Leni Schwendinger on camera

The urban nighttime environment is a dark canvas that humans have created – our previously daytime oriented “clocks” have been extended into the night.

Lighting designers work with architects, engineers and landscape architects to illuminate city structures – including buildings, bridges, parks – to make these places visible and safe to walk at night.

But, before that act of design, there should be an urban -planning and -design phase to determine how the public spaces of our cities will be lit.  This intersection of lighting and urban design interests me.  It is important to merge the ideas of urban design with public lighting design – taking the uses of buildings, pedestrian and transportation patterns into account.  Street-scape design — street alignments, curbs, medians and street furniture — sets the stage for public lighting. I am not just talking about utility lighting – I am looking at creative lighting that exposes the built environment at night – promoting legibility (“where am I”?) but also illumination practices that encourage public connections and conversations and more usage of our sidewalks and public life.

Public Lighting Video Storyboard

Urban designer Brian McGrath and I have developed classifications of light in the public realm.

Public lighting is provided by the city or utility as the very basic in safety lighting.  It is augmented by private sources of lighting – significantly, cars themselves with their headlights.  Additionally shop windows, displays and various types of commercial buildings provide light on the sidewalk to help pedestrians find their way cheerfully and safely.

Finally the phone booths, bus shelters, light billboards and even ATMs provide what I call “found” lighting.

In addition to “designed” lighting, emergent — undesigned — systems develop as site-specific “unplanned” lighting.  Light added by users, inhabitants, building owners, etc. can help the designer understand the needs of a neighborhood by documenting the incidental additions of light.

In mid-October Light Projects will release a short video tape produced by TVGals – an on-the-street light walk – where I will reveal the concepts of public, private and found lighting in depth.