I think it is time to understand cities are evolving, and we must realize that they are also taking shape when darkness falls. Although today’s cities tend to be active 24/7, planners continue to apply their work only in daylight, therefore neglecting the potential of the nocturnal environment.
Urban lighting not only represents a perceptible physical factor in defining public space, but a discernible factor on a cognitive level, creating moods and feelings, reflections and memories. Having in mind that Timisoara was the first electrically lit city in Europe in 18841, the culture of light is strongly rooted in people’s minds. Creating an adequate nocturnal environment means the reactivation of a lost collective memory, placing an importance on light in our lives, that may connect people despite their age, nationality or social status.
The contemporary city is marked by the profound transformation of the urban environment, where the human factor is a complex actor using multiple services and functions that influence each other in an evolving and interacting system. Appropriate lighting in this environment can improve the sense of security to those who are working during the night, encourage the use of public transportation or just enhance nocturnal walks. Therefore, illuminated public spaces also encourage the process of the „night time economy”2, which is a concept discussed in numerous cities which “don’t sleep” due to the globally growing business sector active between 6 pm and 6 am. This approach facilitates the development of activities during the night like in a normal working day.
On a general scale, this concept encompasses all types of environments in such a way as to allow economic development even after the usual working hours and it’s based on the fact that cities are increasingly active overnight. Although this need is a priority in many cities, here we talk about the presented case study of the Iosefin district—one of the three oldest neighbourhoods in the history of Timisoara, Romania—where the strategy could be selectively applied, responding to the needs of the district. Trying to extend the day can be done only in the places where the uses demand it, such as areas with business offices, hotels and bar spaces, and a small number of medical and food shops, and only for as much time as the as the activity of these spaces requires it.
These observations, on the need for certain uses and levels of activity, led me to choose the Iosefin district [Image 2]. The district embodies the high levels of complexity of the historical, functional, spatial, architectural and social development of this area, ideal conditions for converting it into a smart social neighbourhood. In order to achieve a holistic approach to the city, after analyzing the city’s needs four types of ambient lighting were determined [Image 1], generally applicable and with an integrative role for the component parts of Timisoara, including the studied area: functional ambience for major car streets with white light, convivial ambience dedicated to pedestrians with warm light, discreet ambience meant to protect the nature with dimmed warm light and dynamic ambience which enhances the art and architecture with orientated and strategic light. Having in mind that it is scientifically proven that lighting towards the red end of the spectrum is known as warm light and is associated with emotionally positive feelings and cool lighting in the blue direction of the spectrum is associated with reduced intensity of emotion, each of these ambient lights has the purpose of converting the simple light into emotional light by creating a certain mood or influencing the mood, depending on the spot you are in3. With the help of today’s LED technologies, by replacing the old sodium and incandescent lamps all over the city, not only can we reduce the energy waste, but we can also control the light and play with our emotions through brightness and saturation, amplifying our feelings with powerful lights or dimming them with dramatic black and white contrasts.
The city’s chameleon side starts to appear when darkness is falling, and each of these environmental lighting schemes are found in a strong connection with the diverse scenarios that the night is offering us, depending on the time during the night and depending on how the space is used in that moment. With a high percentage of residential areas in the district, street lights are dimmed to a lower level between midnight and sunrise to decrease the energy waste and the light pollution4, with the exception of the main boulevards and on days of celebrations, festivals or parades. Having this strategy as a baseline, we can make the space multifunctional without disturbing the uses, the physical spaces or the communities who are populating the neighborhood. The idea is not only to create a suitable environment for the buildings and for the spaces, but to also create livable places for the people who, above all, are the main actors in the city. Focusing on the community, the adaptation of light encourages them to explore the neighborhood in an undiscovered way of perception, creating joyful, social and walkable spaces, because people attract people and a place without people becomes only a space, not a life creator, as a neighborhood is supposed to be.
By offering properly lit cities, the first issue addressed will be the increment of safety and security on the streets, followed by the decrease of light pollution. Creating cultural events during the night in unvisited spaces will extend the range of walkability generating a solution for the third issue which aims to prevent social segregation and intercultural conflicts. Ensuring and strengthening the active use of the public realm by generating more pedestrian friendly and flexible public spaces, making buildings more attractive by night, it’s the answer to the unawareness of the residents about the unique places they are living in and about the importance of light and dark, as a life generator which keeps the city active like a perpetual motion machine.
1. A crucial moment for the future of Timisoara in terms of urban planning and mobility: http://www.timisoara-info.ro/en/sightseeing/historical-quarters/cetate/tours/224-felinarul.html; and also more information about Timisoara Capital of Culture in 2021: https://timisoara2021.ro/ro/
2. See more about cities that don’t sleep: https://www.arup.com/perspectives/cities-alive-lighting-the-urban-night-time
3. More information about how light changes your perception can be found on: http://changingminds.org/explanations/emotions/emotions_light.htm
4. See more about energy waste and light pollution on the International Dark Sky Association: https://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/
The work presented here is part of the Lighting Master Plan for Timisoara European Capital of Culture 2021 thesis at the School of Architecture, from Polytechnic University of Timisoara, Romania presented in 2017 and also a part of the ongoing masters thesis from the same university.
Adela Petra Popa (1992) is an architect and an urban planner, who graduated the Polytechnic University of Timisoara in 2017 and is currently studying for her masters thesis at the same University. Her thesis topic is emotional lighting design in urban spaces. After studying and working in recent years with architects and artists in Spain, Portugal and Italy, Petra Popa returned to her home town, Timisoara in 2020 to work in an architecture office and complete her studies. In her field trips across the Europe, she realized the importance of light in people’s lives and the relevance of an existing emergency lighting system in case of natural calamities.