Light is food
A con­ver­sa­tion with Prof. Dr.-Ing. Paul W. Sch­mits about light, urban spaces and well-being.

Light has an effect on our well-being – this sounds plau­si­ble in rela­tion to living areas or our work­spa­ces. But to what extent is this true for exte­rior areas and urban spaces?

Eve­ry­body has their own per­so­nal ideas about what well-being is. For a defi­ni­tion of well-being in the con­text of light, I would like to make refe­rence to the lighting plan­ner Wil­liam Lam, who talked about acti­vity needs and bio­lo­gi­cal needs. Whe­reas acti­vity needs were con­cer­ned more with the func­tio­nal light that is requi­red to com­plete cer­tain tasks, Lam‘s bio­lo­gi­cal needs (which mainly relate to our psy­cho­lo­gi­cal, to a great extent uncon­scious needs) are by and large con­gruent with our defi­ni­tion of well-being. This inclu­des, for me, eve­ry­thing that ensu­res that human beings feel com­for­ta­ble in a situa­tion so that they can assess it cor­rec­tly and be orien­ted easily. This is a self evi­dent of course in urban spaces: no pede­strian wishes to stum­ble over some­thing or be run over. But beyond this, I would like to also have the fee­ling that I am on the right road, I can assess the loca­tion and I know where I am hea­ding. In this way I believe this fee­ling of well-being can be distin­gui­shed from the light that we need in order to able to see objects.

How are well-being, eco­logy and sustai­na­bi­lity rela­ted?

Sustai­na­bi­lity also incor­po­ra­tes well-being.
If I pro­vide a tech­ni­cal solu­tion that does not create a fee­ling of well-being, con­su­mers will reject it and it will be repla­ced by a new solu­tion. Shor­tli­ved tech­ni­cal solu­tions like this are any­thing but sustai­na­ble. When we think about sustai­na­bi­lity, energy effi­ciency is often the first thing that springs to mind but this fre­quen­tly con­flicts with our fee­ling of well-being. All good light plan­ning or light deve­lo­p­ment the­re­fore poses the que­stion: what are my requi­re­ments, what target con­flicts arise as a result and how do I achieve a balance? This needs to be rethought and reap­prai­sed for every situa­tion.

Well-being has nothing to do with the qua­li­ties of light – for exam­ple with the light colour, the spec­tral com­po­si­tion of light. So what should light plan­ners in exte­rior spaces pay atten­tion to?

We have to dif­fe­ren­tiate bet­ween light colour and spec­trum. Colour is a spe­ci­fic ele­ment of human per­cep­tion. We the­re­fore per­ceive red light as plea­sant and warm, colder light as neu­tral. Accor­din­gly a situa­tion in an old histo­ri­cal part of town in warm white has a com­for­ting effect on us whe­reas neu­tral white light appears to be fit­ting on an arte­rial road. In short, there are con­texts that come about due to the genius loci’, the qua­lity of the place. An insect howe­ver sees no light colours but reacts more or less sen­si­ti­vely to cer­tain spec­tral ranges. With LEDs we can com­pose light spec­trally so that, on the one hand, it meets the requi­re­ments of human beings for well-being in a cer­tain situa­tion and on the other hand mini­mi­ses the nega­tive effects of arti­fi­cial light on fauna and flora. We can opti­mise the balance the­re­fore. This is a highly pro­mi­sing approach that requi­res much better research!

A tech­ni­cal solu­tion that does not foster well-being will be rejec­ted by its users.”

Dr.-Ing. Paul W. Sch­mits is Pro­fes­sor of Lighting Design at the Uni­ver­sity for the Applied Scien­ces and Arts in Hil­de­sheim.

Back to the well-being of human beings and the role of public spaces. How does lighting affect com­mu­nal living in cities?

Here too there are oppo­sing goals. Urban mar­ke­ting asks: How I do I make the city attrac­tive for visi­tors? Nei­gh­bou­rhood mana­ge­ment on the other hand mainly focu­ses on the well-being of locals. For this reason we search for a balance bet­ween the exter­nal sce­nery of cities and the design of a nei­gh­bou­rhood for people who live there. To this end it is impor­tant that urban mar­ke­ting and urban deve­lo­pers talk to one ano­ther and con­si­der the con­se­quen­ces for the other party con­cer­ned. Indi­vi­dual treat­ment of dif­fe­rent nei­gh­bou­rhoods deter­mi­nes the qua­lity of cities. This applies also for what are known as pro­blem nei­gh­bou­rhoods or depri­ved areas. Light can achieve much here. It gives people the fee­ling of not being igno­red – par­ti­cu­larly when the solu­tion chosen is clearly not the chea­pest one.

Green­spa­ces and parks are impor­tant urban spaces too that people are increa­sin­gly recon­que­ring for them­sel­ves. What can light achieve here?

Parks are living spaces in the middle of the city, the fauna and flora of which is of course also vul­ne­ra­ble to the wrong light. On the other hand land­sca­ped areas of this kind con­tri­bute signi­fi­can­tly to our well-being – inclu­ding early on or late in the eve­ning. There are restau­rants, squa­res for spor­ting acti­vi­ties or plea­sant car-free con­nec­tions for cycling or pede­strian trans-port. Here too the goal is to find the right balance bet­ween well-being, func­tio­nal aspects and a fee­ling of safety and secu­rity. Inve­sti­ga­tions have shown that more light increa­ses the fee­ling of secu­rity but in rea­lity does not auto­ma­ti­cally gene­rate more safety. Here a sense of pro­por­tion is requi­red on the part of the plan­ner.

I find the idea that lighting plan­ners should con­si­der a park not just in terms of the spa­tial dimen­sions but also in terms of time an inte­re­sting one.

The fauna and flora of a park are sub­ject to a cir­ca­dian rhythm from the outset. Locals too want to have their peace and quiet at some point. As a plan­ner I should look at the acti­vi­ties in the park and their dyna­mics – inclu­ding in winter when twi­light comes early in this part of the world. Con­cepts for dyna­mic lighting can then be deri­ved from this. Simply swit­ching off light at cer­tain times may be suf­fi­cient but maybe various gra­dua­ted light sce­na­rios may also be the right solu­tion. This is a key argu­ment in favour of smart lighting! Regu­la­tion of lighting can not only save energy but also help to link up eco­logy and well-being in a sustai­na­ble con­text.

Indi­vi­dual treat­ment of dif­fe­rent areas defi­nes the qua­lity of cities.”

Suc­ces­sful light plan­ning takes into account the scale, cha­rac­ter and use of a district.

This doub­tless con­sti­tu­tes a deman­ding task for pro­fes­sio­nal lighting plan­ners and urban plan­ners. How can grea­ter inte­rest and under­stan­ding be engen­de­red among the wider public for mat­ters of lighting?

I would explain this as fol­lows: Light is a source of nutri­tion or food almost – i.e. some­thing we need to live. We are aware of cur­rent discus­sions about food, where aller­gies and sen­si­ti­vi­ties exist, where there is too much and too little and it is an indi­vi­dual matter. Why are there no simi­lar discus­sions taking place about light? We need to com­mu­ni­cate more kno­w­ledge about light, from the pri­mary schools to the uni­ver­si­ties. Light must cease to be a niche matter. The festi­vals of light that take place each year demon­strate how when light beco­mes the main attrac­tion, it is met with huge accep­tance!

To put the que­stion more pro­vo­ca­ti­vely: Do we need lighting acti­vists who cam­paign for good lighting?

In lighting plan­ners and lighting desi­gners, we already have our first lighting acti­vists. Pro­fes­sio­nal, inde­pen­dent lighting plan­ners can demon­strate with cre­di­bi­lity that, when it comes to design and effect, it is no longer about the quan­tity of lighting sold. Dif­fe­rent lighting design prizes that exist for some years now are hel­ping this cause by gene­ra­ting news and ensu­ring the sub­ject of light is cove­red in the media. The many people invol­ved with light either as urban and land­scape plan­ners or wor­king for the autho­ri­ties require much more sup­port, atten­tion and self-con­fi­dence too. Par­ti­cu­larly with land­scape archi­tects, aware­ness of light and its con­tri­bu­tion to our well-being is increa­sing. This is also evi­dent from the manner in which they are increa­sin­gly see­king to close ranks with lighting desi­gners. In recent years, our lighting design stu­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Hil­de­sheim coo­pe­ra­ted with land­scape archi­tec­ture stu­dents at the Leib­niz-Uni­ver­sity of Hano­ver, the­reby achie­ving won­der­ful results.

Pre­mium qua­lity lighting: a sign of esti­ma­tion for citi­zens, inclu­ding – and espe­cially – in pro­ble­ma­tic areas of the city.

The que­stion remains as to how indu­stry should respond to these new requi­re­ments for lighting. Which tools, which pro­ducts do light plan­ners need that focus on both well-being and sustai­na­bi­lity?

Instal­ling lighting in public spaces using stan­dard street lighting is beco­ming less and less fea­si­ble. This still has its justi­fi­ca­tion such as on arte­rial roads. Yet par­ti­cu­larly in inner city areas we require more com­plex tools. Requi­re­ments include an exten­ded range of light colours, dyna­mic solu­tions for con­trol, various lighting pro­por­tions adap­ted to the situa­tion and mani­fold assem­bly options. Not eve­ry­thing can be hand­led using pole-top lumi­nai­res, and as such multi-func­tio­nal light columns open up inte­re­sting options. I need a design in medie­val areas in towns that is dif­fe­rent to that for areas with modern buil­dings. We need lighting pro­duct fami­lies that are rich in variants yet have a con­si­stent design lan­guage, com­pri­sing wall-moun­ted lumi­nai­res, bol­lards, spo­tlights and flood­lights. Using tools of this type, a new phi­lo­so­phi­cal approach can be rea­li­sed for every urban district.

Stan­dard street lighting is no longer suf­fi­cient for lighting in urban spaces.”

Parks and other public sites are living spaces in the centre of the city. The lighting plan­ning here aims at a balance bet­ween eco­logy and well-being.

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