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Exhibition: the future of urban lighting

03 Oct 2017

By Roger Narboni, curator, lighting designer

When I embarked on this exhibition project a couple of years ago, the future scenario I immediately had in mind was a city somewhere around the year 2053. If we are thinking of what will or might happen in the field of urban lighting in 36 years from now, we also need to think about what the state of urban lighting was 36 years ago, in 1981.

It was purely functional everywhere. There was no lighting design profession dedicated to urban spaces, the lamps available were only halogen, fluorescent and discharge lamps, and the pedestrian fixtures were only "historical" or, if "modern", white spheres. Street lighting was the rule.

The few outdoor architectural lighting designs existing then, generally comprised floodlights positioned in front of the façades to be illuminated. There were no lighting master plans or lighting strategies, no creative nightscapes and nothing that could be described as urban luminous ambiences. And citizens were never involved in any choice or decision regarding the lighting for public spaces.

The urban lighting is related to the urban fabric: to urban planning, the design of the public realm, renovation projects or the construction of new architecture. Our cities have changed a lot in comparison since those days, if you take into account new mobility concepts, new uses of public spaces, new possibilities for creating amazing architecture and the obvious necessities regarding sustainability, respect of the environment and preservation of the dark sky as well as of nocturnal biodiversity.

Thinking about the future of urban lighting in 2053 therefore definitely also means considering the future of urban planning, the evolution of the city and its urban spaces in relation to new mobility concepts and the new architectural trends.

That is why it was important for me to invite lighting designers from all over the world to dream freely about what the future might look like:

  • How will luminous ambiences designed for pedestrians, spaces that address our senses, develop in the public realm, with maybe the total disappearance of street poles and their boring regularity?

  • How will we integrate issues of circadian rhythm, a sense of well-being, and neuroscience into our daily work when designing lighting for public spaces?

  • How can citizens be encouraged and invited to imagine and create their own lighting environments, and how this new lighting democracy will transform the city's image and feel by night.

  • Will darkness, the development of dark infrastructures around and in the cities, and the issue of dark therapy, be part of our concern with every new urban lighting project we are commissioned to design?

  • What will new tools and new opportunities, such as bioluminescence and the possible discovery of bioLeds, give us?

  • What role will luminous architecture and luminous materials (on the ground and/or façades) play in the lighting of public and private outdoor spaces in future?

  • How might the development of personal lights, autonomous lighting devices, luminous drones and luminous clothes transform our way of thinking or designing the lighting for an urban space?

  • How might future genetic mutations, the development of human prostheses, the eye implants, or bionic and robotic technologies partially or totally change our night vision and the way we move around after dark?

Thinking ahead to 2053, what kind of balance will there be between designed urban lighting in future and the public lighting designed today, which may still be in use then?

What other unexpected issues might crop up, such as changes in citizens' behaviour, or the emergence of yet unknown technologies?

The preparation for this exhibition was a great challenge for all of us, for our thoughts, our works, our researches and our profession, and I would like to express my sincere thanks to all the lighting designers and the studios that immediately accepted the invitation to participate in this "adventure", as well as to the producer VIA-Verlag, and the three showroom sponsors Erco, Fagerhult and Zumtobel, who have made this event possible.

I was looking for dreams, philosophical approaches, and visions of the city of the future and of urban lighting, because I do believe that giving intellectual and technological shape to a possible future could paradoxically bring it about.

So come to Paris and let's travel together to 2053 and discover what our cities could become at night.




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