thinking about public spaces near them. Just like people value other key elements in their city, like public transit or access to open space, lighting can be something that differentiates places and boosts quality of life. Though much needs to be done around helping people articulate their opinions on light—most people don’t consider it too much even in their homes—there is a real opportunity with the new research and technologies available today.

 

LT: Lighting is playing an increasingly important role in urban design. It’s a key part of the toolkit for architects and urban planners now. They come to us for ideas about how lighting can help change the use of areas, make them more inviting, and create an identity for them. These are all important for encouraging people to come to the city to live, work, and visit, which in turn is important for the economic attractiveness of the city. Digital lighting makes it easier to control the public lighting in a more sophisticated way. The examples in the book show many other roles that light can play in the city. These iconic lighting projects as well as light festivals around the world are raising people’s awareness of what light can do.

Rietberg, Jürgen Meyer-Brandis

In the book, you mention the importance of diversity in lighting and your case studies reflect that, but what ties each of your different examples together?

SS: The common denominator across all the examples is their focus on citizens and their experience in the street. Though some of these projects alter urban skylines as well, they all contain a key element that impacts the experience of pedestrians moving about the city.

LT: What ties the examples together is that light is becoming more about us as people, in the sense that we can personalize it and interact with it. As lighting becomes a tunable medium, lighting designers and artists are able to tailor effects to create desirable experiences for different purposes and to suit different communities and areas within the city.

 

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Watch the webinar here.

 

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