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IES/LD+A Magazine "Imagine This"

The $1.2 trillion U.S. infrastructure bill promises to help deliver large-scale, well-funded projects for years to come. Five lighting designers told us what they’d do with a slice of the pie.

Affordable housing in underfunded cities. Roads and bridges for essential workers. Better yet, improved public transportation for everyone. Following passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021, lists of critical infrastructure projects—those that should be prioritized—began to pop up in nearly every publication. A quick Google search yields results broken down by region, price tag, type, impact…and the list goes on.

So, LD+A took a different approach. Instead of asking lighting designers to point out the most critical infrastructure projects, we asked them to tell us about their dream infrastructure projects. ...we asked, “What infrastructure project would you light if you had the power of the purse strings?”

As it happens, our respondents still prioritized helping people. Nothing on the “wish list” that follows is purely aesthetic. However, a bit of ambient illumination here, a touch of daylight there or—dare we say—a whole lot of lighting style throughout, can certainly up a project’s ante. For the following lighting designer, that effect is precisely what dreams are made of. Samantha Schwirck

For the entire Issu version see this:


My dream builds upon hybrid principles: art and activism through lighting design and community engagement. Here, I propose a public housing co-design initiative. Envision smart lighting integrated with community participation. A theatrical approach to atmospheres made of color and intensity defines spaces. Community members research social and existing conditions, have input on design and learn by doing.

Working alongside the design team would be a Citizen Advisory Lighting Corps (CALC). The CALC mirrors the subject area, including a variety of ages, local roles and diverse demographics. The involvement of partners and decision makers, such as municipal representatives and a university’s urban research or planning division, are instrumental. Community-based planning and design necessitates collaboration. Benefits include:

  • Spatial character is identified: existing and aspirational conditions

  • Capacity building: professionals and community members plan lighting scenarios together

  • Citizens are engaged in creative decision making—culminating in a sense of belonging

  • Community co-evaluation of lighting quality and local responses over time underpins future programming adjustments

The diagram (below) illustrates the end-result scenario for a typical New York public housing courtyard. Qualitative social research has already taken place through interviews, workshops and discussions. It is revealed that after dark, women are afraid to use the diagonal path although it is a practical shortcut to the corner grocery store. The basketball court, although it has functional lighting, is never switched on because of the nuisance: teenage noise and congregation. The plaza is empty of welcoming amenities even beyond quality illumination, such as greenery, comfortable seating, path paving and cultural amenities.

Programmed, connected lighting is agreed upon by CALC. After the new design is implemented, examples above and beyond threshold levels of safety are regularly evaluated and improved.

  • Path: After new paving and lighting are installed, path usage measurement and interviews during times of day and night are undertaken.

  • Basketball Court: Testing includes trial periods for illumination. The lighting is programmed and can be changed to more or fewer evenings and duration.

  • Poet’s Corner and Sitting Area: Other timed experiments are conducted for the Poet’s Corner and Sitting Area, with varied brightness, color and on-off periods. These characteristics are set after evaluation reports.

Community-informed public design generally requires a transdisciplinary approach. This pilot requires street and landscape design professionals, community engagement professionals and lighting designers. It is time to harness high tech in service to our lives on the ground. This is one challenging, yet joyful step, in that direction.

Community-Designed Public Housing


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