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

SHADINGS is a hybrid work by composer Laura Elise Schwendinger

and lighting artist Leni Schwendinger.

Playing It UNsafe Concert Friday, March 4 2011 at 7:30pm

View the video! Playing it UNsafe Composer Journeys: The Schwendingers

In 1993 Leni undertook a photographic research project in Japan, an exploration of ephemeral architecture and the “kare sansui”; Buddhist dry landscapes.  Her medium, the short-lived black-and-white Polaroid transparency film, enhances the fragile atmosphere of her subject – ritual gardens and ever-changing earthen construction sites. The photographic slides were processed on the spot in Japan by a hand-powered, mechanical-cranked processing machine.

Leni Schwendinger’s image montage, inspired her cousin, Laura Schwendinger, to create an orchestral world of shimmery sounds and intense dramatic orchestral shadings for the American Composers Orchestra. The orchestral colors reflect the duality present in Leni’s images. These include rich pearlescent tones, in shades of grey, found in the scenes of the serene Japanese rock gardens, as well as those found in darker more intense industrial images taken at nearby building sites. The duality presented in the projections, are reflected in the musical score’s two personas.

These seemingly different qualities are intrinsically connected by the visual relationship of the two visual worlds. The tones of light, dark, grey and shadow, as well as the shapes present in both worlds, those of the gardens and of the industrial scenes, seem to carry the same mystery of geometry and space. In SHADINGS, Laura Schwendinger explores these connections and duality in an orchestral soundscape that attempts to amplify the beauty and wonder of Leni’s delicate and sensitive eye.

The music will be completed only in the presence of the lighting and vice-versa. Unlike other recent multidisciplinary forays, this work seeks to be a true collaboration between these two artistic mediums, offering a door to a possible synesthetic connection between the two approaches, combining two different levels of perception – aural and visual.

Leni Schwendinger Public Art: SpectraScape, Dallas

SpectraScape, the Public Art installation comprised of video bands of light that scroll across the green glass shelters at Main Street Garden Park will shift from the fall  colors – rust and green – to winter on December 21, as the Autumnal Equinox transpires. On Tuesday evening viewers will see green and white tones of light that celebrate the sparse landscape of the garden park proclaiming the start of winter.

SpectraScape, inspired by the colors of the seasonal foliage in Main Street Garden Park, interacts with park visitors when they enter the green glass shelters.  The horizontal scroll of color freezes as interior lights illuminate the shelter space when visitors step in.

The presentation of Winter in SpectraScape is best viewed just after dusk, which is clearly identified by the white color bands that identify the 30 minutes of sunset before resuming with the seasonal rhythmic flash of color that races across the top of the shelter.  This work inhabits the City’s first urban park landscape in central Dallas, Main Street Garden Park located between Commerce and Main and St. Paul and Harwood streets.

Here is a silent movie link shot in 2009: SpectraScape – On-site Programming.


On the evening of December 9th I will be viewing the City of Lyon from the hilltop of Croix-Rousse. The city has layers upon layers of visible history from ancient to very modern. It will be a pleasure to present the light and shadows of Lyon to the exclusive attendees of Philips Livable Cities Initiative in the NightSeeing™ style.

Lyon is home to the Lighting Urban Communities International organization.  This city hosts one of the most sophisticated and spectacular light festivals in the world.

Leni Schwendinger at the Light Projects' Studio (for Dwell Magazine)

Dwell Magazine’s series, As You Light It <link here>, focuses on my idea of the City as home and the NightSeeing™ program. The video takes the viewer on a journey starting in the Light Projects LTD studio and on to the far west side of Manhattan, Triple Bridge Gateway at the bus terminal, Times Square and Bryant Park.

Link to learn about my Public Lighting Theory and walk with me (and the camera) on Night City, a movie.

Light Projects' Illuminationo of Louisville 2nd Street Bridge and Streetscape2nd Street Transportation Project (Louisville, KY)

Less than one year after the contract was awarded, Light Projects’ illumination and color design for Louisville’s 2nd Street Bridge and Streetscape opened to celebrants on October 13, 2010.  Officially named 2nd Street Transportation Project, the landscape architect was Carman and engineers HDR.  Our client was Louisville’s Downtown Development Corporation (DDC).  DDC and Carman navigated complex approval processes which included federal government agencies, State and City Department of Transportation, and the local Waterfront Development Corporation, among others. The project was funded by the ARRA stimulus  program; which called for a fast track and economical design concept and solution.

The streetscape area was a service road combined with adjacent vacant land running along side the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge.  The cantilevered truss bridge, locally known as 2nd Street bridge, crosses the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana. The bridge is in the National Register of Historic Places.

Light Projects LTD Illumination Louisville 2nd Street before images

Cross streets Washington and Witherspoon join 2nd Street. A row of wooden buildings on Washington present their old timey “Whiskey Row” back doors to the street.  The buildings of Iron Quarter on Washington are being renovated into hotels, restaurants and bars.  When Light Projects arrived a generally disheveled, chipped and neglected sensibility pervaded.

Light Projects LTD Illumination Louisville 2nd Street bridge before images

We visited the site and participated in a design charrette in November 2009.The stakeholder workshop set the tone and direction for the design. Bright and welcoming were the keywords for lighting.

Light Projects LTD Illumination Louisville 2nd Street mockup-day

Mock-ups were held as the bridge was being painted

Now, the underside of the bridge is enhanced with a floating effect of cast light; outlining and illuminating the I-beam surfaces and textures. The duo-tone color scheme — red and gold — is balanced with the cream color of paint coating. The colors — bridge as canvas and the lighting — are based on a celebration of amber liquid bourbon and colors of sunset.

Light Projects LTD Illumination Louisville 2nd Street lighting images

In-progress photographs during the last night of programming

Light Projects selected energy-saving fluorescent tubes for the bridge lighting – simple, industrial lighting fixtures with a twist; the luminaires were filtered with colored glass and controlled by Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI). DALI is an electronic network protocol that is generally used for lighting in buildings. We adapted it for our exterior use and complex lighting sequences.

Another technological innovation is a series of flasher beacons mounted on the face of the bridge. Whimsical sequences mark sunset and each hour afterward until 2:00 AM on weekends, and midnight during the week. These flashers are famous for lighting up the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Here, a little movie shot during programming that demonstrates the breathing sequence of color.

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

(Full text and images link)

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.