City After Dark Collaboration with Bezalel University

In June 2015, Mona Sloane and Don Slater and had the chance to visit the ancient city of Jerusalem for the City After Dark Conference on urban lighting, organised by Bezalel University and the Municipality of Jerusalem. The conference was part of the Lights in Jerusalem Festival which turns the Old City of Jerusalem into a bold lighting spectacle for more than seven nights every summer.

The City After Dark conference took place during the festival to address related and newly emerging questions around urban development, public spaces and lighting in the context of Israel’s cities and climate. Configuring Light had supported the conceptualisation and organisation of the conference in collaboration with Maya Tapiero, Dr Els Verbakel and Dr Jonathan Ventura of Bezalel University as well as Ofer Manor, Chief Architect at Jerusalem Municipality.

The conference took place from 10-12 June 2015 and brought together international experts on public lighting, academics and practitioners alike. The conference was opened by a session in Jerusalem’s Municipality on urban lighting in Israel as well as with a festive reception at Bezalel University and a round table of Mayors of both Jewish and Arab towns speaking about the role of light in their cities. The second conference day explored the three themes of light and social change, light as urban material and light and ecology. Papers and keynotes were given by both Israeli and international speakers such as Roger Narboni (Concepto), Professor Jeremy Myerson (Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art), Dr Susanne Seitinger (Cities Innovations Manager, Philips), Dr Wendy Gunn (University of Southern Denmark), Professor Mike Turner (Bezalel University and UNESCO), the Configuring Light team and Dr Amir Balaban (The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). It was very exciting to enter a cross-disciplinary dialogue with such an impressive line-up of speakers and to discuss the particularities of lighting in Israeli cities and we hope to continue the dialogue.

As part of the conference, Bezalel had organised a lighting workshop for the MUrbDes Graduate Program in Urban Design students which was based on Configuring Light’s workshop project on social research and lighting design on Peabody’s Whitecross estate. In April and May 2015, the students worked on three different sites inside and outside Jerusalem to conduct social research and develop lighting design interventions to improve public spaces. As kick-off for the conference, Configuring Light hosted a seminar at Bezalel University on 9 June 2015 for the students to reflect back on the social research they had conducted and discuss their design ideas. All groups presented compelling projects and designs and for us it was the highlight of the Jerusalem tour to discuss their projects and locations with them:

The first site was the ultra-orthodox neighbourhood Mea Shearim in Jerusalem and the student group was led by instructor Karen Lee Bar Sinai in collaboration with the Museum of the Seam. The group split up and worked on two different sites within the neighbourhood: one group focussed on a playground and the other one on the connection between Mea Shearim and the adjacent Arab neighbourhood. During the seminar, the students reflected back on the challenge of engaging with a dialogue with the community as ‘outsiders’ and paying respect to the local rules while doing the social research, but also in the designs. These rules could range from wearing ‘modest’ clothing while in the field to making sure that light sensors would not conflict with one of the most important rules of the Jewish Shabbat: not switching on lights. This was particularly crucial for the first group working on the playground who aimed at improving the space via an interactive lighting sculpture made out of prisms. The second group created a ‘light line’ between two monuments, one in Mea Shearim and one in the adjacent Arab neighbourhood. This line explicitly referenced the religious but also contemporary character of both places: in both communities, opinions and news would be scribbled onto walls or put up in posters. This was a particular characteristic both in terms of content and in terms of physical environment. The group working on the site picked up on this and suggested the ‘light line’ connecting the two monuments to be religious quotes from Judaism and Islam.

The second site was the industrial zone in Talpiot, a neighbourhood in southeast Jerusalem. This zone is characterised by modernist industrial architecture and is currently used by a range of craftsmen, creative industry professionals and start-ups. The group working on Talpiot was led by Amir Lotan and focussed on two sites, a courtyard within the industrial zone and a large mixed-used building at the edge of the zone. The students spent a lot of time in Talpiot and researched the history of the place to decide on focussing on the ‘readability’ and ‘organisation’ of the public spaces within the zone. The final design aimed at creating space for interaction and rest through light, referencing the fact that the space was in use almost 24 hours (e.g. bakers starting production in the early morning and artists and nightclubs using the space until very late at night).

The last group worked outside of Jerusalem, in the Arab town Abu Gosh which is famous for its hummus. The group was led by Rami Tariff and impressed with an advanced toolkit of social research methods to understand the use and non-use of their chosen project site, a run-down playground on the edge of the town. This playground was not only equipped with playground equipment for children, but also with gym equipment for adults – neither of them used by the community. The group did research into the use of public space in Arab communities which turned out to be largely gendered (women, mothers and children vs. men) and, like in Mea Shearim, determined by respective rules of behaviour (for example no smoking in public for women). The students contextualised these observations in Abu Gosh with the ways in which Arab families were using public space in Yafo, the Arab part of Tel Aviv. Here, while ‘outside’ of their community, everybody would use these machines and women would even smoke in public. Taking this outcome of their social research as starting point, the group decided that in order to revive the playground space, the ‘outside’ had to be brought into Abu Gosh, i.e. it needed to become an attraction for visitors. They thus proposed the playground to become an ‘interactive lighting park’ which would be integrated into a ‘light path’ that connected the famous hummus restaurants of Abu Gosh. The group was fortunate enough to present their designs to the Mayor of Abu Gosh who attended the opening ceremony of the conference.

All students produced not only solid pieces of social research and innovative lighting designs, but also intriguing documentations of their social research process, some of them even produced fascinating videos alongside their presentation. Their work is currently showcased in an exhibition at Bezalel University. We would like to thank all students and instructors, as well as the organisers, for this fantastic opportunity to bring social research in lighting design to Israel. We are hopeful that we can continue the dialogue on these projects and see the implementation of the student’s design ideas.

All images © Don Slater