Text: Dennis Köhler, Dipl.-Ing. Arch, M.Sc. / Raphael Sieber, Dipl.-Geogr.; Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts – research unit “Licht_Raum“ (“Light_Space“).

05. Nov 2011

The time factor in relation to the electric lighting in urban spaces
Views and observations

After decades of what might be described as the subliminal application of electric light in towns and cities in the industrialised countries – in the main reduced to immediate, functional use – light is increasingly becoming the explicit focus of designed and realised spatial design in urban spaces. The increasing use of comprehensive planning material for the longterm coordination and political authorisation of urban lighting schemes can be regarded as a necessary and comprehensible step on the part of local authorities, since a wide range of steering tools need to be available in order to be able to operate any programmatic urban planning at all. Given this political ‘set up’ lighting schemes using electric light organised or commissioned by local authorities –frequently referred to as lighting master plans – tend to fall on fertile ground.

They claim that the considered application of light can enhance the quality of urban spaces and thus accommodate the principles of sustainable urban development. What is essentially mean there is generally improved orientation and more pleasant spaces for people to use after dark, an enhanced feeling of safety and the “dissolution” of scary places people are hesitant to go to, an expression of concentrated urbanity defined by electric light and an altered image of the town. This clearly involves spheres of activity that require the urgent commitment of local authorities towards the development of their respective urban environments. And yet it is astounding that the extent of non-challenged expectations and the ensuing urge on the part of local officials to react have remained pretty much unchanged even after more than 100 years of electric lighting in our towns and cities, even when the knowledge about the effects of electric lighting in the public realm is still incomplete, provided efforts have been made to achieve such effects. Without wanting to go deeper into the sociological research into space, we see a dilemma in the lighting strategies practised and realised today. The results of designed schemes incorporate all too frequently the accentuation of surfaces, facades and structures using light in a technically sound and legitimately decorative way, while claiming to be purposefully impacting the composition of “space”, “atmosphere” or even “identity” and “orientation” (in the sense of the imagination or memory of an urban environment to be emotionally fixed in people’s minds) – even if the lighting projects tend to focus only on a specific object or if the holistic structure of the urban landscape defined by light, remains as an arbitrary result. Perhaps we can agree that in our experience electric light does play apart in determining certain behavioural patterns and that we can describe responses as being pleasant or unpleasant emotions or visual conditions, but we must be aware of the fact that to date no principles or methodology for the application of electric light with the specific aim of impacting the respective spatial composition exist, since the correlation of light and the way we behave, act or feel in an urban space has not been sufficiently researched. […]

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The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 79.

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