April 15, 2012

Light and the city: culture, design and industry

Frankfurt, April 2012

With the advent of electricity in the late 19th Century, stage lighting became a complex art; lighting designers could for the first time highlight significant action, give it colour, and use changes in lighting to re-enforce the narratives of events on stage. Computerized lighting-boards have more recently expanded the expressive powers of the lighting designer. The advent of electricity in illuminating cities has not proven as refined a tool. Urban streets tended to become flood with generalized, indiscriminate light, especially with the advent of sodium lighting in the 1950s. Light pollution became in the last half of the 20th Century a significant issue, consuming (and wasting) vast amounts of energy; socially indiscriminate lighting did not guide or highlight individuals as they moved through urban space; and ironically, the gross lighting of urban spaces did little to promote urban safety.

On Sunday April 15, a group of loosely aligned writers, thinkers and practitioners assembled in Frankfurt at the Städelschule for an evening of conversation on the theme of light and the city. The timing of the event coincided with ‘Light+Building’, billed as the world’s largest biennial trade fair on lighting and intelligent building design. Because of the event, Frankfurt played host to a number of local and international designers, industry leaders, engineers, buyers, academics, innovators and retailers. Our gathering was concerned with questioning the role of light in urban spaces, to think about the politics of surpluses and deficits of light globally, and the relationship between light and space in streets and in the theatre, and the connections between light and architecture in a social context.