The past two months have been hectic, filled with travel, talks, awards, movies and a steady flow of work at Light Projects.

It seems like an annual sequence of visits to Copenhagen Center of Lys Mexico and Scandinavia has been established.  My entry on the October 15th CIHAC Sustainable Lighting conference in Mexico City can be found here.  Left, November 5th, on stage in Copenhagen, Center for Lys. A larger collection of this city’s images and movies to be posted soon.

After that it was a whirlwind tour – On November 13th to Dallas for the Main Street Garden Park ribbon cutting – here is a tiny movie that sums up the project on the new Light Projects’ YouTube channel.

From Dallas it was a short trip, on the 14th to Louisville to meet new Light Projects collaborators, CARMEN landscape architects, for a streetscape and underpass project adjacent to the new arena, and to create a new gateway to the wonderful Hargreaves-designed waterfront.  More to come on this as we move through the concept phase.

Back to New York City for a breath of metropolitan air, I gave a presentation to the Professional Lighting Design Association on LightMapping on November 18th, then off to Boston to speak on a panel for Build Boston.  I joined fellow Society for Design Administrators on a panel; Business Manager – Hire, Fire or Inspire on the 19th of the month.

Lightmapping NYC-Shades of Night Study

Hopped on Amtrak, for another weekend home in the Big Apple, leaving in the wee hours Monday, November 23rd to travel to Fort Worth, Texas for a feasibility study presentation for Starry Trail Crossing, Light Projects’ new commission for a public art sculpture to be integrated on the replacement bridge at West Seventh Street.

Upon return to New York City, Interior Design Magazine informs that Light Projects’ colorful infrastructure project, Triple Bridge Gateway has been selected for a Merit Award (an outdoor luminous room?). Recipients and friends congregated at the swanky party held at the Guggenheim Museum on December 3.

Jewel-Light Luminaire (TM)

Coming soon, Wednesday, December 9th, the Jewel-Light Luminaire (TM) launch.  Culminating a four year development of an LED globe lighting fixture, Leni Schwendinger Light Projects has teamed up with Lighting Science Group to commercialize the product.  I envision these pearls-with-diamonds-inset on bridges, towers, building tops – creating sparkling joyful environments – whether infrastructural or architectural.

Next… bring on the holidays!

Born to go to Mexico City, “La Capital”

LS-Aztec_inspired

Leni aspired to Mexicana status, here pictured in red dress with Aztec-inspired embroidery

Growing up in Los Angeles Spanish language study started in 5th grade.  We created our own Spanish books – mine was over-sized with a hard cover surfaced in canvas and splatter paint.  the binding was tied with leather thong.  In my imagination, Mexico was associated with music, rich colors, copper metal, a land of deserts, carvings and people who were so fascinating that they spoke a different language than me.  I had a wish to be Mexicana.  Above all I wanted to visit Mexico City.

So, when Jeffrey Miller, President of IALD texted a request from China about my interest in speaking on City Beautification in Mexico City I was thrilled!

This city of great layered history — and pre-history –was opened to me through the inimitable process of Dérive, with my constant companion and explorer, Mark Kramer.

Ciudad de México is inhabited by 8,836,045 inhabitants (2008 figure, Wikipedia) and Greater Mexico City has a population exceeding 19 million people, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the Americas and the third largest agglomeration in the world (Wikipedia).

IALD Conference on Sustainable Design at CIHAC

Convention Center

Expo CIHAC (Centro Impulsor de la Construccion y la Habitacion) was held on October 13-17th, 2009 at the Banamex Convention Center, Mexico City.  The Expo is the most important construction exhibition in Mexico. It gathers together project developers, contractors, consultants, engineers and building material suppliers.  This year CIHAC partnered with IALD (International Association of Lighting Designers) to hold a Conference on Sustainable Design.  Mexico’s IALD chapter sponsored the event.  It was a great opportunity to meet with my south-of-the-border colleagues.

The Banamex Convention Center is adjacent to the Americas Horse Racetrack.  Upon arrival we were mesmerized by the trotting horses out for practice.  I joined North American lighting design colleagues Charles Stone and  Mark Loeffler at the podium.

Charles discussion of White Light in Public Lighting was the perfect counterpoint to mine, with its focus on colored light.  Mark’s LEED and Lighting Design walked the audience through the ever more complex arena of “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and how lighting applies. Mark also spoke on Daylighting Design.

CIHAC Speakers

My topic City Beautification, The Use of Color and Light posits that the use of colored light in the urban environment has exploded.  With the continued development of LED sources the lighting designers’ paintbox has been redefined and colored light is not only technically more possible than in the past, but the technologies are more energy-saving  and sustainable in terms of maintenance.  In this talk I address “by what measure can designers agencies and owners rate the applicability of colored light in the city environment?”  I review the artistic use of color and how to judge good design using color theory, case studies and a checklist. Here, a link to the hand out.

Walking the Streets

Walking is knowing a city…

View here a video of an animated Walk signal, and a great sense of Mexican traffic engineering humor, the Don’t Walk signal – with a person impatiently tapping his foot and consulting a wristwatch as the seconds tick by… to walk.

Envision the experience of the street through the moments that captured me and and in turn are captured by my camera.

Medians and Malls

streetscape

Paving Patterns, Shadows, Light and Textures

Paving

Street Corners

corner

Lighting Fixtures and Side Streets After-dark

mex_lighting

The Zócalo, la Plaza Suprema

Urban planners and designers are ever questing for the perfect recipe for town squares and plazas. Mexico City’s Zócalo — Plaza de la Constitución — is a prime reference – often mentioned in discussion of urban landscape design.

Zocalo_area

Streets branching off the Zocalo

At long last, I was able to visit — see, sense, feel — the genuine article — the authentic plaza, the Zócalo.  I was fascinated by the shared space of pedestrians, cars and bicycles and delivery carts.  Even on a weekday, the sidewalks and streets were packed.  “Shared streets” or “shared space” is a traffic engineering concept to remove separations between vehicles and pedestrians, and devices such as curbs, painted lines, signs and signals. The logic is that humans can be self regulated when forced to…an interesting civic pact.  It felt, here on the main square streets, that the concept of shared streets had not been enforced or planned but simply an authentic need had been fulfilled — that of a huge metropolis and its circulation evolving.

The Zócalo Edge; Metropolitan Cathedral

(Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María)

Catedral Metropolitana

Because of its rich natural, archeological and architectural sites Mexico ranks within the top countries with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites.  As we walked toward the Zócalo through the busy foot traffic, jewelry and watch stores, cafes and restaurants and sidewalk markets our eyes gravitated naturally to the Metropolitan Cathedral which defines the north edge of the plaza.  Its ornate carvings of stone and wood bursts out of the facade beckoning visitors.

The Cathedral is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas. It is sited upon a sacred Aztec precinct near the Templo Mayor. The cathedral was built around a church that was constructed after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán — the Aztec’s capital city (1573 to 1813) — and finally replaced the church. The Metropolitan was inspired by Spain’s Gothic cathedrals.  Its Baroque-style facade and 64-meter high Neoclassical-style towers contain 18 bells.

The ethereal glow of the ornate interior reveals five naves, several chapels, two impressive pipe organs, religious paintings and figurines.  The decor, whispered hush and flicker of candles conspire to create a time/space wonderment.

The Zócalo Edge; Templo Mayor

templo_mayor_plaque

“Next door” to the Cathedral is the Templo Mayor (Great Temple)

The Aztec legend describes the siting of the Temple as a fulfillment of a prophecy; where an eagle was seen perched on a cactus devouring a snake.

Construction began around 1325 AD and the Temple was continually enlarged over the next two centuries. A the time of the Spanish Conquest, in 1521, the temple was the center of this Tenochtitlan, with a population of 300,000.

The temple was nearly destroyed by the Spaniards after their conquest of Tenochtitlan.

The Templo Mayor excavation began 30 years ago after electrical tradesmen discovered the ruins.

Templo Mayor Mexico City

Two life-size clay figures from this trove represent the two faces of Aztec religion. A winged warrior, his head poking out from an eagle’s beak, with talons erupting from his knees, symbolizes life or the sun at dawn. Discovered only a decade ago, a grisly, six-foot-tall, clay figure – with his liver dangling beneath exposed ribs – represents death. Both were revered. The equal value of life and death explains “why the images of death are so strong,” says Felipe Solís, curator and the foremost authority on the Aztecs. “At Mexico City’s core beats an Aztec heart”  — Carol Strickland, Christian Science Monitor

Culture

Museo Nacional de Antropología

Museo de Anthropologica

On our way to the Museo de Anthropologica we strolled through Chapultepec Park.  A large scale photo exhibition mounted on an iron fence was composed of provocative images in billboard style.   The Museum, in mid-century modern/Mexican style, is stunning – the sleek lines interrupted by pattern and relief.  The first gallery was a contemporary take by several artists, on Mexico City and its populous.  Salvage materials, video, industrial homage and individual stories tell the life of the lesser known Mexicano.

The monumental collection is humbling.  Here, another chance to experience the ancient, this time through a curated collection.

culture

Left: billboard photo exhibit, Center: View of Chapultepec, Right: the Kahlo-Rivera House-Study

Lighting designer Gustavo Aviles, and his wife Magi, took us to dinner at the Colonia San Ángel Inn. After an evening of laughter and conversation they surprised us by pointing out the Kahlo/Rivera House-Study right across the street. The intense and creative couple — Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera — painted and housed their skull collection, as well as pre-Columbian art and Mexican crafts here.

The complex, two buildings connected by a bridge, is one the most important cultural landmarks of Mexico City. It was designed by Juan O’Gorman — an architect and painter.  It is a a merging of modern Mexican architecture and the International style.

The work caused a heated controversy in the 1930s by combining organic Mexican architecture and architectural murals with functionalism. So was the breaking of all the aesthetic paradigms of architecture in Mexico until then, to incorporate such blunt theories and thoughts as most avant-garde architects (as Le Corbusier) were developing on the European continent. Thoughts such as the rational use of materials, analysis of the functioning of ideal spaces and the adequacy of them to accommodate activities that took place within them – ideas that were radical at first but eventually were assimilated into the worldwide architectural community. These houses were made possible with minimum cost and effort.

Diego Rivera Studio Museum was established by presidential decree in 1981, opening its doors in 1986. In 1994, the INBA made the restoration and rehabilitation of houses a cultural heritage site of the nation, according to the decree published in the Diario Oficial on March 25, 1998. — Wikiarquitectura.com

I heartily recommend the movie Frida Kahlo directed by Julie Taymor for the flavor, color and sounds of a time in Mexico. And here a link of the real Frida and Diego.

La Capital is an exemplar of metropolitan life, and I like to think that my explorations have just begun.

Guangzhou (广州市区)

The Guangzhou International Lighting Exhibition and its concurrent Guangzhou International Lighting Technology Symposium was held on 9 – 12 June 2009. Organized by the lighting-focused event planners Messe Frankfurt with Chinese partner YangGuang Lighting Service (YGLS). This trade fair is one of the Messe’s seven lighting, electrical and building technology fairs held around the world, including Frankfurt, Middle East and Buenos Aires.

Pazhou Complex

The show and symposium were staged in the undulating, metallic buildings of the China Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex (中国进出口商品交易会琶洲展馆), built in 2002. The fairground was designed by the Japanese architectural firm of AXS SAWTO and developed by the Architectural Design and Research Institute of South China University of Technology.

The Complex is especially known for the Canton Fair (Chinese Import & Export Fair) which is held twice a year in Spring and Autumn since it was inaugurated in the Spring of 1957. Guangzhou, the center of the Pearl River Delta manufacturing powerhouse and close to provincial exporting bases. After 52 years’ development… the Canton Fair has become a comprehensive international trade event in China with the longest history, the largest scale, the most complete exhibit variety, the broadest distribution of buyers, the biggest buyer attendance, and the greatest business turnover, and the soundest credibility, enjoying the reputation of “China’s No.1 Fair”.

— Wang Junwen; Secretary General of China Import and Export Fair & Director General of China Foreign Trade Centre

My Talk: Color and Light: Humanizing the Urban Nighttime Environment

I was invited to speak in the Sustainable Development in the Lighting Industry; LED track. Dr. Vincent Chen, Senior Application Engineer from OSRAM China Lighting moderated.

Slide Show

The subject: The use of colored light in the urban environment has exploded. Now with LED (Light Emitting Diodes) the lighting designers’ paint-box has been redefined. Colored light is not only more possible, but is energy-conscious and sustainable in terms of maintenance. However, by what measure can designers, agencies and owners rate the applicability of colored light in the open, public environment. In this talk I reviewed the artistic use of color, and proposed a system of judging good designs with using color theory, case studies and a check-list. 

Please view and print my handout here (click on this link).

China_lecture_collage02

The lecture was well attended. The audience was comprised of lighting designers and engineers, architects, manufacturers, artists and students. The Q&A was lively.  My favorite question — from a student — passionately delivered — concerned China’s current preoccupation with “too much color” and “too much animation”.

Afterward, I joined “From Inspiration to Implementation” a panel of  owners (the government), engineers, and architects…and two lighting designers, including myself. Subjects ranged from questions of creativity through issues of implementation–addressed by each and every participant from varied vantage points. Here I learned that in China a project life span of two to five years is a normal expectation for buildings, or at least for the lighting of buildings in China and so, the expectation of longevity and quality are not the same as in the US – which hovers in the 25-year duration.

people01

As an aspiring linguist, it is fascinating to think in a new language — structure and syntax reveals the inner spirit of culture…however my grasp of Mandarin has yet to be realized.  Thanks to interpreter Jasmine Shi, I was able to understand normal course of conversations, and as well as probing mysterious-seeming motivations and activities. I was fortunate to meet lighting design colleague from Taiwan, Ta-Wei Lin. He has a great sense of humor (a prerequisite for good lighting designers) and it was a pleasure to speak in rapid English over biscuits and team upstairs in the conference mezzanine.

Lighting fixture rarities

Lighting fixture rarities

Time was short between lecture and panel. Jasmine and I rushed through the trade show floor. The products I saw were highly decorative – sparkle ruled the day at this trade show. A beginner in the Chinese market it was hard to understand who the important players are.

Pearl River Cruise

An evening cruise on the Pearl River (珠江) – the third longest in China revealed the student’s issue of “too much” color and animation. Blocky buildings were dressed in gaudy garments of light – dancing, blinking and morphing. A laser effect swept the river. The shore was edged in bright blue light.

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Part 2Hangzhou to Suzhou: From the Elegant (Grand Canal) to the Sublime (Lion Forest Garden)

Part 3 – Shanghai: Simultaneously Chrysalis and Butterfly

Part 4Shanghai Post-Script: Ancient Town Park

Shanghai (上海)

Shanghai_Hotel

From Suzhou the bullet train to Shanghai took 40 minutes.  The view from the taxi window showcased a city festooned in scaffolding.  The Shanghainese are preparing to welcome the world – 70 million visitors are expected — for Shanghai 2010 ” Better City, Better Life”, May through October 2010, by repairing facades and generally sprucing up. We sped along and entered a hardware and tool district – and then our hotel, Riverside Bund – just adjacent to the famed  Bund (外滩), or Wei Tan District, busy with locals and tourists.  The pre-1937 European-influenced Bund architecture  is nestled on the banks of the Huang Pu River.

Martin Ma, YGLS

Martin Ma, YGLS

Martin Ma, a principal from Guangzhou Yang Guang Lighting Service Co. Ltd. (YGLS), headquartered in Guangzhou, joined us for the final leg of the journey.  YGLS has multiple mandates; management of lighting projects (as owners’ representative), partners with Guangzhou Messe Frankfurt Exhibition (for Guangzhou International Lighting Technology Symposium), and Urban Planning and Design Institute of Tsinghua University (for educational forums). They organize overseas lighting tours to facilitate communication within the lighting industry and have established Yang Guang Lighting Designers Growth Foundation to support young Chinese lighting designers.  Finally, YGLS publishes a lighting magazine,Yang Guang.

Tongji-University

The first appointment was at the Tongji University Architectural Design and Research Institute. Mr.Zhou Jianfeng, Deputy General Architect and Yixiu Yang, Architect shared architectural projects – buildings and interiors, and I shared works of Light Projects and elaborated on my ideas for creative lighting approaches to infrastructure and public space.  I went on a tour of the inventive, adventurous building where my host YGLS holds lighting seminars.

Sophisticated and venacular Shanghai

Sophisticated and vernacular Shanghai

After dinner in the center of Shanghai City, compliments of Rock Hsuing of  Roled Opto Electronics,  an evening walk took us to visit Xintiandi (新天地) – literally Heaven on Earth, a jammed, fashionable nightlife district composed of adapted, reused and recreated warm-wood and -grey blocks of the Shikumen housing of early Shanghai.  Framed within the antique walls and tiles is a highly programmed composition of galleries, bars, cafes and themed restaurants. The complex felt strangely sacrilegious – authentic and inauthentic – hard to put my finger on… and then it turns out…

The principal architect of Xintiandi is, not surprisingly, an American: Benjamin Wood, who once worked for Benjamin Thompson, the designer of Quincy Market. (Wood recently relocated from Boston to Shanghai.) Wood’s design is a clever mixture of renovated old buildings and new construction imitating the style of shikumen, the gray brick town houses that were built in many Shanghai neighborhoods beginning in the eighteensixties. Three-story structures built along narrow alleys, with elaborate, stone-carved entries leading into small interior courtyards, shikumen—the term means “stone gate”— generally housed upper-middle-class families. (Under Communist rule, shikumen were converted to tenements, and as many as seven families were shoehorned into them.) Like many buildings in cosmopolitan Shanghai, a shikumen combines Asian and Western influences; it is a Chinese home with a Parisian sensibility, a hybrid form both delicate and monumental.

The inspiration for the Xintiandi project was a gray brick building, no larger than a house, sitting in the middle of the site; it is where the Chinese Communist Party originally met, in 1921. (Mao himself attended the first meeting.) Vincent Lo, the developer who runs Shui On, was told by government officials that the buildings adjacent to the old meeting place had to be maintained, and that none of the garish commercialism that marks most Chinese retail establishments would be permitted beside it. – Paul Goldberger,  New Yorker, “Shanghai Surprise “, 2005

I had the opportunity to visit the Shanghai EDAW office and meet a wide variety of urban designers, landscape designers, architects and planners; introduction compliments of my friend Chris Choa (who is quoted in the New Yorker article if you read it all the way through).  James Lu welcomed me and a spirited discussion occurred about new cities in China and issues of public lighting.

A real surprise was waiting in the form of Z58 by Kengo Kumo, architect – the home of Zhongtai Lighting (中泰照明).

Z58

Martin suggested to expect a great building for our next meeting at Zhongtai Lighting with Emma Jiang and Claudia Cai.  I pictured an interesting building and an office within… as I walked up to the threshold of No. 58 Pan Yu Road preoccupied with the taxi ride through the French Concession and all the traffic, my view was filled with a tall silver and green surface – a living wall. Through the door, an astonishing view upward was framed on left, right and on the ground plane with sleek hanging gardens and water dripping and flowing.  It was cool and majestic and I realized that this was not a normal “interesting” office building.  And it dawned on me that Zhongtai was the only tenant…

Z58 is multi-functional – a design and events gallery, offices, and food service for those privileged to work and visit, and – amazing – two “6-star” bedrooms for visiting dignitaries. But the area I liked best was a setting of two Eames lounge chairs surrounded by a softly flowing rectilinear pool on the top floor with a view of the garden and Former Residence of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (上海孫中山故居紀念館 上海市) China’s doctor-leader known as the “National Father of modern China”.

Zhongtai calls itself “one of biggest professional lighting companies in China with offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou”. The lighting division is but one of a larger holding company with other divisions in construction and energy industries.  It was Zhongtai Lighting that coordinated the work of French designer Roger Narboni in Hangzhou for the Grand Canal lighting master plan and  subsequent implementation of his design.

Bird market

On every trip outside the U.S. my partner and I visit the local bird market.  At Shanghai’s Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market (花, 鸟, 鱼和昆虫市场) we spent an enchanted hour meeting the birds and their owners, inspecting the ceramic dishes and grains, feeding baby starlings and wondering about the phantasmagoria of crickets….  Here, I have found Mr. Xing-Bao Jin’s– Shanghai Institute of Entomology– invaluable website resource on Chinese Cricket Culture.  In the baskets and little cages  live the crickets who inspire by song and signal the seasons and seasonal activities (see images above).

Listen to the Cricket
by Bei Ju-Yi, Tang dynasty

The Singing cricket chirps throughout the long night, tolling in the cloudy autumn with its rain. Intent on disturbing the gloomy sleepless soul, the cricket moves towards the bed chirp by chirp. — from Chinese Cricket Culture

Pudong_airport

Shanghai Pudong International Airport: Terminal 2 designed by Richard Rogers Partnership, opened in 2003

June 18th: after an early morning visit to Gucheng Park (古代公园), Tai Chi and frantic packing – time to return to New York City.  Shanghai / New York City the two are completely compatible.  Can you love more than one city?

Pudong International Airport (浦东国际机场) another gorgeously wrought public space helped ease the transition home.