A research-based, prototype pilot, blossoms with citizen participation.

Skim to last image for 6-minute video


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Urban design often neglects the nocturnal city.

It is time to recognize the changing character of public space after sundown. The practice of Nighttime Design is a critical response to the after-dark experience, proposing new lighting solutions based on the in-depth study, for example, of local mobility, spatial elements, and activities. Nighttime Design positively impacts public health:  illuminated streets extend walking hours, increase the number of social encounters, and stimulate economic activity through after-dark cultural and retail offerings. It also improves general wellbeing and feelings of safety in the community through crime reduction.

Smart Everyday Nighttime Design an international, collaborative, research project led by Leni Schwendinger (with Arup), focused on innovative ways to improve the nighttime experience in Getsemaní, a UNESCO world-heritage district in Cartagena, Colombia undergoing rapid gentrification. While tourists are drawn to the area’s colorful authenticity, culture and nightlife, the neighborhood is becoming synonymous with deep inequality and division. As Schwendinger emphasizes, “Is it possible to build better communities with light?”

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Nighttime Design values local design solutions. In the case of the Cartagena-sited project, workshops and social/technical research led to the development of a universal LED lantern customized and localized for the area’s streets. The project team had two overall ambitions: the first was to conduct research and develop a sustainable Nighttime Design concept and methodology; the second was to improve community connections and galvanize local stakeholders through the use of private property for public lighting. During a community work session, in July 2016, operational 3-D lantern sketches were created to show how a neutral, modern object could be localized according to a specific urban environment – its culture, values, and symbols. With its blend of old and new components, the lantern prototype accentuated the character of Getsemaní. Its collaborative methodology brought together the interests of residential and commercial actors.IMG 3.jpeg

Following the workshop, a “pop-up” prototype pilot installation was conducted on a commercial street. The one-day workshop and pilot were a point of departure for addressing critical issues of social/urban policy. The workshop included community stakeholders including politicians, artists, designers, cultural organizations and, most importantly, local residents. Historical preservation, infrastructure, heritage, tourism, mobility and visual effect were all discussed and debated. The project’s findings were captured on video by Plane-Site, a global agency specializing in full-cycle content strategy. This short documentary illustrates the research process, workshop and resulting prototype pilot  – available to view in English and Spanish.

Beyond this, the future is glowing for Nighttime Design as an emerging discipline in
city-making around the globe.

Also available in Spanish

Further information Smart Everyday Nighttime Design offers new opportunities for improving economic conditions, public health, social life, security and safety in after-dark environments. The researchers are especially interested in the global south where emerging economies, urban after-dark enthusiasm, heat and time zone combine as a rich cultural area to study, test and implement innovative approaches. The team welcomes expressions of interest from urban-oriented organizations in regard to pilot-based research.

Contact: Research [at] nighttimedesign [dot] org

Credits: Don Slater, co-director, Configuring Light research group at the London School of Economics, Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Despacio: Carlos Pardo, iGuzzini, Findeter, Citelum, Arup: Joana Mendo, Christoph Gisel

All photos by Don Slater/Configuring Light

NightSeeing is a trademark of Leni Schwendinger

Nighttime design and its concomitant Shades of Night analysis were born out of the NightSeeing™ Program

Charles Lane
Charles Lane, light and shadow observations

During the dark hours, a nexus of walking and observing living city streets  — at once intuitive and self activated — merged into a performative and philosophical practice.

2009: I have been testing “nighttime design” as a descriptor for a new urban illumination fortified by expertise and input by fellow urbanists, urban designers, social researchers, geographers, economic consultants, landscape architects, just to name a few. In Cities of Light the phrase was committed to print for the first time.

As you have read in this blog – urban nighttime is illuminated by public, private and found lighting.

Public lighting is provided by the city or utility as the very basic in safety lighting. It is augmented by private sources of lighting – significantly, cars themselves with their headlights. Additionally shop windows, displays and various types of commercial buildings provide light on the sidewalk to help pedestrians find their way cheerfully and safely. Finally the phone booths, bus shelters, light billboards and even ATMs provide what I call “found” lighting. 2009

The phenomenological – reflections and sparkle – glint as figures of found light against the background of mono-typical fields of sodium yellow streetlighting, and more recently as a blinkingly, blindingly white-grey saturation.

NightSeeing 82nd Street Partnership

82nd Street NightSeeing™/Envisioning 2012

How long does it take to synthesize disparate focuses — lighting, city life, community engagement — into a meaningful body of work? Three years, five years? A decade?

Smart Everyday Nighttime Design, international research accomplished with Arup, and partners such as London School of Economics, Despacio and iGuzzini, among others, was a recent culmination of the Light Projects’ 2012-2013 82nd Street Partnership Lighting Strategy: A Roadmap for Illumination and Community-Building.

Nighttime design research

Smart Everyday Nighttime Design, Cartagena

Envisioning the future of nighttime design.

What does your city – or neighborhood – need?

Near future vision: nighttime design teams composed of urbanists and city activators will form bespoke core consultant groups for specific urban regeneration projects. For example, those agencies, developers, associations revitalizing the nighttime economy in one district may need, along with urban lighting, public health and retail consultation.

Another neighborhood might benefit from urban and landscape designers, policy experts and sustainability consultants. Perhaps night visibility, traffic and pedestrian conflicts are a primary concern.  What about addressing the district’s upgrade to LED streetlighting along with a digital platform for seasonal lighting transformations, or for a cultural nighttime district where tourism and branding awareness is important…there is a team for that!

OPEN Sydney

Sydney nighttime strategy




Cities and districts may desire to create broad nighttime guidelines such as the excellent OPEN Sydney Strategy and Action Plan (pdf). It addresses nighttime economy, tourism, and diversity, among other important issues for international cities.





NightTube and Night-time commission

London’s Night Tube and Night Time initiative




Another current example is the concerted effort by the London Mayor’s office and Transport for London.  Transport rolled out the spectacular “Night Tube” campaign in August 2016, followed by the inauguration of a Night Time Commission which resides in the Mayor’s office.



Here, I have shared the process of envisioning a practice and the lurching tiny, and grand, steps that must be made in service of growth. A new understanding of illumination combined with urban design is becoming official, ensconced in city governance, which for theorists and practitioners alike establishes a context for the varied ways to improve lives — in our turbulently urbanizing world.




In 2001, for their 20th anniversary issue Metropolis magazine’s back page featured several architects’ and designers’ quick visions for future designs or objects.

Then, much public space was built as a result of private developer incentives – and meanly edged with serrated metal bars and spikes.  Those were the days when benches were removed from subway stations.

Now, in the age of Google Streetview and a increasingly laser-like focus on pedestrianization, my vision of a “mapping device” that identifies “negative spaces” such as forecourts, sidewalks and parking lots – which was not all that exciting or commonly shared value then — seems prescient.

Next, connecting up atmospheres and activities through electronic controls. A scenography of public light and life.


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
Joan Grubin explains "Portal" to Leni

Joan Grubin explains "Portal" to Leni

I love the Mid-Manhattan Library on West 40th and Fifth Avenue, the poor  cousin to the 1911, iconic lion flanked  and landmarked white-marble Beaux-Arts revival Research Library building, across the street… which at times is referred to as the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, and more recently as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building designed by Carrère and Hastings.

The Mid-Manhattan Library, the destination of many a 4th floor  picture research foray,  is a limestone and granite building built in 1915.   In 1961 New York Public Library set its sights on 455 Fifth Avenue, and in 1970, the Mid-Manhattan officially opened — on the fourth through sixth floors above the The Arnold Constables Department Store.   In 1982 Mid-Manhattan took possession of the entire building, renovated by Artist/Architect Giorgio Cavaglieri. Today Mid-Manhattan  houses the largest circulating and reference collections in NYPL’s branches.

On Thursday early evening, the Light Projects staff and I walked over to the library, through Bryant Park, to visit Joan Grubin’s “Portal“, a perception-popping window installation.


Joan’s work is an adventure of paper, paint and light.  Her studies in reflection and texture have, in these public pieces, literally and optically deepened – the color and cut-outs lead the viewer to assume spatial relationships that change depending on vantage point and ambient light.

As we approached the library, the Portals glowed strongly, activated by the new 1 Bryant Park building as it reflected its urban beam of light onto the paper works.

Why worship?  Several years ago, arms filled with books and videos, I asked the clerk, “How many books may I check out”.  She answered sweetly, “As many as you need”.  It was then I fell in love with this generous mecca on Fifth Avenue.