Smart Night-time Design

Configuring Light teamed up with Arup to introduce customised lanterns in Getsemani, Colombia to showing how social research can help create lighting designed both with and for the community

Configuring Light participated in a two-year (2015-17) pilot lighting project in a working class and marginalised barrio of Cartagena, Colombia. Together we aimed to develop community-oriented lighting solutions for the neighbourhood, based on extensive social and spatial research, and in close dialogue with the design team. This placed us right in the middle of an extended design process, and gave us the opportunity to help develop social research-based planning tools and methodologies for night-time urban design.

The partnership was with Ove Arup’s international lighting group, and particularly with Leni Schwendiger, who has been pioneering community engaged night-time design for many years. Her approach connects research-responsive lighting design with a holistic approach to the night-time as an urban domain that requires its own design logic. The team also comprises the Bogota NGO, Despaccio, and our ever-enthusiastic sponsors, iGuzzini, as well as numerous local community groups, university and corporate collaborators.

For the Getsemini project, Leni’s starting point was a lighting design response to Getsemani…

  • that enhanced both the sociability and functionality of night-time in the neighbourhood;
  • that involved small-scale iterative design rather than large-scale infrastructure provision;
  • and that encouraged community engagement by being privately rather than publicly mounted;
  • and by allowing for a meaningful degree of customisation (localisation) within a broadly standard design.

The project (so far) has involved two major phases:

Early 2015:

  • Social research (Don Slater & Laura Mendoza Sandoval): broadly ethnographic exploration of stakeholders, practices, understandings of space
  • Spatial analysis (Andres Ramirez) of three diverse Getsemani streets
  • Workshops and community engagement activities to articulate issues in night-time design and social practices

…followed by production of report, methodology and – finally – a lighting design response to Getsemani grounded in research (plus some broader night-time proposals for pedestrianisation)

July 2016: after frustrating attempts to raise funds for large scale and long term piloting, we all trooped back to Getsemani for….

  • Social research focused specifically on local understandings of light and lighting (Don and Laura), including understandings of the new lantern design
  • Community engagement workshop in which stakeholders worked with the lanterns, exploring qualities of light and customizing the lights collectively
  • An installation on Calle Tripita y Media for one evening.

Read the final report of phase 1:.

Leni Schwendinger is now a Visiting Research Fellow at LSE Sociology, as part of Configuring Light. She has spent the last two years developing the International Nighttime Design Initiative, which is a direct continuation of our work in Cartagena.