“Lighting in the civic sphere is not without its challenges; every project requires us to consider diverse viewpoints, as space is utilized by a broad cross-section of people.”

Light has been unfettered since inception. However, when human beings began to colonize light through electricity, there was an immediate premium put on light and lighting. That continues to this day. In order to free light for the masses and help the visual fabric of the night in public areas, we work on projects that have a civic, historic, or cultural significance with great motivation, often taking them on a pro-bono basis. The structures and places we light impact the quality of life of people from all walks of life without discrimination.

The quality of the lit environment in the civic space has a substantial impact on local pride, identity, commerce, tourism, and, possibly, the reduction of crime. It provides spaces for families, the elderly, children, and the disenfranchised. Light draws focus, creating awareness with a curated emphasis. It can direct how a place’s identity is understood by visitors and community members alike. It can empower communities in darkness to get more out of their day by learning, working or making other valuable contributions at night. It can even work to create a sense of safety and openness on an urban scale. In the civic realm, light can be “free” and unbound.

When we are given opportunities to light buildings in the civic sphere, we focus intently on heightening the experience of the visitor and we are pleased to use our technical and design skills for the public at large. Lighting in the civic sphere is not without its challenges. Every project will invariably require many viewpoints to be considered as space is utilized by a broad cross-section of peoples. Beyond that, the architectural style, building structure, historical perspectives, and cultural context have relevance for the eventual design.

While developing a concept for civic space, we also have to consider the multiple viewing angles that the structure is seen from. If space or structure is only seen when you are driving past it or from a distance, the lighting solution may be substantially different from a space that people “wade” through. This is because of the spatial frequency that the structure subtends on the eye and whether the visual experience requires acuity or is better experienced via peripheral vision. If the experience is immediate and up close, then we try to develop immersive environments, as against planar experiences that create visual boundaries.

We were commissioned by the United Nations Foundation to generate a lighting project that would help raise awareness of the malaria problem in Africa. The design content and form of the installation was inspired by the African “village.” It positioned participants in a “night in Africa” within a small village united to engage in its rich local community. For this evening event, the light was used to visualize a series of mosquito nets, drawing the observer’s attention immediately to the central cause. The illuminated African “village” allusion drew parallels to their end-use for observers.

“Light has been unfettered since inception.”

Another one of our projects, the Golden Temple in Amritsar (India) took on another flavor altogether, as it is experienced from both a distant and immediate perspective. It is the most important religious place for Sikhs. Our intention was to create a lighting scheme that alluded to the architecture of the complex while allowing for near and far experiences. It was important to highlight the natural beauty of the architecture without encumbering it with conflicting shadows and color distortion. A true-color rendering of the real gold that clads the temple was of paramount importance, as one did not want the gold to look like tin or any other metal, especially as the temple is known as the “Golden Temple.” By lighting the Golden Temple exterior with this sensitive strategy, it emanated the sanctity of the events taking place within. From across the lake and within the community, successful lighting emphasizes its presence and significance.

Beyond the personal and private domains in our lives, there are spaces that we all share — spaces where we come together as a collective whole to work, worship, play, think, and live. These spaces referred to here as civic infrastructure, form the fabric of our cities and communities. The University of California, Davis, unveiled one of the most advanced outdoor lighting systems in the country, a roughly $1 million network of “smart” lights that talk to each other and adapt to their environment. “The face of the campus is changing and the face of California is changing. Exterior lighting is going to be smart, safe, and adaptive,” said Michael Siminovitch, Director of the UC Davis California Lighting Technology Center. “What we’ve done at UC Davis is massively replicable and it will have to be.”

Adaptive lighting adjusts light levels to suit activity levels, using such tools as occupancy sensors and multilevel lighting. The new UC Davis project wirelessly connects more than 1,400 energy-efficient lights along pathways and roadways to the main control area, so that lights that once operated in solitude are now “talking” to each other as part of a seamless web. The lighting can be scheduled and adjusted for increased or decreased levels of activity, such as during sporting events, or to guide pedestrians along preferred routes. The system senses occupants, whether on foot, bicycle, or automobile, predicts their direction of travel, and lights the path ahead. The smart network also senses when areas are vacant, then dims lights enough to save energy and reduce light pollution, without compromising on safety.

“This is because of the spatial frequency that the structure subtends on the eye and whether the visual experience requires acuity or is better experienced via peripheral vision.”

When it comes to infrastructure, most people think of public works such as bridges, tunnels, dams, and so on. But public infrastructure can more accurately be recognized as any construct that is used by the general population. Civil infrastructure projects have been a part of our design portfolio since the firm’s inception and designing projects and spaces for public use is an important engagement for the lighting design.

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