As cities across the world compete with each other for investment, installations and festivals of light are increasingly vital ways in which cities showcase their 24-hour creativity and community.
Neon was once the medium of choice for public spaces from Times Square to Soho and Piccadilly Circus, while 24-hour cities such as Las Vegas sold their glamour and entertainment via the surfaces of the hotels and casinos. Inside, users of such nightlife are invited to live only for the moment as time disappears with the removal of clocks and windows.
In the 21st century experiments with light and sound have become a way for cities to brand themselves. From the success of the international Nuit Blanche to London’s Art Night, to buildings such as Hamburg’s spectacular new Elbphilharmonie, cities are now branded for a night-time culture that is mainstream and often high culture. Night culture can brand a city and transform its image, it can be seen to greatly enhance rather than be the parasitic exploitation of old. Formerly dislocated anonymous city spaces can also be gathered together by branding an area through design motifs such as the Lightweave sculpture in Washington DC.
Art Night, London
Inspired by the international Nuit Blanche movement originating in Paris in 2002, London’s first nocturnal arts festival was held on Saturday 2 July 2016. The international Nuit Blanche events attract a significant number of tourists, generate substantial revenue for business and provide an opportunity for local people to experience their neighbourhoods come alive at night.
The Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg
Open in January 2017, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg is a night-time cultural landmark rivalling the Gehry museums. Seven years late and 10 times over budget at €789 million, this architectural wonder is the new signifier of Hamburg as a global city. The grand hall features 10,000 uniquely carved acoustic panels (“the white skin”) that distribute sound internally and provide the necessary boundary between inside and outside.
Lightweave, Future Cities Lab, Washington DC
The city’s daytime ecology has emerged over time, buildings, signage and information design providing with visual and aural cues for different kinds of activities – commuting, shopping, working, picnicking – helping us negotiate spaces. The night-time city is more uncertain. Lightweave by Future Cities Lab envisions a light sculpture generated from ambient sound, patterns emerge and transform out of the vibrations of passing cars, buses and neighbourhood sounds. As it unfurls, Lightweave draws together previously disconnected parts of the city, evolving a dynamic sense of place for citizens.
Hull Night Vision, Debi Keable
There are increasingly less official channels through which the public can instigate urban change. Debi Keable’s Hull Night Vision is a crowdfunding project designed to plant the seeds of urban regeneration. Many cities are emptied of the people at night as people return to the suburbs and dormitory towns. Keable’s project proposes lighting-up empty buildings and spaces above shops and cafes that no one inhabits, using spectacle as a means of drawing people back into the city at night, and rethinking how unused assets can generate an invigorated sense of community.
TO:KY:OO, Liam Wong
From Coleridge’s Xanadu, to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Blade Runner’s dirty tech futurism of downtown Los Angeles, the city lives in our imaginations as much as our everyday life. Liam Wong’s images of Tokyo at night have garnered a huge social media following and have been featured by CNN, The Atlantic Citylab and The Smithsonian. As Graphic Design Director for Ubisoft, it is no surprise that the visually and information-rich images are shot by an award-winning video-games designer. The 20th Century city communicated itself through neon, the 21st Century hybrid city of the night will merge the offline with the online.
HOME, Mecanoo, Manchester
Designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo, HOME (Manchester’s new cultural hub) was formed by the merging of two local institutions – the Cornerhouse cinema and gallery and the Library Theatre Company. The triangular shaped building with its bold, declarative typeface and window on visitors being social, is a building that invites people to enter and play. The first-floor theatre contains 500 seats across its three levels, the second and third floors housing a smaller, flexible studio theatre and five cinemas. Located on a street named after the late Tony Wilson, a visionary who championed Manchester’s post-industrial future, the energy of HOME’s night-life has helped revitalise a previously dilapidated part of the city.
Waterlicht, Studio Roosegaarde
Waterlicht (in English ‘Waterlight’) uses light to visualise how high the water level would be in the Netherlands without the design of the dykes. Created by Studio Roosegaarde using the latest LED technology, software and lenses, visitors experience a virtual flood in immersive waves of blue light. A mix of awe and terror, a technological sublime that shows the power of nature and what the city might look like under water. Daan Roosegaarde, who founded the studio, won the London Design Innovation Medal in 2016.