Nighttime Design_three pillars
Why Nighttime Design?

The night has the power to invoke a myriad of emotions — from fear to romance, melancholy to excitement. Whatever your feelings, the fact remains that the nighttime consists of half of our time on this earth, and that means half of our time in our cities as well. What can we do to ensure that our cities are truly taking advantage of their 24-hour needs? What does it mean to design for nighttime?

In this episode we talk with Leni Schwendinger, an expert on nighttime design and Director of NightSeeing (and so much more!), on the many types of light, what to do on a light walk, and how to take a holistic look at our cities’ daily light cycles.

The 54-minute podcast: Episode 36: Nighttime Design w/ Leni Schwendinger (link)

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Here, a six minute audio lesson on nighttime design urbanism: an interview by Monocle: The Urbanist, while at reSITE, in Prague, June 2017. “We can look back to Guy Debord… The freedom to wander… looking for the ambience. Nighttime design is the broader discipline where urban lighting leads the way…”

We caught up with Schwendinger, one of the world’s leading voices on the impact lighting can have in our cities. (link) 

Lighting is an essential element of our 24/7 world

The world is urbanizing at an unprecedented pace. Once dominant, rural and agricultural populations are now city-bound as people seek new job opportunities and better living conditions.

NightSeeing: Mega-Cities

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Numeric projections and issues such as the speed at which large cities have burgeoned into mega-cities, the differentiation between”Mega” and “Global” cities and comparative economic, social and health statistics are numerous.* Dr. James Canton, a global futurist and social scientist, states that there are currently twenty-six mega-cities**. This designation is based purely on population; mega-cities are quantified as more than 10-million inhabitants. “Large Urban Agglomerations” consist upwards of  5-million inhabitants and thus include mega-cities. Global cities are those with highly-developed economies and institutions with a high degree of coordination.***

Thus, the urban night is a critical zone for study, design and application

In 2003, I proposed the future malleable, responsive, illuminated city as part of my curriculum at New School/Parsons School of Design’s Designing Urban Nighttime Environments based on “shades of night“.  At that time urbanists and the real estate industry popularized the phrase “24/7” (hours/days per week) to invoke vitality.  It was my sense that as nighttime activities and flexible working hours increasingly redefined urban experience, greater emphasis should be focused on illuminating the after-dark environment.

Now, “smart”, electronic systems for adaptable, sustainable cities are emerging.  These systems control illumination so that light is switched on and off, or dimmed, to save energy.  I propose to broaden the criteria to encompass social sustainability factors such as public health and economic development. Within this vision, local considerations  — real-time activities in the nighttime public realm such as shops open and closed, types of building usage — factor into lighting control plans.  The first step is to understand existing conditions in specific vicinities.

In 2009, as an outcome of my guided student tours, the NightSeeing, Navigate Your Luminous City program was invented to present both an observational and critical review of “what is”, i.e. existing conditions of night-zones, through walking tours with the public, stakeholders, and professionals to encourage transformational public design palettes.  NightSeeing is a method of gleaning community needs and desires for districts undergoing revitalization. The program continues to develop globally, providing an opportunity to compare cultures of light and illumination, sharing with colleagues, friends, and strangers all over the world.  My objective is to walk all of the mega-cities in the near future.

NightSeeing is a preparatory, experiential move. The intent is to raise awareness of all stakeholders that effect — and are affected by — light in the city. It aims to educate the populous, and the power-broker, with an aim toward safe and creative nights in the public realm.


* Refer to World Population in 2050: Assessing the Projections, a text by Joel E. Cohen for the most current issues

** Mega-cities illustrated by photographs here in the order of Dr. Canton’s “Significance” article

*** Refer to Megacities vs Global Cities: Development and Institutions, Lise Bourdeau-Lepage and Jean-Marie Huriot for the distinction between mega and global -cities

Other Resources:


NightSeeing, Navigate Your Luminous City


NightSeeing Preview Part 1 and Preview Part 2 – Both online briefings for participants

Video of the actual London LightWalk, Part 1 and here, Part 2.

Night City with Leni Schwendinger, in Greenwich Village


                 NightSeeing is a trademark of Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD        
       and is dedicated to co-creator, Mark Kramer, Light Projects’ former writer-in-residence