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Interview with François Migeon: the urban lighting in the city of the future

15 November 2020

Can light transform itself from an instrument of vision to an object of vision? Can urban lighting have a social impact? How can IoT technology improve the livability of a city? We talked about it with the lighting designer François Migeon

 

Urban lighting has always had the function of making the city visible in the dark hours to improve the safety and usability of the public space even at night. Can the city lights be not only instrumental to vision but also object of vision?

Essentially the theme of lighting corresponds to the theme of the night associated with urbanity, therefore with city life. For a long time the answer to the need to illuminate the city has been purely technical; today, however, more attention is paid to the nocturnal atmosphere. The safety aspect remains very important, even if safety and usability do not always go hand in hand. The role of the lighting designer is to find the fragile balance between these two axioms, establishing principles in which the quality of light must be the first element perceived, and generate, through this qualitative research, a feeling of security.

Today the city is increasingly becoming a place of experimentation, new applications have been introduced in recent years and allow peolpe to see the city at night thanks to the lighting projects is one of the challenges of our profession. The creation of bright paths in the city and the organization of night cultural events, as well as the tendency to wander the streets, has changed the state itself of the night. If in the countryside the night is a source of calm and fullness, the city offers various ways to “live the night”. A staircase, an important square, a main axis that unites road and pedestrian traffic will be included globally, through a game of great perspectives, and will be the alignments, the heights of the lights, the quantity and the color temperature of the light, to express the urbanity of the site. Furthermore we have to add external elements such as the sound (the reverberation of the “noises” of the city), the colour of the materials and everything else that contributes to determine a specific place, which together generate an overall image that stimulates in us the creation of an impression.

On the contrary, in a smaller urban center where every element of the night composition will be perceived, the choice of a specific lantern and its design will become a strong and representative element of the place. We have recently illuminated a city center in the Parisian suburbs (Sucy en Brie), working on two fundamental principles: on one side, a lantern suspended on a catenary, which produces the desired light on the ground and emphasizes its presence through design, both day and night; on the other side, very discreet micro-projectors, which focus the attention on architectural details, elements of the frame that characterize the city streets.

 

A welcoming city is a city where it is pleasant to stop, meet and get to know each other. The attention to the quality of the urban space can improve the inclusiveness of a city by encouraging the creation of social ties and strengthening the sense of belonging to a territory. Can also urban lighting improve the attractiveness of an urban space and have a social impact on city communities?

The welcoming city is a recurring term, which everyone appropriates without knowing exactly how to achieve it. Night light plays a key role in this notion, it also has a strong impact: thanks to it we contribute to revealing urban or landscape spaces, architectures, elements that make up the city. Each space has its specificity, generally linked to its uses; it is up to us to emphasize its qualities in the conceptual approach to our projects. Today the organization of cities is opening up to a mix of uses, the era of a “separate and compartmentalized” city no longer makes sense, in particular due to the change in the role of cars in public spaces. Light now can unite where it used to separate uses.

The manufacturers’ catalogues, which are very often developed starting from the requests of lighting designers, are becoming increasingly focused on design research and full of inventions related to new technologies. They allow to provide solutions in terms of aesthetic and visual comfort (even if there is still a long way to go), with developments in the optics that let to satisfy a very wide range of specificities according to the needs of the place to illuminate. The lighting of the public space is therefore only a component of the perception, it mixes with the multiple lights of the city, the light of shops, houses, signs and advertisements that contribute to the creation of the overall image of a place. Let’s leave these “commercial” spaces now and focus on the other areas, often forgotten, where the social challenges are the strongest. In order to illuminate a street with houses and without shops, we will be asked to avoid favouring night aggregation. With the aim of preventing complaints from local residents, we will offer a more uniform, rather soft and fairly contained lighting. In doing so, how can we simultaneously satisfy the demand of a younger population who wants to gather in often forgotten neighbourhoods?

Thanks to the new technologies and remote control tools, we can privilege a space that has less impact on the quiet of the city, being more generous with the use of lighting. We can also program the lighting taking into account the passage of time, reaching the complete turning off of the light in some areas. On the lighting level, we are able to offer balances between residential spaces, meeting spaces, play areas and passageways, guaranteeing access and separation to the various areas of the city. The lighting project designed for a specific space should allow people to discover the multiple faces of the city, overcoming the usual daily limits.

 

Can the integration of IoT (Internet of Things) technology into urban lighting systems really improve the livability of a city?

In these pandemic times we are witnessing an explosion of social bonds, without physical contact, and if this allows us today to partially break the isolation, it also shows us how much we lack the real contact. If the city is a place of sharing, first of all we must encourage meeting and exchange. If the public space is a place where people can connect and isolate themselves virtually, we have done something wrong.

The connected city therefore must be attentive and offer targeted assistance to develop an understanding of a place, to welcome people into the space itself, but above all avoid to create a break with “the other”. We will have to find the right balance between the ease of relying on our connections and the pleasure of approaching each other, making our cities “pleasant and lively”.

If the connected city, thanks to the public lighting, allows us to meet “right next to the bench in front of the town hall, under the lamppost that flashes 3 times, just for us”, then that city will be really in contact with its inhabitants. If I can share the reading of a poem or listen to a piece of music with a meaning in relation to the place where I am, simply by connecting my smartphone to the public lighting system, then that city will be characterized by a sensitive intelligence that will give added value to my city.

 

Credits to: Cariboni Group

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