Comment> A renowned lighting designer takes a walk in the dark in search of illumination

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In October 2010 my article on the NightSeeing™ program appeared in the Architect’s Newspaper.  It was a welcome opportunity to describe the development of the program, current events and future aspirations.

Leni Schwendinger leads a LightWalk in Washington DC

Here, some excerpts:

Savor the word “light” and the interior landscape of language evokes images of atmospheric effects—mysterious, picturesque, sublime.

What is the NightSeeing™ program?

Conceptually, NightSeeing is an itinerary of group exploration and discovery, a curriculum designed for the general public and those in the architectural and planning professions. Presenting the nocturnal city of light, NightSeeing is a real-time travelogue through the culture of urban lighting in public spaces to convey recognition of one’s own environment of the shadowed vistas that define our surroundings literally half the time, and yet are so familiar they are almost unseen.

The program can stand alone, or be presented by a conference, festival, or as an event for urban planners to enhance their public outreach efforts. It provides a context to examine and decode the shadows, emanations, and reflections that define our cities’ darkened hours. NightSeeing consists of several events: the LightTalk, a LightWalk, and a Light Planning Workshop.

Why is it important?

The issues and substance of public illumination increasingly influence the global language of urban design and urban experience. Through initiatives like NightSeeing, we can learn to see shadows in a whole different light.

Stories about NightSeeing™ past…

In the article I cover the NightSeeing™ LightWalks in Manhattan’s Little Italy/Chinatown, Bryant Park and in Washington D.C.

And coverage of upcoming events

The shifting interplay of nighttime dark and light makes every city a unique destination. For London’s Architecture Retail and Commercial Lighting Show on January 12, 2012, I look forward to mapping the Angel Islington district with the International Association of Lighting Designers to find the perfect route through preserved and chic-modern alleyways and unusual paved topographies. I spent time here in the 1970s frequenting Sadler Wells Theatre, the Angel’s Chapel Road second-hand market, and a particular pub with my crowd from the East End. For me, the LightWalk will be eye-opening to the pleasures of the crowds dining, walking from bus to subway to home, window shopping the antique shops, and experiencing evocations of Dickens’ darkened muddy passageways which have existed since the dawn of public lighting.

NightSeeing is a trademark program of Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD

Experience the urban  light… contact Leni (leni@lightprojectsltd.com) to book NightSeeing™ in your town or city with your organization, company,  friends and neighbors.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.
Can you find your way at night?

In the evening Washington D.C. NW is a monochromatic blend of light.

People are the action.

The shifting interplay of nighttime dark and light make every city a unique destination. Join acclaimed lighting artist and designer Leni Schwendinger and a group limited to 35 as she presents impromptu the D.C. nocturnal city of light, culminating at the ASLA Gala. This mistress of light sculpture and installation will decode the shadows, emanations, and reflections that define the nightscape, from shop silhouettes to the phantom photons of passing cars.

American Society of Landscape Architects’ Annual Meeting (2010)  invitation

Saturday, September 11 7:45–8:30 pm, LightWalk with Leni Schwendinger –Sold Out!

The NightSeeing™ LightWalk is conducted like a treasure hunt — a diverse group of participants searching for a fresh perception, a discovery of those lights and shadows, large and minute, to delight the mind and senses.  Or rephrased for planners, designers and landscape architects; an analysis of the character of lighting in any given place.

I began the tour with a quote from the artist/engineer/planner, Pierre Charles L’Enfant from September 11, 1789.  On that date he wrote to President George Washington “to solicit the favor of being Employed in the  Business” of designing the new capital city. His became a Baroque plan featuring open ceremonial spaces and oversized radial avenues with respect for the natural contours of the land.

With my intrepid group — landscape architects, designers and manufacturers from all over the country — I sought L’Enfant’s plan, lighting detail and filigree, and found a soft undifferentiated layer of light.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.

Public lighting — the lighting supplied by the municipality, business improvement district/CBD, utility, or institution in the United States — is generally “designed” by engineers and manufacturers.  An increasing trend, however, is to incorporate lighting designers onto streetscape design and engineering teams to revitalize districts, neighborhoods and communities.

City designs and plans, are strictly limited by regulations that are based on the primacy of the automobile (e.g. street lighting) and reducing risk , recommended brightness levels, maintenance and stocking issues, and the light pole and luminaire styles that manufacturers are currently marketing.

On the positive side, this is the light that we can depend on – the base lighting that allows residents, workers and visitors to feel comfortable sallying forth into the city’s night.   Public lighting is the threshold of light, upon which private and found lighting are layered.

NightSeeing™ Map Washington D.C.

NightSeeing™ Map Washington D.C.

We started our journey focused on the Historical Society’s colonnaded edifice floodlighting.  A traditional, uplighting method of  frontal illumination, this approach results in soft ambient glow.  Appropriate for classical buildings, and inexpensive.

Onward past rows of historicist streetlight lanterns.  Here, an effort could be made to differentiate street types and districts with varied types of poles, oh! a relief, the Chinatown lanterns with their red posts and lantern tops.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.

We went through the Techworld canyon and surprisingly found the same decorative luminaires, rather than lighting fixture forms referencing forward-thinking technologies, although, there was one difference, induction lamps are being used — a source that is white light and has a long lamp life, requiring less maintenance.

Some of the endearing details that we did find included count-down Walk/Don’t Walk signals, bracketed facade down-lights (cheap and easy), LED media signs and the colorful floodlit Chinatown gate.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.

The most exciting part of the tour were the people on it and the acceptance of the D.C. residents and tourists milling about — the sidewalks were packed on 7th Street NW that evening.  The small groups of loungers on the National Museum of American Art grand stairs were curious about the LightWalk and we in turn, discovered them using steps for the appropriate evening purpose… sitting in the floodlight of the stair and colonnade, a staple of light and architecture in our nation’s capital.

Leni Schwendinger’s LightWalk drew our members through the shadows of DC’s urban streetscape, guided by the eye of an artist and technician to experience the magical interplay of darkness and light.

— Clark Ebbert, Education Program Manager, ASLA

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For more illumination, reading and pictures:

Public Lighting Theory – developing the nexus of lighting and urban design

Light Planning; Chinatown Little Italy Historic District

Accolades and Finales (and the Winter LightWalk)

Night City, The Movie

The Making of Night City

CultureNow is focused on cultural mapping and exhibitions about New York City. They called the other day and asked if I would talk about my work for their “Museum Without Walls” directory of podcasts.  The collection consists of first person discussions of art, architecture and other landmarks in the City.

Here are links to the podcasts:

Tidal Radiance

Tidal Radiance sculpture at Port Pavilion at Broadway Pier

Tidal Radiance, concept, custom glass, lighting design, projections

Coney Island Parachute Jump

Coney Island Parachute Jump Illumination

Coney Island Parachute Jump Illumination

Triple Bridge Gateway

Triple Bridge Gateway, Manhattan

Triple Bridge Gateway; concept, color, illumination

Dreaming in Color,

a Three-Dimensional Color Field

Dreaming in Color

Dreaming in Color, concept, materials, illumination

Free for New Yorkers of all ages:  A fantastical collision of Art and Science to hear gravity firsthand.

“Astronomy’s New Messengers: Listening to the Universe with Gravitational Waves”, an exhibition courtesy of the National Science Foundation and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration was on view June 2 through 6, 2010 .  This interpretive exhibition offered an up-close look at the work process of a dynamic group of over 800 physicists and astronomers worldwide who have joined together in the search for gravitational waves from the most violent astrophysical events in the Universe.

These scientific ideas are the basis for design throughout the exhibit from the undulating waveform shape of the space to the programming of the light sculpture and the graphic design.

The sound waves superimposed onto the rotating color palettes is revealed in the sculpture's 3D screen

LIGO, short for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, is a revolutionary new kind of telescope designed and built to observe, for the first time, ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by massive cosmic events. This amazing interactive exhibit featured a model interferometer with laser, a space-time curvature simulation, games to find the hidden gravitational wave in the static of the universe, even a mirror from the real LIGO. Overhead, Leni Schwendinger’s dazzling interactive light sculpture depicts the universe LIGO is trying to observe with a show of light and sound in real time.

Mock-up at the Light Projects Studio

“Astronomy’s New Messengers” is not only science.

The LIGO scientific endeavor is motivated by the same desire for exploration, the curiosity for the unknown and the awe of nature which motivated humankind throughout millennia of history. In this respect, science and art are two facets of the same human quest for beauty and truth”

explains Marco Cavaglia, Principal Investigator of Astronomy’ New Messengers and Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Mississippi.

Here, the start of installation in the Ballroom

Installation video on Light Project’s YouTube channel

To communicate the wonderment in our universe Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership and Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD, creatively re-interpreted the ideas behind the science of LIGO resulting in an immersive exhibit that encourages visitors in self-guided exploration.

Our goal and our hope is that the installation and the interactives faithfully convey the fascinating story of the quest to observe gravitational waves and what they will reveal to us about the history and nature of the universe.” relates Lee Skolnick, FAIA, Principal of LHSA+DP.

“We have attempted to interpret and evoke the spirit of these waves and the mystery of space-time; and embody them in the visitor experience.”

The exhibition’s design emphasizes the relationship between the light sculpture, the model interferometer acting as a real one, and the interaction of the visitor representing an event in the universe detected by the interferometer.

Light Projects was very excited by the opportunity to translate the search for gravity through our art medium, video and LEDS. Our light attracts people, young and old”, observes Leni Schwendinger.

Guests learn that gravity is a manifestation of the curvature of space-time and how LIGO scientists hope to see supernova explosions, black hole collisions, even the birth of the universe – the Big Bang – with a new set of eyes.

Left, Leni Schwendinger points out the finer details of interaction with young visitors, right, Marco Cavaligia explains the interferometer

Here, interactive designer, Ed Purver’s video documentation of the installation and visitors in action a must see!

All in all the exploration and blending of art and science was a tremendous experience for the designers which was passed along to a diverse audience, around 2,000 visitors, through light, color, and interactivity.

Imagine a non-profit’s gala fundraiser where the well-dressed and a population of dedicated black youth mingle with designers and artists guiding team paintings!

Notable guests included Mayor Bloomberg, his companion Diana Taylor and Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden

This living picture is reenacted every year for the annual Publicolor Stir Splatter + Roll party, silent auction and dinner to raise money to “engage disaffected teenage students in their education by involving them in adding color to all the public spaces in their schools”.

Light Projects has been contributing to this worthy and inspiring non-profit event for the last 10 years by designing the lighting for the gala and leading a team painting process.

Please consider joining us next year, read up on the programs and results of the Publicolor organization.

Benefit chandeliers with construction string lights and hula hoops transform the gym into an intimate space for dining!

Special thanks Light Projects’ Kristi Kent for creating our painting design, Joseph Legros for coordinating and painting and Eric Chenault for lighting design support.  Also to Mark Barton, friend of Light Projects, for on-site lighting focus.

Leni Schwendinger Light Projects’ recent projects win American Society of Landscape Architects awards.

In the General Design Category HtO Park in Toronto was Honored

“The landscape architect has helped Toronto reclaim its lakefront with strong, bold graphic moves. Summer is precious there and this project makes the most of it. It works just as well in the winter, it’s completely flexible.”

— 2009 Professional Awards Jury

The park is also iconic at night time due to its dramatic and colourful lighting scheme, which also ensures greater safety.

In the Analysis and Planning Category Trinity River Corridor Design Guidelines, Dallas, TX was graced with an Honor Award

“Beautiful forms and light handed. It held our attention. The diagrams convey the various layers of intervention and passive ecological processes. We really hope this is implemented.”

— 2009 Professional Awards Jury

Finale; Bryant Park Pond closing with Winter LightWalk

These were the final few days to visit New York City’s premier center city park in its festive decor – including our Jewel-Light Luminaire™ display on four towers surrounding the skating rink.  Bryant Park was also the location of my January 12 Winter LightWalk. e-Oculus covered the event and Contract Magazine was inspired to publish an interview.  And Night City, a LightWalk movie sets the night in motion.

Light Walk: sixty light afficiandos showed up on a cold, crisp evening. (Photos above right and left and below center and right; Robert Nadel)

The park is "moonlit" by floodlights from a neighboring building. The streetwall perspectives are sensational.

Features such as the Grill, fountain and light-edged trees enchant.

Carousel Photographs Robert Nadel

Way back in November I had an opportunity to speak at the opening celebration for Main Street Garden Park in Dallas.

Here, from our YouTube channel video from the ribbon cutting ceremony – at the podium, a short piece on the programming of  SpectraScape from October, and  SpectraScape. an interactive public artwork under construction from summer 2009.

For more information about the process of designing SpectraScape, a video artwork, please read more here.

Photos this page; Mark Strieter, Jeff Williams, and Mark Kramer