Learning from the new Tate modern and the 24 hour city

Light in the city is important for many reasons. It brings safety to dark spaces, affects mood and behaviour and can inspire awe and impress.

City lighting in London was first introduced in the 1700s when oil lamps were used to illuminate previously pitch-black streets. By 1800 visitors to London were mesmerised by the lights they saw there and London was the envy of Europe.

More recently a nuanced understanding of the impact of lighting has lead to an explosion in the applications and synergies produced. Whereas it is still implemented in a very functional way in the form of street lamps, such as the conversion of 250,000 standard street light fixtures to LEDs in New York City, to being at the core of sophisticated architectural projects in London.

As you walk around London’s Southbank for example, you pass through areas where it is possible observe various overlapping lighting strategies.

The New Tate Modern

The new Tate Modern space officially opened to the public on Friday 17 June 2016, following a series of preview events.
The external space of the museum attracts visitors and creates a zone of play and gathering where people can enjoy the views of the Thames, visit the markets or enjoy the impressive building exterior.

At the same time it needed to be understated enough to be sensitive to the surrounding neighbourhood and other land uses. A lighting strategy in the city needs to integrate sensitively with the surroundings. This is a motif that runs through any lighting solution.

Slender windows form slices across the brick surfaces. Large perforations in the building’s exterior allow light to filter in during the day, and cause the building to glow in the evening.

Internally lighting systems enhance the artwork and play off the space, while minimising energy use. The lighting also had to adapt to any possible artist installation.

Working with Existing Structures

The original Tate Modern was the renovation of an existing building, the designers Herzog and de Meuron described it as using a “kind of Aikido strategy where you use your enemy’s energy for your own purposes.” They worked with what was there to enhance and reimagine it in an exciting new way. They wanted the new Tate Modern building to be an extension of the original, using the same brickwork which is an essential, recognisable part of the iconic structure.

Day and Night

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of the city’s architecture. There is a balance to strike between providing the right level of light and not wasting energy. There is the need to maintain the functional use of the building and infrastructure whilst affording maximum potential for creative use of space and added value.

Learning to plan and design for darkness as well as for daylight is important for 24-hour cities like London. The night-time economy is said to be worth £66 billion a year and employs 1.3 million people in the UK alone.

24 Hour City

Increasingly people are working more flexibly and are not restricted to normal working hours. This means that the city has to accommodate 24 hour access as a norm as opposed to restricting access to areas at certain hours just because activities happen outside of daylight hours.

Many architectural choices that are made about the building’s materials and textures are lost at night which raises the importance of effective lighting strategies that create a 24 hour experience.

Lighting is a subtle science that is often conventionally understood somewhat simplistically. Where you might think that emphasis should be put on brightness of lights to create maximum vision, it is good to remember that strong light creates strong shadows and contrasts. Too much light is considered light pollution. The human eye adapts perfectly to a huge range of light levels. Myriad human activities require certain levels of light – whether that is functionally for working, playing, navigating or more subtly to appreciate and highlight more nuanced qualities of an object or space.


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