TOWER OF BABEL: INFRASTRUCTURE AS A PARADOX
3 January 2022, Ariel University's School of Architecture
Lighting in the Urban Space, Its Impact on the Urban Experience and How We Can Make It Better
The story of the Tower of Babel is a story about the attempt of human beings, after the flood, to unite forces in order to overcome the natural and the divine. Humans, for a long time, have been trying to create a new balance of power against the existing and the natural. One of the interesting expressions of this type of attempt is the development of artificial lighting means in order to extend the hours of activity in the city towards the hours of darkness. The solar cycle defines for us the hours of activity and inactivity through light and darkness. In the story of creation, God Himself creates the light and distinguishes between day and night. The city as we know it today has no day and no night. The advent of electricity or in this context the invention of electricity by humans and the use of artificial lighting are a turning point for the functioning of the city and life in it. The use of light in general and street lighting during the hours of darkness in particular have over the years become a major infrastructure in the fabric of components that make up the public space and the urban experience in the hours of darkness. What is the role of street lighting in the urban space? How it functions today and how the street experience can be enriched through street lighting in the dark.
In order to explore possibilities for the enrichment of street lighting, we must understand the complexities that currently exist in the use of street lighting and the background to their development. The discussion about the existing and possible modes of illumination of the city and its streets ranges from two poles - between darkness, emptiness, lack of sense of security and spatial orientation and between glare, multiplicity of lighting to the point of confusion and damage to urban fabric and even physical damage to humans and other natural systems. As the sense of sight is one of the most influential factors in the way humans are absorbed, these two poles, whether it is complete darkness or dazzling glare, leave the user in visual discomfort in the urban space. The relationship between darkness and light is not reciprocal. There is a contradiction, a paradox in the way we treat light and its absence. Light is perhaps the most significant component in our daily existence. It is what allows us to see and as a derivative of the existence of different actions and orientation in different spaces. Light and darkness push each other. It can be said that light and darkness are defined by mutual elimination. Light is the absence of darkness, and darkness is the absence of light. The city, as we know it today, is actually in the range between these two darkness-light.
The modern age makes it possible to transcend the limits of darkness and the city is bright and functional even in the hours of darkness. There is another contradiction that arises in relation to the illumination of the city in the hours of darkness. The attitude of light as an infrastructure to urban space in the hours of darkness compared to the attitude of light as a generator of all urbanity in the hours of darkness. The point at which the city is on this scale is defined through existing infrastructures, regulations, variables and ways of thinking. The systems of considerations that motivate the urban dimming lights do not necessarily prioritize the main users of the city and the urbanity, the people who walk the city. The urban space is mostly illuminated by repetitive lighting near the roads. Thus, the experience of the people who walk in the city and experience it in the most intense way receives less treatment than that of the vehicles which by the way, know how to get along very well with the vehicle lighting. Street lighting, in contrast to other infrastructures such as sewage, gas, etc., is an infrastructure that directly affects the way in which the urban space is absorbed and experienced. Therefore, as planners who are in charge of the urban space, we must re-examine the existing situation. The lecture will present a wide range of options for enriching street lighting and for creating higher quality and smarter systems that will benefit the city and urbanity in a scheme that represents standard street lighting.