Changing Attitudes Towards Underused Cityscapes With The Flick Of A Switch [Future of Light]

Changing Attitudes Towards Underused Cityscapes With The Flick Of A Switch [Future of Light]

Forgotten urban spaces are being reinvigorated through the deployment of creative lighting displays that promote safety and community.

  • 22 september 2013

Think back to a recent experience you’ve had walking home at night. Which areas did you avoid and which areas seemed to draw you in? Unless you were up to something surreptitious, we’re betting that you did your best to stick to the paths that were most well lit.

We have seen this time and time again in our own experience. The absence of light in an urban setting can be a cause for concern while its presence can provide a welcome sense of comfort. Perceptions of a city’s safety or vitality can hinge directly on how well you can see your surroundings, which helps you feel at ease as you walk from place to place. Ben Wilson of Wilson Brothers Design Co. explains:

Lighting attracts people to a city. It makes it safer, you can take something and amplify it. The right light and the right intensity in the right areas can really create the desired mood and effect.

clink street-london-philips

In a trend we are calling Welcoming Light, PSFK Labs has found that derelict and forgotten urban spaces are being reinvigorated through the deployment of creative lighting displays that promote safety and community. By harnessing the potential of light to create alluring environments, these installations challenge long-held assumptions around spaces fallen into disuse, carving out new possibilities around congregation, play, and safe passage.

Susanne Seitinger, City Innovations Manager at Philips Color Kinetics, says that basic street lighting is just the beginning. “Functional street lighting provides a base level of visual comfort for people to be able to find their way. The excitement comes from the ability to control that lighting in a more fine grained way, whether it’s just changing color temperatures or changing color or integrating light differently with architecture or with urban furniture or with any infrastructure.”


One example of light’s potential to do more than just illuminate is the Clink Street tunnel project in London. The program was launched to reinvigorate the six-mile (10 km) stretch of Victorian viaducts south of the Thames River in Central London by making it more appealing to the public. The project maps a dynamic lighting display onto the overhead space of a disused thoroughfare to improve safety and revitalize the area while preserving the historical value of the arch.

Created by the London-based lighting design firm Halo Lighting, the sophisticated display incorporates Philips Color Kinetics iColor Flex MX, flexible strands of full-color LED nodes capable of producing two- and three-dimensional patterns and video onto the archway of the tunnels. The lights are additionally programmed to correspond with the highs and lows of the pedestrian flow in the tunnel.

“It is amazing how sometimes derelict spaces are only missing one or two things that are important to energize them,” comments Ed Bakos, managing director of interior design firm Champalimaud. “Certainly a sense of personal safety is one those things that is linked to making successful spaces.”

sophie valla - led project - gas station

Another manifestation of light’s potential to revive aspects of the urban landscape is the LED Cloud project in northern Amsterdam’s Noorderpark area. The project uses luminescent lights to draw viewers into two derelict 1980s-era gas stations by converting them into welcoming public art installations. Created by Amsterdam-based French architect Sophie Valla, the two petrol stations use LED panels and spotlights to achieve an artificial sky effect. Valla even managed to incorporate welcoming light elements in the installation’s security:

Security was a big issue as the stations were isolated, the windows were broken regularly. I was asked to install a fence on the elevation but we proposed golden shutters instead, a customized devices that would be attractive to the public instead of a repulsive fence. I believe that carefulness brought to the public spaces attracts more sympathy.

sophie valla-gas station-light-netherlands

In addition to attracting visitors through the use of light, Valla’s installation features concrete furniture that encourages people to remain and interact with one another. Her project intends to serve as an attraction for many people who are looking for low-cost leisure activities within the current economic climate.

Projects like the LED Cloud and Clink Street Tunnel reinvigorate areas of the city that have fallen into disuse by adding lighting that encourages public congregation and passage. We may see more cities experimenting the use of color schemes for demarcating neighborhoods, parks and passageways in promoting city safety and identity.

These examples fall under the larger theme we’re calling Luminous Relationships, which explores how lighting designs can trigger positive emotional responses, changing a person’s relationship with their friends and family, their surroundings and even the products that occupy their lives.

The Future of Light series explores light’s potential to improve lives, build communities, and connect people in new and meaningful ways. Brought to you in partnership with Philips Lighting, a full report is available as an iOS and Android app or as a downloadable PDF.

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