Public and Private Spaces

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Market square Freiberg, Saxony, Germany. Many market squares in Germany have been ruined by the installation of too many lighting masts in relationship to the space involved. This is often a problem that arises when cities and towns try to provide enough light, primarly for security reasons, and are not fully informed about possible alternatives. It is my opinion that every market square is unique and that should be the selling point of every cities marketing and tourism representative. Therefore city and town representatives should be open to discussing with a lighting designer about possible new approaches to lighting the task at hand. Very often representatives of the lighting industry are called in first to advise the technical department of a city or town without the guiding council of an independent lighting designer. It is not surprising that the lighting industry would like to sell their products, if possible directly out of the catalog, i.e. finished products that can be seen on other market squares throughout Germany and byond. Added to this and “too be on the safe side” they are often interested in selling as many lighting masts as possible. The question every mayor should be asking himself is, “is this solution the best solution for my market square”, “unique and fitting” according to the importance of the space. The market square is the living room of a city. You may buy something from the local “baumarkt” for your own living room if you wish but not for your market square is my hard opinion. In general I would say there is also often a misunderstanding regarding the lighting of public space such as that the brighter the space the safer it is for the user. This is not a good rule of thumb for such complex spaces to work with. There are several other factors that should be part of the decison making process, history and character of the  space, materials used, traditions of use, future plans, festivals, city marketing image to name just a few.

In Freiberg I chose a “Less is more” approach to the task, less clutter, less maintenance, providing the square with a cleaner overall picture and greater flexibility of use. The modern and the traditional identity of the “University city” is reflected in the design of the masts, a city famous for its silver mines of the past and its minerological collection, a city where the young student Humboldt once studied. A city not only proud of its mining past but of its future as a major tourist attraction in Saxony, its innovative approach to business, research in technology and science. For this city the lighting masts needed to be truely unique and they are, only six masts are required to perfectly light the square, they are triangle in section and use a warm halogen mirror system to spread the indirect light over the entire square evenly and elegantly.

The unique light masts are “bespoke” lighting sculptures, that have a DAY and a NIGHT function. During the day the glass used in the upper section of the masts interacts with the daylight, changing in color and providing extra fun for the children and tourists by causing reflecting lines of light to appear over the cobble stones, moving with the time, making the market square a “walk through” sun dial.

Part of our design concept was to install two “stars” of fountains in the cobble stone surface of the market square, left and right in the picture above. This not only provides cooling in summer, and fun for the children and grandparents, but it is also a light reflecting instrument giving the large market square a subtile focus and sense of scale for the visitors to the square. The lighting design concept was to direct the light evenly onto the market square surface, reducing the light pollution and stray light that was in past spread or leaking all over the facades of the buildings on the square, This accidental light had no hierarchy and no quality, it produced an uncomfortable and undefined “soup” of dark and light patches across the square and harsh glare in the windows of the surrounding buildings. The new lighting creates a hierarchy of space, defines what is important and is visually comfortable. With the darkening of the surrounding buildings that define the square, we could now light the facade and the architectural details of the most important building on the market square, the town hall, this gives the market square the grandeur it deserves. Added to this we placed the central historical fountain in the appropriate light, providing the a further “highlight” for the visitor and a central focus.

The high quality lighting atmosphere created was a result of not just good lighting but also what I consider to be our most important task, that of the “management” of darkness. The romantic feeling that is of such importance to a historical market square was achieved through a visionary contemporary lighting concept. This cannot come from a catalog, this is lighting and spatial design, the art of place making.

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