Moving lights: Schouwburgplein in Rotterdam

di Helena Gentili


Today the dilemmas of public spaces appear to lie in the way we relate to it. Correspondences between space and society have been changed and new urbanism approaches as the rhythm of the cities and the events of the everyday life are taking in consideration. Within these territories, the aim of the research is to reconsider the nocturnal dimension of the cities, along with new elements for reflections between the relationship of urban design and artificial light in a mutual creative process, considering the Schouwburgplein in Rotterdam as case study. The city at night is a diverse and complex time-space dimension in comparison to day time. This requires the analysis and the development of new forms of expression in order to allow the recovery of places in a multidisciplinary and itinerant environment.

This article is characterized by the presence of two different disciplines whose themes have been combined together in the present text. The first part of the arguments is related to my PhD dissertation regarding the artificial light as an architectural design material and the definition of the nocturnal dimension for the development of the cities today. The second part is a practical exercise as a part of analysis from the discipline of Prof. Marco Biraghi under the theme of The crisis of public space during the teaching activities of the PhD Architectural and Urban Design. The current case study reflects an integrated process between urban design and architecture, being the lighting also used as an important element of the concept design. This is a brand new square which did not exist before the Second World War and many years were required to give it new and convincing contents. In order to determine its success as a qualitative public space, this paper focused the attention on the rhythms of the city and its relation to artificial light as main criteria.

Defining the crisis of public space

The debates between absolute and rational space, the dilemma between physical and social space, between real and mental space, between abstract and differential space, between space and place, between space and time, they can all be seen as indicator of a series of open philosophical questions: How do we process public space and relate to it? This richness of interpretations and the design solutions of our time also reflect the emergence of new uses related to the complexity of the social context to which they refer. The concept design of open public spaces has gained prominence in contemporary design practice in the past few years. Lewis Mumford wrote in 1961 «our conception of the open space and its relationship with the urban and regional context has changed We have learned that open spaces play an important social function and that this is due to three main reasons: the change in the character of the settlement resulting in faster transport systems, the reduction of working hours and an even more profound change in the character of urban space»[1].

Many of these changes in the urban and regional context took place during the industrialization period. For example, public lighting is one of the factors that allowed the extension of life beyond the sunset; moreover it radically changed our relation with the night dimension and had a strong economical and symbolical impact all over the world. Noteworthy the design of human environment is not only an art of construction, but also an art of technology. Since the 90’s many architects, architecture critics and reviewers of other disciplines correlated with the urban space have started questioning the role of the urban spaces, its meaning for the present society and listing the main problems referred to the fragmentation and loss of reference in the territory. One of the main issue today regarding urban spaces is the lack of meaning or to better say a ‘sense’ due to several and disperse hybridization of functions, forms and loss of geographic reference not only local, but also global.

The problems of the design of public space also correspond to the interweaving of different scales and approaches. According to Ilaria Valente[2], on the one hand there is the attempt to determine ways of use the space and related languages that can be shared on a planetary scale, asserting the repeatability and, therefore, a tendency of homologations, on the other hand to emphasize local differences. The emergence of this double aim is much more accentuated today, in a condition that has been defined as «understanding space-time»[3] due to the processes of acceleration of production cycles, and therefore of trade and consumption, and to the abatement of spatial barriers in parallel. The features of spatiality itself are deeply modified along with the relation between full and empty spaces, which are no longer expressed through their alternation, but are configured primarily as a residual gap between the parties.

This is a clear consequence of the praxis of the super-urbanism[4], where the dominance of the architectural design focus extremely on the new thematic functions and not considering their context. By following this effect of loss of identity for the urban space, in 1963 Melvin Webber, an american Urbanism theorist, provided a conceptual model that described the new type of space as «nonplace»[5]. The argument was based on the enormous increase in the mobility and the development of forms of instant global communication, which has become more fragile the principle of centrality that was based the urban order previously. Since the social interaction was no longer tied to special places, Webber also proposed a new concept for the public sphere: «the community without proximity». Since the problem of distance in the contemporary city is no longer an obstacle, people can build their sociality through so many ‘communities of interest’. Despite of what many critics had proclaimed, the ‘nonplace’ city didn’t destroy the public space, but it has been multiplied into diverse possibilities and the result is that the public space is not tied to a determined physical urban fabric anymore.[6]

Even though people are likely to get more and more distant from the public sphere and technological means of communication have disengaged from direct human contact, it appears that many believe that this kind of evolution offers the opportunity for a richer social interaction. Quoting again Melvin Webber[7]: « It is the interaction and not the location, the essence of the city and urban life ». Therefore, it is necessary to ask ourselves whether the spatial mentality and the notion of identity have progressed since the modernist period. It seems that we are still stuck into a positivist idea of the space. It is time to take a closer look into our practices and expand our point of view when describing the city and the landscape to find a measure that can put into reaction the new urban spaces with a human sensibility approach.

Of note, Stefano Boeri on his «Eclectic Atlases»[8] has proposed new forms of representation of the contemporary urban condition specifically observe and describe, in taxonomic manner, the ‘real time’ dynamics and transformations of urban matter. For him, today many symptoms reveal that we are in the midst of a transitional period in the disciplines of architecture and urbanism. «The images with we continued to represent the geography of our territory had become useless, along with the rigid binary distinctions that we used to describe them: center/periphery; city/country; inside/outside, and so forth. Chaos paradigm is poor in interpretative codes. We must understand how our perception of this new urban dimension has changed the identity of many urban places». In another words, we must see the city through different eyes and multiple dynamic prospective.

Correspondences between space and society

There is an urge for new paradigm in the conceptualization of the urban phenomenon. This paper aims to turn its attention to rethink the city urban dimension from the human practices point of view. The connection of artificial lighting and the human scale is one of the fundamental aspects for the research about the knowledge of the urban realm. Light has a strong influence on spatial behavior and action of territorialization. Although light is in a constant and dynamic movement, it becomes protagonist in the group of structural factors of our being in the world.[9] Many theorists and researchers in the field of urbanism and urban design, have widely discussed the need of more conscious practices.

This paper is based on the motivations of an interesting book as a result of collaboration between two leading figures in the context of urban studies in Britain: Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift[10]. They proposed new metaphors for understanding the city and practicing a new urbanism of the everyday life. For them the daily life has many dimensions, which requires a renewal of interpretative models. Transitivity or Porosity, Rhythm and Footprint have been chosen as main metaphor approaches. Transitivity emphasizes the spatial and temporal opening of the city, taking the city as a place of intermingling and improvisation. The city has the ability to shape and reshape itself. The second study captures the city as a place with many Rhythms, which are the process through daily meetings and multiple experiences of time and space.

The third considers the city footprint: traces of movement impressed upon the past and the present and connections that cross and exceed the limits of the city. The study of the rhythms of the city plays a leading role in contemporary urbanism and it is one of the basics principles of this research. The metaphor of the rhythms of the city can allow to highlight some neglected temporality. Most of the research on this matter focuses on the rhythms of the day, while studies on the city at night very often turn their attention to the events above all accidents and unexpected: as soon as darkness falls, the city becomes one-dimensional, a place of pleasure and vices, or a place of terror masked by noise and indistinct illegal activities.

There are two sorts of imbricated history of the metropolitan night: one official, that of large scale lighting, and the other secret, which is propagated by infrastructural networks in the density of the territory. Two ways of speaking of the potential for nocturnal magnetism of the cities of today, and to discover that the night is an extremely complex, multidimensional environments.[11] Lighting is critical to our perception of architecture because it is one of the most important elements of the inscription of the architecture itself[12]. Lighting effects rise and at the same time activate Space and Time dimensions, connecting them up. Light is, in another words, the term that they share. Yet its consideration remains peripheral to professional discourse and its ‘invisible’ role to the general public.

The dilation of the temporal dimension is due to the increase in mobility and leisure, to the understanding of the distances as a result of the new velocity, that could not be achieve without the support of electrical lighting.

The gradual expansion of the daily life into the nocturnal hours is due not only to the permanence in the same place of activities and levels of illumination, but also to the simultaneity of relationships connecting different zones. Therefore, given the complexity of the contemporary situation, lighting design needs to be radically rethought in relation to the architectonical and urban design projects which requires the development of new expressive codes in the nocturnal dimension as well as a connection between space and society.

With the rhythms of the city we mean anything from the normal coming and going of people to the wide range of repetitive tasks, sounds and even smell that punctuate life in the city and give most of those who live and work there a sense of time and place. Therefore the rhythms of the city are the coordinates through which locals and visitors alike frame and order the urban experience. Possible references to the urban lighting lead into play the concept of the urban experience itself. It seems possible to think that the nature of the nightlife image of the city lies in the characteristics of its enlightenment, so in some way lighting constitutes a semantic layer that has certain autonomy in relation to the existing (urban, landscape, single building so that is).

The idea of a nocturnal urbanity represents a «new frontier» for the recovery of the sense of territory[13]. The lighting and architecture at night should be investigated as a system of relationship of different realities, as a Heterotopie[14] conditioned by the dimensionless and immaterial character of the landscape at night. Therefore it is necessary to define what our perception of the night temporality is, and what we want to communicate with the light? Which criteria? What the dissertation is seeking to characterize in order to strategically position oneself with regard to urban nightscape is: how does artificial lighting animate the city and redraw the geography of it? Thanks to these question we could imagine being able to address the urban project and to picture the nocturnal landscape as en essential projectual lever.

The purpouse of the dissertation is to identify the points of connections and fracture through the lighting and the architecture in the spatial and time dimension of the permanent metamorphosis in the contemporary city. What are the limits of this design instrument in supporting a positive social process? The analysis model takes the night as an experience and picture on what the relationship between architecture, place, environment and the individual are to determine its potential or insufficiency.

Nowadays the artificial light is imposed as the means that has more possibility to synchronize the inertia of the architecture with the accelerated dynamics of the contemporary life. But the overlapping between the speed and the resistance of the architecture represents a real rick to share more and more the gap between the urban space and the image of itself. Consequently lighting not only reveals and builds, but even excludes and deconstructs.

A critical issue for the future is to support consistent spatial and temporal dimensions for people for the returning of the idea of place. Therefore the aesthetics, formal and symbolic approaches between the urban space and lighting requires a sensitive and experimental method in order to potentiate the power to communicate with light and shadows.


Reconstruction, regeneration and re-imaging of Rotterdam

The present case study was selected due to its integrated approach on the urban design field and because it belongs to a larger scale project involving not only the city center but the entire city. Today, the city of Rotterdam seems to have succeeded in adapting to new conditions of urban competition by means of the physical reconstruction of its central area and the re-imaging of its cultural identity on an international level, while also achieving social objectives for regeneration.

Like other cities in recent decades, Rotterdam has faced the increasing need to attract mobile capital, largely as a result of the internationalization of economic processes which has led to a search for competiveness and a consequent emphasis on local economic development. In Rotterdam, however, these conditions have been applied in the context of a long-term process of reconstruction and regeneration after the Second World War. The outcomes of regeneration in Rotterdam may be seen as the culmination of several phases since 1945, illustrating a reflexive evolution of policy development as well as adaptation to specific circumstances of time and place.

Consequently, in the 1940s and 1950s the development of the city’s port was prioritized because of the need for economic reconstruction; in the 1950s and 1860s the priority was the expansion of the city’s housing; in the 1970s the focus shifted to the restoration of decaying inner city residential districts, and in the 1980s and 1990s the city ‘re-imaging’ by means of the development of new cultural and recreation uses, with the expansion of the city center across the river, which has completed a long-term process of regeneration and reconstruction.[15]

It is now appropriate consider the extent to which the explanatory frameworks such as growth coalitions, urban regimes and entrepreneurship have collaborated to the city’s experience of reconstruction, regeneration and re-imaging. Furthermore, Hajer[16] point out that the local culture of governance which has developed in Rotterdam has not been formal in orientation despite of other Dutch cities. Instead, it has operated in a non-hierarchical climate within which informal networks have developed, allowing a high degree of corporatist bargaining to occur, often resulting in apparent consensus.

While this shows how loss of formal accountability can accompany the operation of a local regime, it also illustrates how pragmatism can facilitate the application of new ideas for local economic development. Joe Coenen[17] had a good explanation of this attitude: «The current Dutch culture on planning is led by a highly pragmatic and realistic attitude. This realism is in stark contrast with the availability towards accepting the risks, availability instead present in the South European tradition, where public space is constant protagonist of everyday life, which takes place mainly outside the home. And this pragmatic attitude who led the Dutch public spaces to the specificity of the solutions implemented. With this in mind we must observe and adjudicate.»

Nowadays, the nocturnal character of a city has strongly contributed to detonate its power of attraction or rejection. Being aware that the night is also a part of this development, the city of Rotterdam has also commissioned a lighting masterplan in order to expand the city image even after dark. The new lighting masterplan for Rotterdam does not only stipulate how the city will in the future receive more attractive light, but also how the light can be more sustainable and manageable.

According to Marc Armengaud, this marketing and nocturnal identity can partly account for the most obvious demand of the night. The big strategic issues of today are accessibility, public space, deterritorisation, new communication practices, measuring the impact of public policies, but also creativity, hybridization, and ability to re-question the itineraries inscribed.[18]

The manipulability of artificial light represents such an important factor that must be seen as a revolutionary innovation ifrom both architectural and urban perspectives. It offers the opportunity to vary and modulate the understanding of urban spaces in all vertical and horizontal planes as well as both interior and exterior. Therefore, the dissertation suggest that lighting can also be a central element for the reconstruction of an identity of a place, a social element for regeneration and a crucial factor which can support the re-imagination of the city.

Project description

After the German air forces had bombed Rotterdam during the World War II, most of the city center was destroyed. For many years following the Great War, Schouwburgplein remained a vacant, poorly-defined open space with a makeshift theatre rebuilt from the ruins of the bombing, whose main function was to house a car park on the surface and underground.

In the 1990s, the city developed new business centers in telecommunications, audio-visual services, design and media, which could provide a basis for the development of the city as an art and cultural district. Culture had long been a major theme of tourism marketing in Rotterdam; together with water, architecture and entertainment they were the key components that defined the identity and character of the city.

In 1986, a landscape architect Riek Bakker was appointed as the head of Urban Development; as a consequence, more attention was focused on the city’s public spaces. Previous attempts to revitalize the city without comprising its modern identity had been futile. From 1990, Adriaan Geuze and the West 8 Landscape Architecture Firm were commissioned to draw up plans for Schouwburgplein representing a turning point in the city’s urban policy. The project signified a break-point with the past as it accentuated the qualities of the square as an empty space and proposed lightweight surfaces that would have made unnecessary expensive alterations to the underground garage.

The construction of Schouwburgplein, also called Theater Square, began in 1991 and officially opened to the public in 1996. As an urban stage and interactive open space, Geuze designed this 12.250 square meters area based on expected uses according to different times of both day and night. For the project group, the square became an active public stage, where the citizens of Rotterdam, surrounded by theaters, a concert hall and cinemas, could perform and be admired by spectators and customers of nearby cafés. The main intervention of Adriaan Geuze and West 8 consisted of raising the ground level 35 centimeters above that of the street to create an urban stage and a distinct boundary that engages the nearby municipal theater, multiplex cinema and concert hall. For these reason the square soon became the center of the entertainment district in Rotterdam.

The concept of the project was based on the construction of a new image for the place, as opposed to the one that included the masking of the surrounding modern buildings as suggested by the competition. The project of West 8 on the contrary does not intervene on the facades, but rather on the shape of the void, hence resulting in a new and original identity. The circle of new skyscrapers built around the ‘old’ City Centre in the Eighties served as a backdrop and, at the same time, a new spatial limit.

The project relies compositionally on the simultaneous realization of the Megabioscoop (cinema) by Koen van Velsen. The idea of constructing a megacinema on the square had already been put forward as this would improve it both visually and programmatically. The integration with the square occurs through the extension of the public space in the large foyer of the complex. The materials employed in the construction are formed of a thin transparent skin of its facades, consisting of plastic materials to reduce the weight on the roof of the car park below. The megacinema reveals a picture of an evanescent city, becoming a light landmark for the whole city.

Light plays a critical role in this design as sunlight zones and artificial lighting elements are reflected both in the mosaic of diverse materials used on the ground plane defining multi-zones of activity and and in vertical elements as references to the contest. Hardscapes of linear bands of wood, perforated steel panels and epoxy resin coated concrete embedded with silvery maple leaves, reflects the traditional Dutch field patterns. In the center of the square, the largest surface of steel panels is inset with a herringbone pattern of narrow timber decking, which assumes a curiously 3D quality when viewed from a distance. Circular grilles conceal spray mist fountains which operate in warm weather and further activate the plaza, a real interactive component of the plaza, mainly intended for the kids.

By day the square is a dazzlingly bright. In good weather the metal panels reflect the sunlight; when it is overcast the grey paving and white, slightly shiny front of the cinema create a sense of enigmatic stillness. By night it is completely different. Green neon lights have been installed beneath the paving and, in the evening, these turn the square into a mysterious and dynamic open space, further illuminated by the floodlights and the cinema which, lit from inside, looks like a huge Japanese lamp.

Most specular of all are a quartet of 35m tall hydraulic lighting mast which were inspired by the cranes in Rotterdam huge docks. Other than a real insertion of the context in the project, the masts have become a sort of landmarks of the square, maybe even for the entire city. Here we can demonstrate how artificial lighting can intervene not only regarding the dynamic lighting but as also a visual impact which can influence the relationship between space and the human scale.

Stacked along the northern edge of the plaza, three 15 meter high ventilation towers from the underground parking garage are also strong vertical accents that are meant to echo the nautical imagery of Rotterdam. Each of these lightweight steel structures is activated with LED displays that together form a digital clock, and also serve as kiosks. In the evening, the towers are lit from the inside spreading a soft filtered light throughout the plaza.

The quality of the whole lighting scheme for the Schouwburgplein doesn’t reside in the homogeneous levels of illuminations dictated by standard normative, by the contrary, it is probably completely out of the norm. Instead, it is the high variety of lighting effects and scales which plays a positive role within human perception. The mobile spot lights from the hydraulic masts landmarks, the perimeter lighting of the square surface, the play of light and shadows in a constant movement, vertical and horizontal lighting defines the ‘empty’ of the square, these and others are all good reasons to sustain the hypothesis that not always it is necessary to follow restrict functional parameter to achieve aesthetic quality regarding the artificial lighting point of view.

It is estimable how the integration of a variety of materials, lighting effects, space proportions, main and temporary uses in the square have been taken into account in the design process. The result, depite the criticism, is a true contemporary urban dimension where civic symbolism, material tactility and strong sense of atmosphere are combined. Light has been used in the Schouwburgplein design as real material of the project. It can be demonstrated through the gradual transition from sunlight to artificial lighting level as a time scan, and also as strong component for the identity of the place.


The square rhythms

Every city has a rhythm of life particularly articulate and dictated by the wave of arrivals, resting there and departing at various times of the day. The same part of the city show different rates and not always synchronized, such as the city of Boston studied by Kevin Lynch[19], it is possible to distinguish the districts on the basis of temporal connotations very different and the cyclical nature of the daily human presence on the urban area of reference. He has applied four main distinct characteristic among the districts of Boston:

  • Incessant areas: determined by homogeneous and continuous use
  • Empty at night: places where are evacuate at night
  • Active especially at night: places where are invaded by people in the evening hours
  • Shifting from day to night: determined by continuous use of a heterogeneous nature

Following his reasoning, it is possible to characterize Schouwburgplein as a shifting from day to night place from the presented chart, because the square was designed for temporary events and changing uses. Geuze reinterpreted the traditional town square as a place for public participation in unprogrammed activities rather than passive observation, allowing Rotterdammers to use the free open space for their ultimate personal expressions.

The interesting thing about it is perhaps not much the way the urban furniture is designed, or its bright ideas on lighting, as its ambition to represent a time device; a device intended to reform the public spaces inherited by northern European cities from the postwar reconstruction period. The architects seem convinced of a gradual approach: not to draft a static plan, but to introduce a few elementary ‘movements’ reminiscent of cultivation techniques used in agricultural landscapes.[20]

The first of these movements transforms the nature of the square by lifting the underground parking structure by 35 centimeters, it reestablishes visual relations between the people living, strolling about in or crossing the square. The 35 centimeter ground level difference marks the whole profile of the platform and simulates an upward movement, which is reinforced at night through lighting around the perimeter as a sort of levitation effect.

The second movement aims to let the mineral surface of the square react to the unpredictable swell and swirl of public life on it and to the cyclic ebb and flow of time. In fact, the platform has a large number of electrical connections and mechanical anchoring points to accommodate street markets, fairground or an open-air cinema, etc. But beyond the casual times of it use, the whole square also becomes a meteorological sensor, able to react to the sun’s seasonal and daily cycles as reflected or released in different ways by each material.

The purpose of the third movement is to fasten the central platform of the square to the ground, to ‘lock’ its upward motion. The objects that emerge from its surface (the 6 meter bench, the ventilation towers, the large moving lamps, the underground car park entries) do not rest on, but are rooted in the ground. They are not serial units of ‘furniture’, but ‘places’ in their own right; unique works.

Quoting again the hydraulic masts sculpture inspired by the cranes in the Rotterdam huge dock, by day these red oxidized structures contort like inquisitive robots, and at night they cast pools of light on the square, capable of transforming Schouwburgplein atmosphere every night of every season, as sort of a Kinect interactive structure, collaborating to scale the rhythms of the square. These lights can be used to illuminate an informal night-time football match, for example, or to add zest to a cultural event performance at open air.

The hydraulic lamp mast cross-functions as lighting, shading and a playful structure in an urban setting. All these elements are relevant to playgrounds and outdoor educational facilities. Everyone will greatly benefit from the use of these lamps at the playground, as they transition from day to night and offer a safe environment at all times. Since the users and the lamps interact with each other, they can be used for recreation and leisure. The lamps can also introduce other design methodologies that deal more closely with kinetic shading devices.

The movements of the lamps were originally user controlled by coins, now the cantilevered arms are programmed and contort at random throughout the day. Users may react and interact as the arms shift up and down. Due to its large scale and great resemblance to the Rotterdam cranes the structure provokes further involvement from users into the square and creates a user based interactive.

These factor, demonstrates how lighting being integrated into the urban project can influence on the nocturnal condition and support consistent spatial and temporal dimensions to reinforce the idea of place and rhythm of the city. If one thinks about Schouwburgplein, you cannot imagine this dynamic urban square without its brilliant and changeable lights, as part of its final process of re-imaging. Therefore the project analysis might also provide interesting questions and design proposal to better understand how to use artificial lighting as a design material to enhance the quality of public spaces.


The lack of a holistic and linear view of reality generates, and it is comprehensible, feelings of uncertainty, but instead of living this condition as a loss, it is necessary fully evaluate in a way you can show various possibilities of reading with different sequences and ways. Thus places, for example should be thought of not as enduring sites but as moments of the meeting, not as “present” fixed in time and space, but as events variables, such as twists and flows of relationships.

Therefore the Schouwburgplein could also be read under the concept of «event» created by Bernard Tschumi[21]. The key concept of the position expressed by the situationist influence is understood as the result of a joint action between subjects, which operates within a complex and changing reality, and the effects are normally of imponderable interactions. Since the work of architecture involves both the space and the activities that take place, the event is configured, then, as a sort of cross between spaces and events that, enter into combination with each other, without any selection or hierarchy, bring into question one of the fundamental paradigms of the Modern Movement, that of the direct causal relationship between form and function.

Here is questioned one of the conditions of modernity, that of attribution of roles and functions in spaces clearly defined and separated from each other, to propose a new relationship between work and leisure through an integration that involves not only the physical space but also the behavior. Looking at behavior we are talking about everyday life rhythms, where the nocturnal dimension is one of the key components.

The center of Rotterdam was completely rebuilt after the Second World War to modernist principles, which in some way it still perceived after the intervention of the group West 8 for the Schouwburgplein. Most of the post-war CIAM discussions were concerned about ‘the core of the city’ and the innovative concepts formulate by Sigfried Giedion in the manifesto called Nine Points on Monumentality, written with José Luis Sert and Ferdinand Léger in 1943, empty spaces was elevated to the rank of monument.

The three architects hoped that city centers would always be planned with empty spaces, surrounded by buildings which, during the night their facades could be illuminated with colored lights and it would act as a set for mass entertainment (temporary) such as fireworks displays, illuminated fountains and spectacles of light and sound.[22] Even though in Gideon’s opinion about artificial lighting seldom influences the appearance of architecture, but when it does, architecture is turned into an object of advertising, with Schouwburgplein their dream seems to have come true, fifty years later.

The design strategies used by the architects in the case of the Schouwburgplein might not be possible to apply anywhere else due to the specific Dutch policies and practices based on pragmatism and local economies. Their use of light such as landmarks[23] (vertical lighting elements), lighting the perimeter as a space definer, the interplay of different scales and shadows, and the feasibility of movement of this immaterial instrument are only a small part of the equation.

Nowadays the problematic with lighting in architecture and urban design is more complex due to the difficult and uncertain contemporary conditions. Today the tendency to seek a greater amount of light, both natural and artificial, has oversized light sources, deleting those values of structuring shadow which becomes appreciable physical reality of buildings and the urban space. Exaltation of urban center, presence in individual competition, wasting energy, dramatization of urban space is the dominant aspects of our time.

The nocturnal vision and architecture of the city has entered the contemporary aesthetic experience both as a representation of another time-space and as a contemplation of the conquest by artificial lights of a foreign and threating territory: the night. According to Francesca Zanella[24] it does not seem possible to interpret this contemporary scene uniquely through the polarity light/ shadows or rational /irrational, the comparison between other researches confirm the need to focus the attention on the investigation of the mode of reaction for a more conscious and creative way to use light in a synchronized process of architecture. Because architecture is not only a fixed narrative, but it is also a dynamic expression of society and the space, which is a great example the case study presented.

Lighting and urban design is an open dialog, to be further studied and the strategies used in the Schouwburgplein are a good example. It is necessary to seek the parameters for evaluating the nocturnal landscape and Marc Armengaud[25] suggests three main approaches in order to better define the nocturnal dimension:

· To look and think at the metropolitan scale, where the destiny of contemporary cities is in play

· To look and think the basic organization of these territories: infrastructures

· To think about, not on the basis of space and of places, but on that of movement and the relation between places: nightscapes of the network.

The intervention of lighting is only capable of supporting the creation of pleasant surroundings and providing stimulating effects in the urban environment or the habitants. The goal is to find out exactly what impact artificial lighting has in the public realm and where is the limit of this instrument to support social process in a positive manner. This fact leads to the question of how to see the hidden life in ordinary places?[26] Will the form of the street indeed prompt public life to begin? Doesn’t night produce public space?

Light is the most immaterial component of architecture, the element that supports the rhythm of the human figure and that of the surfaces of the shadows in a quiet changing choreography. The research of artificial lighting as an instrument for the recovery of public spaces and as a contemporary design tool encounters the idea that lighting has its own language still to be further developed in association with the research for new references in architecture, if we want to reinterpreted the actual crisis of the public space as a moment to open up a field of new possibilities.


[1] L.Munford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects, Hardcourt Inc, San Diego, 1961.

[2] I. Valente, Percorsi del progetto e archietture dello spazio pubblico, al interno AA.VV, Le architetture dello spazio pubblico a cura di Paolo Paputo, Electa, Milano 1997

[3] D. Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, London 1990 (, Milano, 1993)

[4] R. Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A retroactive manifesto for Manhattan, Academy Editions, London, 1978.

[5]M. Webber, Urban Place and Non Place Urban Realm. Explorations into Urban Structure, Philadelphia 1963.

[6]M. Cenzatti, M. Crawford, Spazi pubblici e mondi paralleli, from monographic issue of Casabellan.597/598 Il disegno degli spazi aperti, January 1993.p.34.

[7] M. Webber, Urban Place and Non Place Urban Realm. Explorations into Urban Structure, Philadelphia 1963.

[8] S. Boeri, Eclectic Atlases, Four possible ways of seeing the city, Daidalos magazine n.69/70 pag.102-113, 1988/99.

[9]E. Husserl, La crisi delle scienze europee e la fenomenologia trascendentale. Il Saggiatore, Milano,2008.

[10]A. Amin N. Thrift, Città: ripensare la dimensioni urbana,Il Mulino, Bologna, 2005.

[11] M. Armengaud A. Cianchetta, Nightscapes, Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, 2009.

[12]F. Purini, Comporre l’architettura, GFL editori Laterza, Roma, 2000.

[13]M. Murray, Le frontiere della notte, Edizioni di Cominutà, Milano, 1988.

[14] M. Foucault, Eterotopia : luoghi e non-luoghi metropolitani, Mimesis, Milano, 1994.

[15] J.McCarthy, Reconstruction, regeneration and re-imaging. The case of Rotterdam, Cities, Vol.15, No.5, pp.337-344, 1998

[16] M. A. Hajer, Rotterdam: re-designing the public domain. In Cultural policy and Urban Regeneration: The West European Experience, eds F. Bianchini and M. Parkinson, pp 48-72. Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1993.

[17]J. Coenen, Riflessioni ed esperienze sul tema dello spazio pubblico, al interno AA.VV, Le architetture dello spazio pubblico a cura di Paolo Caputo, Electa, Milano 1997

[18]M. Armengaud A. Cianchetta, Nightscapes, Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, 2009.

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[20]S. BoeriB. Lootsman, Ridisegno di Schouwburgplein e multisala cinematografica Pathè, Rotterdam, Rivista Domus Vol. 797, 1997, pag.46-57

[21] B. Tschumi, Architecture and Disjunction, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.:London, 1994.

[22]S. BoeriB. Lootsman, Ridisegno di Schouwburgplein e multisala cinematografica Pathè, Rotterdam, Rivista Domus Vol. 797, 1997, pag.46-57

[23] K. Lynch, The image of the city, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1960.

[24]F. Zanella, Città e luce. Rappresentazione e progetto, in Città e Luce. Fenomenologia del paesaggio illuminato a cura di francesca Zanella, Festival architettura edizioni, Parma, 2008.

[25]M. Armengaud A. Cianchetta, Nightscapes, Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, 2009.

[26] R. Sennett, Unconscious Places, inside Common Ground a critical reader edited by David Chipperfield, Kieran Long, Shumi Bose. Marsilio, 13th Venice Architecture Biennale, Venice, 2012.

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