In the discussion about street lighting, we’re hearing a lot about ultra efficient LED light sources and smart city / IoT capabilities. While these technologies are undoubtedly part of the landscape of the future of street lighting, we rarely hear anything about conserving the actual design of street lights themselves or the importance of their historical context within the urban environment.
Although we take them for granted, the designs of street lights contribute hugely to the overall look and feel of the urban environment. The LA street lights depicted in the photo above as part of Chris Burden’s ‘Urban Light’ installation at the LACMA can also still be found in numerous LA areas, such as Beverly Hills, and simply ooze 1920s Los Angeles. I, for one, enjoy the idiosyncrasies of street light design. In Berlin, where I live, you can still tell whether you’re on the West or East side of the former Berlin Wall by the designs of the street lamps – of which there are several beautiful variations on both sides.
Unfortunately, we’re seeing historic street lighting being replaced all too often by ultra BRIGHT, ultra white and characterless LED lamps.
I may well be a futurist, but I firmly believe that it is our duty to find a balance between technology and historical context. Yes, we want our cities to be smart and efficient. But surely not at the expense of the quality of the urban landscape?
Fortunately, a new development in California could be illuminating a potential third way. In her recent Citylab article entitled “The Future of the Streetlight Might Be in the Past”, Laura Bliss tells of a new competition from the L.A. mayor’s office inviting designers to reimagine the rich history of civic illumination to design next-generation streetlights.
“Our city is in the midst of an unprecedented effort to reinvest in and reanimate its public realm,” Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote in a competition brief that went live online in November. “We need a streetlight that safely illuminates all of that activity while at the same time expresses a design sensibility that is unmistakably contemporary—and proudly of, and for, Los Angeles.”
The civic importance placed upon the streetlight here is highly commendable, especially considering the enormous financial constraints placed upon cities such as LA to find cost effective solutions for public lighting. Most importantly, in the face of the relentless pursuit of the new, LA – of all places – has recognised the importance of keeping an element of its heritage in the greater LA streetscape, however banal it may seem. W
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