Interview with Leni Schwendinger, Light Artist and Designer

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Cities of Light, Planetizen’s version

(Link to The Dirt)

On NightSeeing™:

It’s important that people see a place where they’ve always been walking around at night and yet see it with new eyes. It’s an inspiring and enlivening relationship with the city that I’m happy to promote.

On Triple Bridge Gateway

…they folded an aesthetic improvement into the infrastructure budget and it was brilliantly conceived in that manner.

Expanded sustainability

We have to be concerned with energy use but we also have to add to our sustainable precepts the vital health of people congregating and using the city streets at night.

On HTO Park

Early on in public lighting history, there were moonlight poles. In Austin, they use super-high moonlight poles and just use a few lights to cover a large area. I think it’s a good approach to save energy and keep technology out of the way of park users.

About collaboration for Dreaming in Color, McCaw Hall

It really was a true collaboration — the design team included architects, landscape architects, scenic designer (an opera designer who would work at the McCaw Hall), engineers, stakeholders, and owners. We all worked together and did presentations to each other in a brainstorming style. It was an exciting kind of mind meld.

Effective strategies for smart growth

We’re on the verge of a new lighting discipline, a melding of lighting and urban design, which I call public design. Public design is an exploration of environmental lighting design at night. One of the great options we’re now getting to use in the U.S. is lighting control, which allows us to really interact with light in a more direct way. We can brighten the street lights at certain hours, dim the street lights at other hours, and look at it as an economic development tool. We can decide Main Street will be brighter or dimmer at certain hours. Community groups can define what the right time is to make that light brighter and dimmer. That interaction with the communities is very important. Lighting and the communities that we are lighting should be connected in this way.

Energy Saving and sustainable technology

I’m telling you right now IES committees are debating how much light is needed for any particular city or any district. You’re going to find some people who say let’s bring the light down. You can also find people in inner cities where you’re just building a park for the first time saying give me some light so I can play, give me more light, I want to recognize that person as they come toward me. It’s not an easy answer. We have to be concerned with CO2 emissions. We have to be concerned with energy use but we also have to add to our sustainable precepts the vital health of people congregating and using the city streets at night.

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

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.

PUBLIC ART AT MAIN STREET GARDEN PARK

WINTER LIGHTS CHANGE TO SPRING


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 winter colors – green and white – to spring on March 20, as the Vernal Equinox transpires. On Saturday evening viewers will see pink tones of light that celebrate the spring landscape of the garden park proclaiming the end 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 Spring 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.

Leni Schwendinger

With over twenty years of work as both lighting designer and public artist, Leni has developed her lighting philosophy and in doing so, has refined the possibilities for light in the urban environment.  She has been the recipient of numerous professional awards, including several “Lumen” awards from the Illuminating Engineering Society, the Society for Environmental Graphic Design and the NYFA Fellowship for emerging and media art.

The City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA) works to enhance the vitality of the City and the quality of life for all Dallas citizens by creating an environment wherein arts and cultural organizations can thrive so that people of all ages can enjoy opportunities for creative expressions and the celebration of our community’s multicultural heritage. Our mission is to establish a cultural system that ensures that ALL Dallas citizens and visitors have an opportunity to experience the finest in arts and culture. The OCA is advised by an 18-member Cultural Affairs Commission appointed by the Dallas City Council. The OCA manages the city’s Cultural Contracts, Neighborhood Touring and Public Art Programs; oversees six cultural centers including the Bath House Cultural Center, Latino Cultural Center, Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Oak Cliff Cultural Center (opening in 2010), and South Dallas Cultural Center; and operates the city’s classical music radio station, WRR101.1FM. More information on the programs and services provided by the OCA can be found at www.dallasculture.org.

Links to media about SpectraScape and the design process at Dallas Main Street Garden Park

Much has been written about the Atlantic Avenue tunnel since Bob Diamond rediscovered access through a manhole to the storied passageway in 1980. Diamond shares this body of knowledge on occasional tours of the tunnel, an exploration I was eager to take – a lighting designer underground for two hours without light, except for the jittering, swirling, white-to-blue light of portable flashlights.

For the photo essay, scroll down, to read the entire textual story, link to Urban Omnibus

Once on the concrete subway platform, intent on getting to Brooklyn on time, I lost all thoughts of the sidewalk, streets, buildings and people above.

Once on the concrete platform, intent on getting to Brooklyn on time, I lost all thoughts of the sidewalk, streets, buildings and people above.

We descended the narrow ladder through a metallic-rimmed manhole right in the middle of the street, almost in the crosswalk

We descended the narrow ladder through a metallic-rimmed manhole right in the middle of the street, almost in the crosswalk

The darkness begat dreaminess, with shadows on walls and ceiling and flashlight beams moving, searching for clues in the stone

Photos by flashlight

Bob regaled us with the amazing history of the tunnel: the transportation, geology, the methodological digging of seven months, the criminal, the politically unethical and mercenary, the gunfight, the pirates, the Smokey Hollow slum gangs, the mustard gas and five-foot rats — in short, the folklore and the facts.

The best part about this activity, I decided, would be experiencing a 165-year old excavation by the illumination of 70 flashlights.

The best part about this activity, I decided, would be experiencing a 165-year old excavation by the illumination of 70 flashlights.

The coppery, incandescent glow of the underground

Looking back from the monumental wall, the darkened passage is defined by glimmering archways, a coppery, incandescent glow shot onto the barrel vault by clear glass incandescent-filament bulbs – a cathedral of stone, brick and dirt.

I descended once again, this time to the A train platform, enjoying the solidity of the comparatively grand concrete and tiled stairway.

I returned to reality – the overground world of daylight and cold and then I descended once again, this time to the A train platform, enjoying the solidity of the comparatively grand concrete and tiled stairway.

As I walked home I found my view adjusted: manholes, drains, basements, vault covers — there is a world down there!

As I walked home I found my view adjusted: manholes, drains, basements, vault covers — there is a world down there!

The vertical layers of New York City arranged themselves in my mind’s eye – I will never take over- and underground passage for granted again.

We arrived on a cold, turbulently windy day.  Snug and dry in the Admiral Hotel a converted waterfront warehouse, we fell asleep to the hum of wind gusts whipping down The Sound (“Øresund”) –a strait between the Kattegat and the Baltic Sea.  The Admiral is a few minutes walk along the waterfront to new the Royal Playhouse – its interior filled with an atmosphere of starlight, and a view across the river to the dramatically illuminated Copenhagen Opera House.

By evening’s light a walk into the center city; I wondered at the darkness – the catenary lights suspended over every street – and rare punctuations of facade and sign lighting.

Center for LYS (Center for Light) invited me to speak that their annual Lighting Day.  This year it was held at the ultimately modern Black Diamond – a conference and cultural center annexed to the “old Copenhagen Main Library” built in 1906.

In the center of the vast, open lobby there are two conveyors that stretch between the old and the new buildings.

Watch my Conveyor movie on the Light Projects YouTUBE channel (click here).

The Danish Lighting Center was founded in 1948 with a mission to “advance knowledge and to disseminate information for the improvement of the lighted environment to the benefit of society”. They hold seminars and conferences, and produce a magazine, LYS. Director, Kenneth Munck and  Dorte Gram, an architect who coordinated my invitation to the event and writes for the LYS Magazine, were both wonderful hosts.

I joined a dynamic international group of lighting designers and engineers, including Roger Narboni from France.  My topic was “Reclaiming the Dark Side of Town, an Underpass becomes a Gateway”; a comprehensive discourse on the making of Triple Bridge Gateway at NYC’s Port Authority Bus Terminal.  This project took eight years to complete, with Light Projects role encompassing illumination, color palette and collaboration on the materials for four bus ramps in midtown Manhattan.

Thankfully during the stay it warmed up and I wandered through the city — night and day — observing a massive population of bicyclists and pedestrians co-existing with vehicular traffic, visiting philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s grave and exploring light and the streetscape.

Mark and I visited the Rundetaarn “Round Tower” – a 17th-century tower located in the central district.  It was built as an astronomical observatory and now houses a multi-use cultural space – which showcased an interesting art show of urban signs.

A steep winding corridor of smooth polished cobble stones, with sunken windows and daylight effects upon stucco, leads to a ladder to the exterior observatory level and an expansive panorama of rooftops and industrial structures beyond Copenhagen proper.  The 360-degree city view was exhilarating.

Copenhagen is a city of Scandinavian modern and Scandinavian medieval.

From the observatory to the airport, I am enthralled by this northern sensibility.

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Interested in other international visits and my public space and lighting observations?

Here are posts from 2009:

China

Mexico