21st January 2014

Expert interview:
Urban design with light

Every city or town could benefit from sophisticated lighting solutions, because lighting is no longer limited to functionality only and optically attractive luminaires are used more and more often to make public spaces visually more appealing. We talked with lighting designer Oliver Christen about this sustained trend and about how the visual appeal of urban structures may be improved with customised lighting solutions.

"Lighting plays a decisive role in tomorrow's urban design."

1. Public lighting in cities, towns, and communities does not only have to be functional, but must also provide visual appeal. Does the concept of public lighting currently undergo a change?

This change is in full swing and has been for some years already. In large cities, but also in smaller towns and communities, appealing surroundings and thus public lighting have gained more and more significance. Here, modern lighting and luminaire designs can improve the feel-good factor of cities, towns, and communities and thus the quality of the time spent there.

2. In future, will this trend accelerate?

With increasing competition among the communities, this may be expected. Generally, it is noticeable that improving the quality of life plays an increasingly important role and that administrative bodies and private investors have become more and more interested in enhancing public spaces. Maybe in future, new city centre concepts with a significantly improved feel good factor may result again in more social centres of life. 
Lighting also plays a decisive role in tomorrow's urban design. Integrated and holistic concepts allow designers to create areas with a great feel-good ambience. This includes suitable site furnishings.

3. How can functionality requirements be successfully combined with design specifications for an outdoor luminaire?

form follows function. Following this principle, function should come before design or rather function and design should complement each other as much as possible. Many well-designed luminaires that combine workmanship and lighting technology successfully have already demonstrated for years that this does not need to be a contradiction.
Today, LED technology offers great design potential, thanks to the small size of the LEDs and thanks to their optical advantages such as dimming and colour changing systems. However, LEDs require special attention in terms for cooling and electronic components. This means that these components need to be cleverly integrated into the luminaire design to fulfil the optical requirements for usage at night and to provide visual appeal during the day.
In my opinion, using LEDs offers significantly more options for luminaire designs. In future, there will be a significantly wider range of modular systems and more flexible luminaire families on offer. Classic luminaires may also be used with technically advanced systems and thus make it easier for communities to introduce or upgrade to LED technology.

4. To accentuate existing urban structures and their special characteristics using public lighting systems, lighting concepts customised and developed especially for these spaces are required. Which challenges have to be overcome
to achieve this?

In addition to the use criteria specified for a lighting system, other parameters are becoming more and more important. Thus we not only find several different lighting technologies in one luminaire housing, for which  more and more often special customised solutions are required, but we also see new components such as charging stations, taxi call systems, public transport information points, and other new information media being incorporated into the design elements. Multifunctionality
is a keyword here.

5. What advantages do customised lighting solutions offer to cities, towns, and communities in the long run?

Modern lighting concepts with LED technology and its interactive or "adaptable" lighting can be effectively employed to have a positive impact on the development of city centres. A good concept should take into account the history of urban spaces as well as their current and future development. Here the use of customised lighting solutions offers an excellent way to increase the attractiveness and the quality of life of a city or town. City specific characteristics may be accentuated using special lighting designs, which also contributes significantly to improving the attractiveness of cities, towns, or communities.

Dipl.-Ing. Oliver Christen

The independent lighting designer and his company "Büro OC | Lichtplanung" in Diepholz specialise in municipal and architectural lighting. He advises and assists cities, towns, and communities regarding all questions about energy efficient lighting designs, from conception to the actual implementation. His most recently completed projects include lighting concepts for the site of the local museum in Rotenburg (Wümme) as well as for the assembly rooms "Wandelhalle" in Borkum. Currently, he works on the lighting design for the castle square in Varel and the interactive street lighting in Aurich.
OC | Lichtplanung
Kurzer Weg 1, 49356 Diepholz
Telephone 0049 54 41/99 54-35, Fax -36
E-mail: oliver.christen@oc-lichtplanung.de