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Light Research @ MMU

Urban Lighting, Light Pollution and Society

urban lighting, light pollution and societyA recently published book, Urban Lighting, Light Pollution and Society, has been edited by Josiane Meier, Ute Hasenöhrl, Katharina Krause and Merle Pottharst. All four were members of the interdisciplinary Loss of the Night research collaboration, and are based at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the Technical University of Berlin and at the Leibniz-Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning in Erkner. This fabulous volume focuses upon urban lighting and light pollution from a social sciences and humanities perspective. It highlights current debates, among them ways in which light pollution might be defined and may be alleviated by emergent technologies and policies. Highly recommended.

January 16th, 2015 - 16:37pm

Experimenting with light in Copenhagen – and the dangers of responsive lighting

Here’s a link to a fascinating piece on experimentation with smart lighting technologies in Copenhagen. Tellingly, the author also comments on the potential for such technologies to be deployed to intensifty surveillance and impose strict regimes of  law and order. This is a salient reminder that the rolling out of smart lighting promises much in improving the quality of the aesthetics and sustainability of urban illumination but the dangers need to be acknowledged as well!

October 31st, 2014 - 10:26am

Trees at VIVID: @DrHG on #VividSydney: trees and bushland

 The Qantas air steward said, ‘You must go to Vivid Sydney – the city is all lit up’. So on the first evening I took the train to Circular Quay and the Harbour. Wow. The Opera House, an off-white colour in the daytime, was transformed by reds, greens, blacks, animal prints… I am in Australia researching enthusiasm for trees and I’ve just finished reading a paper by Jodi Frawley (‘Campaigning for street trees, Sydney Botanic Gardens, 1890s–1920s’, Environment and History, 15(3): 303–22) about campaigning for street trees in Sydney Botanic Gardens in the 1890s–1920s. There is a fascinating history of trees in Sydney as a means of claiming space and encouraging settlement. For Frawley, trees were also important “as urban technologies, which added shade and beauty to [the] streets” (2009: 318). Light and shade in the form of trees continue to be central to Sydney’s heritage, and two installations at Vivid Sydney emphasise this.cadman

First, just opposite the Opera House, is Cadman’s Cottage, built in 1816 and one of the few buildings that remain from the first 30 years of the colony. The display is called Mystery of Creation (Fragments of the Seasons) by Heinz Kasper/Robert Faldner, and is described as a ‘poem of light and sound … projecting nature’s changes onto a concrete facade: Flowers blossom, only to wilt; trees wither, only to grow anew. The wind whispers in the tree; its leaves embody alchemy in the transformation of living colour, from green into yellow and red; leaves dance and drop off in a storm; and once again you see a bare tree’.

urban tree project

The second stop was in Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD. A clump of trees growing out of the street scene. This was impressive – watching the trees and animals climb higher and higher. – the Urban Tree Project’, produced by Nicholas Tory, Lucy Keeler, Martin Crouch, Julian Reinhold and Iain Greenhaigh’ covers the MLC building, offering a living tree within the dense urban jungle. The projection hints at Sydney’s bushland heritage.

Text and photographs by Hilary Geoghegan:

June 2nd, 2014 - 06:04am

Interactive Displays at VIVID: The Pool, Ray and Mirror Heart Ball

As the entry below about the Harbour Bridge exemplifies, one of the key elements of VIVID, perhaps the defining characteristic of the festival, is the multitude of ways that installations invite people to interact with them. Three adjacent harbourside attractions encourage visitors to discard self-consciousness and perform in public space in ways they would usually not, adding to the giddy atmosphere. Visitors can move between these attractions, engaging with them through different physical actions that loosen inhibitions and produce an effect not unlike that of a fairground.PoolPool2

First is The Pool, an area fitted with over a hundred concentric circular pads. Visitors leap between pads, producing a burst of colour when you land according to how heavily you land, and they also respond to the volume of participants in the intensity of their colours and the speed with which they change colour. On busy nights, the scene is of a horde of people of all ages, jumping between pads, collectively generating swirling, dynamic patterns of colour, enjoying the tactile engagement with the soft plastic material and the swirling movement of bodies and light.

Ray, by contrast, is activated by visitors when they pull on one of three ropes that charge pods to activate the bright colours of the sculpture, powered by solar power, that shoot up to the top of the sculpture and then surge down its base in in myriad, ever-changing patterns of light. The amount and flow of light depends upon the energy with which the ropes are tugged. The socio-political significance of the display inheres in how it may also be interacted with virtually, on social media, where Ray discusses the quantity of the solar charge he accumulates, with information about how many Australian homes this could power, in comparison to the number of smaller Indian slum dwellings.

Finally, is Mirror Heart BaRayll. The installation, which takes the form of a pulsing ballroom floor of ever changing colours bordered at one end by neon strips formed into a vertical heart shape, is populated with dancing adults and children, enthusiastically to cavort wildly. The display was inspired by the stage version of the popular Australian film, Strictly Ballroom, and served as the centrepiece for the Destination NSW float in Sydney’s celebrated Mardi Gras parade this year, serving as a subtle advertisement for the show. The playful design thus seems to recognise both the expressive quality of Baz Luhrman’s movie and celebrate the cultural significance of Mardi Gras, chiming with the camp, spectacular and expressive qualities of both ballroom culture and Mardi Gras. Here then, the display celebrates Sydney’s liberal qualities, and it is pleasing to see adults and children of all ages and kinds happily dancing upon what has been previously assigned as a stage for the transmission of this year’s Mardi Gras theme ‘kaleidoscope’ to the song, ‘Love is in the Air’. Camp performance seems to have transcended its usual cultural confines? Although the connections between the display and Mardi Gras culture may not be recognised by all visitors, some may argue that this is an easy, ‘acceptable’ way to market and incorporate Sydney’s sexual diversity and the Mardi Gras, and indeed, there is little overt representation of sexual diversity in the display, whereas a more overtly political, challenging representation of sexuality might be more challenging. On the other hand, the attraction seems to demonstrate the protean ways in which popular cultural forms, representations and practices that originate from particular contexts can extend into multiple spaces and be adopted to serve a range of purposes and express a range of identities (thanks to Anna de Jong and Gordon Waitt for their suggestions) Dancers Mirror Ball Heart

June 2nd, 2014 - 05:42am

Crowd Darkening: Designing darkness in a Berlin park

Light designer Sabine De Schutter is the winner of the 2013 CLU Foundation Contest for innovative lighting concepts for exterior public space. Sabine and colleagues were rewarded for devising the concept of Crowd Darkening, using an adaptive system of illumination that uses motion tracking to respond to movement and the numbers of people in a public park in Berlin. When few people were in the park, lighting levels rose to enhance feelings of security, whereas levels fell when the numbers of park users increased. Besides minimising the effects of light pollution, Sabine and the the team contend that a sense of safety is created by the presence of several other people in such a setting. Moreover, a sense of well-being and the quality of the atmosphere can be improved by producing a pleasing, comfortable setting  in which a group of friends can socialise. This is a fabulous example of the ways in which designers are increasingly questioning the need to flood public space with light, and reconsidering the qualities offered by darkness and shadow. I envisage that we are at the threshold of a bigger process through which the relationship between light and dark will be completely reconsidered


November 21st, 2013 - 10:39am