The ongoing success of Sydney’s Vivid festival shows how governments can transform the job of lighting public spaces from the functional to the spectacular; drawing people into a city, moving them around the space and giving the economy a shot in the arm.
Urban design expert Susanne Seitinger, from Philips Lighting, specialises in lighting parks and open spaces and is in Sydney speaking at the Media Architecture Biennale, as part of Vivid 2016.
Seitinger says LED lighting has not only cut energy bills and reduced greenhouse gases for governments, it has also opened up new ways of bringing public spaces to life and changed how lighting can be integrated with other elements, such as urban furniture and architecture.
“It’s really transformative how you can integrate lighting with these kinds of things and have the ability to work with light in many more diverse ways,” Seitinger says.
A prime example of how responsive lighting has become was when the London Eye was lit up to reflect the mood of British people on Twitter during the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics.
Social media company SosoLimited used an algorithm to track the sentiment of Brits around the Olympics in the world’s first social media driven light show: yellow for excited, green for neutral and purple for negative feelings towards the Games.
“It was a giant mood ring for the city and used Twitter to gauge the state of the nation, reflecting it back to the city every evening,” she says.
Lighting was also used to express solidarity for the victims of the November 2015 Paris attacks as buildings and monuments all around the world lit up in the colours of the French flag.
“It was a very interesting expression of solidarity and it occurs because we have this ability to respond to what’s going on in the world. It’s such a flexible medium,” she says.
One of the biggest benefits of LED lighting for local councils is that it has given them a great deal more control over now public spaces are lit. Smart lighting can dim when there is nobody around and kick in when a pedestrian enters a space.
Another significant benefit is that street lighting can be managed instantly and remotely as real-time information is conveyed to target maintenance crews more effectively and reduce outages.
Buenos Aires, in Argentina, is connecting its street lighting to a smart city dashboard to track key performance indicators around energy savings and operational effectiveness. The system was introduced because the government was concerned about outages and storm water damage.
“It really changes how you think about the way you want to organise your city operations around monitoring that device,” Seitinger says.
Traditionally, people have generally expected light to come from above but lighting can also be embedded at different angles and positioned to create enveloping spaces.
Part of the feeling behind this approach is to light external spaces as though they were interiors to make them more inviting.
“How you place light in an environment has become really a question of urban design; interesting ways of creating comfortable spaces through layers of light. It’s a different approach to place making,” says Seitinger.
Using lighting originally can create a massive buzz around a city and also deliver financially for councils.
Some councils have lit up areas at night to promote extended hours trading on their shopping strips, Seitinger says: “They’re using creative lighting to set the stage for these kinds of activities.”
When the Spanish city of Toledo relit its iconic monument there was a jump in hotel bookings by 17 per cent.
“That’s really important for a council because more people are spending more time and money in their city.”
She singles out Sydney’s Vivid, for the way it captivates and showcases the city – not to mention bringing industry and business out in force for the giant, artistically-lit schmoozefest.
“”Vivid is a special event. It makes a huge contribution to the city.
“We’re seeing places that think about it [lighting] as part of their every-day infrastructure.”
“It is about providing the right kind of light at the right time. In the past it was very difficult to adjust lighting strengths according to different needs,” she says.
Scenarios might include adjusting lighting up as schools close or illuminating areas where pedestrians feel unsafe, such as underpasses, or paths across parks or playing fields.
Seitinger says cities with waterfront areas are becoming more aware of the need to light them and to show-off their features.
The focus is on reclaiming waterfront areas and making them attractive public spaces. For example, Little Rock in Arkansas invested heavily in its downtown area, creating a vibrant waterfront, lighting up bridges and building new concert venues.
“I think cities in general are becoming more aware of the need to choreograph their night-time and lighting plays a key role in that. Whether it’s a 12 or 24-hour city a lot more attention is going to be placed on lighting [and] really focussing on creating unique spaces, as well.”
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