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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