Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, Lyon

Visual memories of December 2010 are clothed in a vapor of magenta pink.

During the famous ‘Fête des Lumières‘ in December 2010, Philips International Communications invited me to join their Livable Cities event. 

The event consisted of a panel, dinner and a LightWalk amongst the winding streets of Lyon to directly engage and educate international journalists on issues of lighting in the nighttime environment.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities Lyon

Lyon is the third largest city in France. It is located between two rivers—Rhône & Saône—and is defined by rocky cliffs, castles and Roman ruins.  Lyon’s Light Plan, the permanent illumination of more than 200 buildings and public places, was established in 1989. I had the opportunity to visit the city in 1995 and viewed the lighting strategy from which the  Lighting Urban Communities International organization, (LUCI), was born.

Fête des Lumières spans four days in early December each year. The celebration has grown into an international event, with light shows and exhibitions by international artists and students. Attendance is said to reach four-million visitors annually. Each year a color theme is implemented with filters on the streetlights. In 2010 the streets of Lyon were bathed in hues of magenta-pink.

Now, as I write these words of recollection, my internal vision of the city of  Lyon is drenched in this luscious color.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, Lyon

For a week crowds wander the streets in families, pairs, groups chatting, and light-gazing as they drink the traditional beverage, mulled wine,
sold street-side .  As my companion observed, “I have never seen such crowds— except for sports or politics and here they all turn out for culture”.

NightSeeing™

The first step in the coordination of a NightSeeing™ LightWalk is the planning of the route.  Generally booked by a conference or educational organization,  in preparation, I dialogue with the local representative to devise a diverse, architecturally stimulating 10-minute itinerary— which becomes an hour-long when implemented on the Walk.  For the Fête des Lumières, planning counterparts were  Lyonnaise tour guide, Anne Prost, and adviser Alexandre Columbani, general manager of LUCI.

The festival has a sophisticated on-line presence with beautiful interactive maps and installation photographs. For weeks, I studied this swirl-framed program online program of the Fête.

This historic city is dense with alleys and pedestrian passageways paved with stones and lined with facades spanning the centuries. Selecting the route in a city founded by Romans in 43 BC — and now lauded for innovation is daunting! One challenge was to the LightWalk participants from the dense crowds; another was to include just a few spectacles. After all, an important concept for my LightWalk is the “normal”, typical nighttime light of the city.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, Lyon

Highlights of the Route

I developed a tour starting at the Hotel De Ville (the local government seat). Alexandre, an inhabitant of Lyon, introduced me to the area known as Croix-Rousse, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in which silk weaving industry was introduced in 1536.   This industry shaped unique architectural forms, such as the traboules—public spiral staircases. Protesting the introduction of new technology that would cause unemployment, throughout the 19th century, the silk workers known as canuts  revolted and rioted.

Our guide Anne enumerated the local lore of the canuts and the  silk suppliers to all of us—describing 16th through 19th-century psycho-geographical atmospheres and other facts that defined this district.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, Lyon

In the cold magenta night we gathered at the Roman Arena with its spiral of candles. We traversed up and down Lyon’s ubiquitous public  stairs to see illuminated fabric sculptures and stood on the edge of the public square viewing translucent structures back-lit with geometric projections; and gazed upon varied and colorful lit-up baubles suspended from trees, facades and fences.  More traditionally illuminated cathedrals and facades were also dotted along the route.   Between spectacles I indulged on of my professional and private passions—pointing out the pedestrian signals—civic “jewelry“ of the city night—brightly blinking, their pink and black grille-work shadows intermingling with the people who cast them, as well as the lighted shop windows and many other “found”, vernacular effects of the urban nighttime environment.

The Panel Debate

The panel  was located at the Philips Outdoor Lighting Application Centre in La Valbonne near Lyon. Starting of the day-long event, panelists Allan Stewart, Marco Bevolo, Dominique Mamcarz, Martin Lupton, Ken MacKenzie, Nicholas You, Rogier van der Heide, myself and Richard Griffiths, moderator, assembled in an intimate setting with reporters from media organizations from all over the world — including journalists from China, France, Italy, Korea, Singapore, Latvia, Spain and the United Kingdom —  in the varied fields of business, technology and planning.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, Lyon

Panelists Marco Bevolo and Nicholas You

Per Richard Griffiths, the panel discussion focused on:

Urban Well-being – enhancing health and well-being through the provision of safer streets, Branding & Identity – driving tourism, commercial growth, inward investment and civic pride, Urbanization – the challenges of urban population growth, including urban clutter, balance with nature and energy efficiency.

Nicholas described a moment in his childhood when he had to use the illumination of the street light to do his homework.  Marco Bevolo stated that research is imperative to designed city strategies, and Allan Stewart (City Councilor in Glasgow) discussed “the power of light to unite people.”   My colleague, lighting designer, Martin Lupton discussed our discipline, observing that, “Lighting is engaging. It is a social medium and it has the power to transform lives.”

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In her follow-up article, What Makes a Great City, (Malaysia) Wan-Pen, a journalist-participant, discusses the panel as it relates to Asian cities;

“Haphazard planning, population growth and urban sprawl are taking a toll. If we continue at this rate, Asian cities would go the route of “maximum cities” where 20 million inhabitants (soon, this is the new “normal”) will fight for space to live, work and play.

“Light is playful. It has a sense of magic and people are attracted to light,” says Schwendinger, a New York-based lighting designer. Her forte is to use light in an imaginative and fun way that it serves as a catalyst to bring people together. “You can’t help it, you go towards the light.”

The message from the Lyon forum is simple: The only limit to creating great cities is your imagination. City planners, urban dwellers and governments all have a role to play by ensuring the development, projects and visions reflect exactly what the inhabitants want.

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All photos  ©Xavier BOYMOND

Link to Fête des Lumières; a NightSeeing™ LightWalk in 14th Century Lyon, Part 1

For other NightSeeing™ resources and posts on this blog – click here

For essays on public lighting theory – here.

For relevant videos Dwell Magazine, Night City with Leni Schwendinger