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Public spaces

Public lighting for tomorrow’s cities: interview with Marc Aurel

Public lighting in London

Before considering public lighting for the future, shouldn’t we try to imagine the changes that are taking and will take place in our societies? Marc Aurel constantly poses this question as he conceives the role of a designer as providing a “prospective” vision as a basis for concrete innovations. The Urban Design Observatory met the man who has designed new public transport spaces in Paris to discuss lighting for our future cities.

Before focusing on public lighting, let’s talk about the transformations taking place in our urban spaces particularly regarding transport. How do you imagine our future cities?

In terms of transport, we are increasingly moving towards the idea of “shared transport” with more diverse choices. The question of quality thus becomes very important – not only the quality of the vehicles themselves, but also of the waiting spaces and interconnections between different modes of transport.

When we talk about a new kind of “mobility”, this refers to a “multiple mobility” that gives users a choice of transports so they can decide how to travel based on their needs.

Let’s take the counter-example of megalopolis like Sao Paulo (12 million inhabitants) or Istanbul (15 million inhabitants) where you are obliged to use the car with all its inconveniences. There are few alternative forms of transport and the biggest question becomes “how can I get where I want without getting stuck in traffic jams?”

For me, true modernity lies in the possibility of choosing from a range of pubic transports methods including trams, buses, BHNS, metro, cable cars, river ferries, self-service electric cars, as well as “soft” transport like bicycles.

Public lighting in Hyeres, France

Anello Light at Hyères, by Marc Aurel

This approach tackles the real questions linked to the development of our cities and is central when designing street furniture and lighting, which is the focus of my work.

In this context, how can lighting accompany the cities of tomorrow?

In tomorrow’s cities there will be less cars and more public transport. Pedestrians will therefore have more freedom. Public lighting will need to adapt to this.

Today, lighting is largely used to manage the relationship between cars and pedestrians at night. Intense and uniform, the lighting aims to reassure.

In the future, it will be interesting to create night atmospheres that are not conditioned by this car/pedestrian relationship, but rather coherent with each specific place.

Public lighting in Venice

A series of light atmospheres in Venice.

Venice is a good example of this as the centre has been completely pedestrianized. The lighting is not characterised by its intensity or uniformity, but rather each public space has its own unique lighting atmosphere. The city’s architectural context without doubts plays an important role, but this also demonstrates that link between security and lighting is very relative.

In the future, public lighting will no longer be restricted by cars. We will therefore be able to concentrate on the quality and diversity of light atmospheres that can be adapted to different spaces, rather than just the main symbolic areas like the main shopping streets or the town hall.

Do you think that current public lighting is adapted to these new needs in terms of quality and energy efficiency?

As I explained, today lighting always follows the same logic imposed by cars. Roadside lighting dominates and structures our cities.

Given this context, manufacturers don’t consider different kinds of lighting, because it isn’t their role, but rather try to “provide better lighting”. This in itself is already a very positive step.

The idea of adapting lighting intensity at different moments during the night is currently receiving much attention, as is the use of more efficient LED lights that consume far less energy.

This is the first step, but it is still not enough in order to respond to the changes that are taking place.

Public lighting in Poitiers

Lighting mood in Poitiers

Once less focused on cars, we can start to imagine new kinds of lighting that are more environmentally-friendly, easy to install and more flexible to create a new night-time landscape.

It is important to know whether lighting will continue to run on electricity that requires cables, which can be difficult to implement, or whether new kinds of energy will give us more freedom in terms of form and installation.

Which lighting projects do you find really innovative?

For me, the real innovation is LED lights, although they are still largely simply used to replace traditional lights. When in fact LED makes it possible to work in 3D with different effects and intensities to create sophisticated lighting moods.

In the French city of Poitiers, we used the innovative potential of LED lighting to create the Anello light in collaboration with iGuzzini.

This lamp was designed as a “light support” that can fitted with different coloured LED lights using differentiated power circuits. It is possible to create complementary and changing lighting moods using the same object.

In the future, it will be a question of creating cheaper yet more effective lighting. This could be achieved using light emitting diodes, but this requires electricity and needs to be connected to a network.  The constraints imposed when installing the lighting force local planning authorities to consider costs in terms of individual light sources rather than the overall atmosphere created.

Image of the Anello light by Marc Aurel

The Anello light designed by Marc Aurel

In order to find alternative solutions, we are also currently working with the European Ceramic Cluster to develop photo-luminescent ceramics that don’t use cables. Photo-luminescent objects recharge using the daylight and stay luminous for five to seven hours. These ceramics wouldn’t be able to provide dense and direct lighting, but could be used as part of a lighting mood punctuated with “luminous objects” like benches, poles and shelters.

To conclude, are there any cities that you consider very advanced in terms of lighting?

Technology is changing very rapidly and it is therefore difficult for cities to make choices that won’t become obsolete in a few years. Many still have a very traditional approach to lighting using sodium or iodide, as long-term investments help reduce local authority budgets.

Nevertheless, some cities are very innovative although usually only in a limited number of spaces such as the town hall or the cathedral.

Changes in the way we use public spaces will inevitably lead to important changes in the nocturnal lighting landscapes of our cities. There is still lots of work to do to achieve this!

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