Walking through a charming village square, bustling city centre or seafront promenade by night, you might notice a thousand things. Smiling faces, buzzy restaurants, the pretty ripples in a fountain… the glimpses and moments which make up urban living are part of the joy of going out after dark. But we can only appreciate them thanks to urban lighting - which we often take for granted. Street lights are rarely centre stage, but a lot goes into making them an integral part of the cityscape.
Over the decades, Schréder's urban range has helped bring iconic destinations to life after dark. We light cities people love to live in on every continent. From Rio de Janeiro’s Porto Maravilha to historic Mons, Belgium, YOA blends in seamlessly. The much-admired NEOS was a huge hit, lighting a variety of spaces from parks to pétanque pitches and making streets, railways platforms and pedestrian crossings safe. Meanwhile PERLA brings a convivial atmosphere to Portuguese parks after dark, and TECEO has sold over 1.5 million units worldwide.
All of these classics were designed by the same man, French architect Michel Tortel. Michel has worked on a range of projects with Schréder over the past few decades. For the launch of our latest joint project, the hybrid floodlight/luminaire VALINTA, I spoke to him about luminaire design, the importance of getting it right and how it can bring multiple urban landscapes together.
Michel, your designs have helped Schréder work with villages, towns and cities to create lighting that aligns with their vision. How does your architectural training feed into that?
As architects, we look for products that accompany the architecture, without overpowering it or clashing with it. In the case of a luminaire, this is even more interesting because it is an object that has always been decorative. Decoration and architecture are two things that go together, while opposing each other.
Products that I designed 30 years ago are still successful because they are relatively neutral. They form a part of fundamental stylistic codes.
Lighting creates a decorative expectation, but as we are in an urban space, we are obliged to be in a kind of neutrality, to be part of the long term. We want to offer products that look wonderful, both by day and by night. For example, with VALINTA, the LEDs are arranged so it looks attractive whether it is switched on or off. I seek to create designs with a discrete and elegant signature that smoothly integrate the landscape. Products that I designed 30 years ago are still successful because they are relatively neutral. They form a part of fundamental stylistic codes.
One of the characteristics that defines Schréder's urban range is its versatility. There are luminaires which stand out, and solutions that blend in. What’s the common thread?
Right from the start, we wanted to create a brand DNA together. To dive into a communal language. To combine the flexibility naturally found in the southern hemisphere with the rigour more often associated with the north. Whenever I design a luminaire, I create a pole to go with it, they come in pairs: NEOS+TEKTON, TECEO+ELAYA, YOA+LYRE, with the whole ensemble meant to tell a story, sharply, without exaggerating….
Personally, I have a real taste for simplicity and efficiency. I navigate this paradox which consists of creating a decorative object while constantly asking myself the question of what can be removed in order to keep only what is significant, and the leitmotif of my work is to go for the simplest, most effective design - without proposing something bare or sad.
Our designs in action: This was the case with YOA, which the London Borough of Newham used in its refurbishment of Stratford, a busy area in East London. The area saw reduced vehicle use, whilst innovations new, well-lit cycle paths, improved traffic flow, and made cyclists feel safer. YOA perfectly complements the new look of Stratford town centre and provides the local council with a high-performing lighting network worthy of their investment.
VALINTA is a whole new platform for urban lighting - a luminaire and a floodlight, offering endless possibilities. Tell us more about it….
What's enjoyable in this job is the intellectual challenge… A luminaire has the particularity of having several lives: a life that is switched off, a life that is switched on and, in addition, it creates an environment through light. VALINTA is a whole family of products, with a real identity. With the different versions, we wanted to offer a wide range of possibilities to architects, town planners and lighting designers. It is a product that combines decorative, technical and neutral codes. We have integrated the technical and economic constraints, such as the fastening, which is the same for the whole range. VALINTA is a work of formal geometry, and the fruit of a very constructive and stimulating dialogue with the Schréder development team!
The designer's job is not to create form but to think globally about aesthetics, technique, economics and the final user experience.
I’ve always enjoyed the way we’ve worked to combine technological innovation and aesthetic appeal. I remember when we worked together on the PERLA, we wanted PERLA to be the jewel of lighting… we designed it to be as luxurious as possible.
We have often worked on products that introduce new technologies like the PERLA. I don't see technology as a constraint but as a subject of wonder, enlightenment and pleasure. I like complex projects and the PERLA had to be a trailblazer, an iconic product. It’s a manifesto. When you choose a PERLA, you’re adding a bit of couture flair to history.
Our designs in action: PIANO, another Tortel design, is the perfect example of this. It was chosen to light the car parks and access roads at AZ Zeno Hospital, on the Belgian coast, where it was important, from an architectural standpoint, to blend into the coastal landscape, including the vegetation. In Portugal, it helped transform a neighbourhood by turning a car park into a large pedestrianised area where residents relax, play and shop after dark.
Coming back to the conversation between engineer and designer, what are the points of convergence and the natural divergences that have to be managed?
It's a constant dialogue. Like any architect, I am very sensitive to detail. So, I can be very demanding with the technicians… There is nothing more pleasant than working with a technical team that listens and reacts. We work faster and the result is better. Of course, there’s always the economic equation in play. But with a clear brief, it is always possible to integrate the notion of aesthetics and design. We know how to deal with industrial constraints. Design is above all a way of thinking and serving a project. The designer's job is not just to create a shape, but to think globally, about aesthetics, technique, economics and the final user experience.
Thanks Michel for taking the time to speak to me! The final user experience is what has been making the difference for Schréder customers for decades, and we are sure VALINTA will be lighting squares, parks and monuments for many years to come. Working with experts in their field, like Michel, is part of what makes my job as an engineer so rewarding - here's to more collaborative successes in the future!
About the writer
Since he joined the company as a mechanical engineer in 1988, Jean-Luc has developed a wide range of urban lighting luminaires, always striving to improve design and efficiency.
He has travelled the world, bringing a hands-on mentality to deliver the perfect solution for customers worldwide. There’s not a lot he doesn’t know about lighting!
Connect with Jean-Luc on LinkedIn.