The Science Of Art and Light

How light and art work together to brighten, and better, our world.
Jason Socrates Bardi, Editor

(Inside Science) -- Light is a lifeline for much of the living world. Lizards seek out cracks in the shade, flowers stretch toward windowpanes, and we ourselves awaken with the dawn. We know that light affects us physically: Too much can burn our skin, too little and we stumble. But we also know that, deeper still, light holds sway over our emotions and well-being.

Let’s say when you’re at home and you’re shaving yourself in the morning and you are impacted by a greenish low-quality light. Then it’s not a good way to start the day.

“Lighting can affect our mood, and our well-being. So lighting, we rely on daylight to synchronize our daily rhythms of sleep and wake cycle. Lighting can really lift our mood and put us in a really good place that makes maybe work better, work a bit harder a bit more proficiently. It means the children are able to work more efficiently at school. It’s the same as, if you go to a restaurant, you’re not going to want harsh overhead lighting; you want something warm and cozy. Lighting plays a really important role in making sure you’ve created the right atmosphere,” said Liz Peck, president of the Society of Light & Lighting.

Atmosphere: a provocative word conjuring seascapes and mountaintops. Yet lighting designers are concerned with showcasing human achievements in similarly inspired ways, using light to bring vitality to cities around the world.

According to Gustavo Aviles, light architect on the International Year of Light Committee, “Good lighting could be something that is related to the people that live in the city. Not only putting lights in the streets, just to be visible, but this visibility has to have maybe a sequence, an understanding of space. It gives you the possibility to see where you are, or where I am, or where I am going to.”

“Lighting of public spaces and civic areas can really bring a city to life. When we did the night of heritage projected onto Iron Bridge, we really brought that community together. We had a color changing scheme, and we had children racing across the bridge to see if they could get to the other side before it changed color,” said Peck.

“Cities now understand that they have to have their own image. And this image shouldn’t be only be by sunlight. It could be possible to also have a night skyline image. And this would improve the security, the orientation, the presence, the identity, the legacy of the city by itself,” said Aviles.

“The ideal city in terms of lighting is probably a city where lighting is beautiful, lighting is useful, lighting is sustainable. It’s also a city that takes into account the citizens in terms of the lighting projects and then builds those lighting projects, and lighting masterplans for the citizens,” said Mark Burton-Paige, general director at LUCI.

“In Spain for example, for years, the lighting in the streets was for the cars. Most of the politicians, engineers, lighting designers -- they think that the lighting in a space must be uniform, and now the trend is changing. Because in the cities there’s more streets and therefore pedestrians. So, we now in the lighting projects, we focus on the pedestrians, not on the cars,” said Jose Cardona, lighting designer at Artec3 studios.

In Barcelona, for example, Cardona helped design innovative streetlamps that integrate LED technology with motion detectors to spotlight pedestrian’s paths at night. By shutting off city lights when travelers were not in the vicinity, Barcelona has cut its power consumption by 30 percent. In collaborations like this between cities and lighting designers, everyone benefits.

“One of the best ways to develop lighting projects and lighting plans and creating masterplans for the cities is to consider working in partnership. The cities lead the process, and they start it by putting together a pilot group of the most important stakeholders around city, together along with the lighting designer. The lighting designer is the expert who will give the concept, give the philosophy of the project,” said Burton-Paige.

In Teruel, Spain, Cardona and his colleagues leveraged their expertise to elegantly feature the historic city’s heritage while avoiding modern trappings.

“[Inaudible] Teruel is a very small city in Spain, it’s around 50,000 people. The thing in this area, is that they have a lot of heritage, the facades are very beautiful. So, we tried to do a special lighting design without putting poles in the square, just lighting the facades and make this kind of low resolution screen in the parliament with different pieces of LED,” said Cardona.

“The city by itself speaks and tells us stories, and tells us something more than only visibility. And this has been a major commitment among all the cities in the world,” said Aviles.

“Lighting can be a tool to change the world, to have some urban, sustainable, social, cultural, economic development, through the technologies, through the science, through art. Art is a very important aspect that move[s] people. I think if we put art and science together in the various aspects of light but also in the very many more aspects of social life, then we can make a change,” said Burton-Paige.

“I think that light is related to so many disciplines. Light is not only the visual phenomena, it’s related to the state of mind, it’s related to the humor, the psychology, history. So, in that case it’s not only this kind of straight film, it has a lot of sequences, scenes. I’ve always said that light is a universal pacifier, it gives you peace in relation to everything. And we are always following the light. Light is always trying to tell us where to be. And so, we follow it,” said Aviles.

Light is leading civic leaders to a beautiful and creative future all around the globe. Light is integral to nourishing new life. Revitalizing efforts are now joining the world round, a united endeavor of peace to better the common spaces that so many call home. 

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Jason Socrates Bardi is the former News Director of the American Institute of Physics and a longtime science writer.