Architectural lighting: sustaining the economy, communities and urban life

Toon Reynders - Schréder Group Product Manager – Urban Deco
Toon Reynders
Schréder Group Product Manager – Urban Deco

Planet earth spends half of the year in darkness. Since the invention of artificial light, human life has been transformed. The hours we once spent gathered round the fireplace, or snuggled under blankets have progressed to nights out, bringing excitement, intrigue and interaction. Much of modern life takes place after dark, but with the energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sending shockwaves around the world, many cities are adjusting the way monuments, buildings and fountains are lit to keep energy bills down this winter. 

This might make sense on paper, but switching off the lighting on landmarks, towers and façades may well be a case of short-term gain but a long-term mistake. Since the pandemic, people’s habits have changed. With more of us working from home, people welcome the opportunity to go out at night - but only if they feel safe. Architectural lighting helps bring a city alive after dark by creating a pleasant, welcoming visual experience. And with the right lighting, many installations can use a tiny amount of power to create a massive amount of public well-being.

LED for Leaders

Firstly, cities need to consider which lights they are actually turning off. LED lighting substantially reduces energy consumption compared to traditional light sources, has a longer lifespan (reducing maintenance costs) and offers more precise lighting. Our architectural LED lighting solutions highlight the details, rather than using HID floodlights that lose nuance by completely flooding a façade with light.

A decade ago, we illuminated Grand Place in Brussels, a jewel of medieval architecture which draws tourists from all over the world. The square’s current lighting uses the same energy to illuminate 27 buildings as it previously took to light two. That’s an energy saving of around 80%. The installation has been working beautifully for ten years now, saving the city energy and money - and projects we work on now offer even greater energy efficiency.

Grand Place in Brussels is illuminated to the delight of visitors with 80% energy savings

So before turning the lights off, think about upgrading them. The terrasses of Grand Place are busy all year round, whatever the weather: turning off the lights would make that a challenge outside of summer. Buildings and monuments which are lit up create more inviting spaces where people will spend time and have fun - bringing a much-needed boost to both their mental health, and local businesses.

A Sense of Occasion

As high streets struggle to compete with shifting consumer spending patterns and online shopping, lively town centres are vital to attract shoppers. Temporary festive lighting installations can increase footfall, improving revenues and rental rates. Lyon’s Fête des Lumières is a huge draw for tourists and a time of celebration for residents. As the organisers note, the city’s energy efficiency plan is not impacted by the Festival of Lights, and after two years of health crisis, the city council wants to celebrate this important community event which contributes to Lyon’s international reputation.

Lyon Light Festival attracts millions of visitors each year, showing the power of illuminating a city

In the North of England, Durham’s Light Festival attracts more than 150,000 visitors and the County Council say the 2019 edition had a total economic impact valued at over £11.5 million - an overall Return on Investment for the Council of 1925%. Ephemeral lighting installations are particularly important during the Christmas shopping season. Events such as Winter Glow in Bruges, Tallinn Christmas market and Opitaja Advent bring festive sparkle - and visitors with money to spend - to their cities.

Great lighting also pays its way all year round. Illuminating heritage buildings, landmarks and monuments attracts people to city centres. From new destinations to explore, to getting that insta-worthy photo backdrop, the wow factor translates into city centre businesses not just surviving but thriving. Architectural lighting of buildings and monuments also builds a strong sense of ownership, making people proud of their town centre.

Modern Emphasis for Renaissance Landmarks

The pretty town of Caminha has been quietly attracting tourists for decades. It’s lighting needed an upgrade, so in 2014, the authorities drew up a public master lighting plan with the Portuguese Order of Engineers North Region (OERN). The switch to modern LED technology, including the historic centre, has been a huge success both in terms of lighting quality and overall energy consumption, which has been reduced by approximately 70%.

Caminha has illuminated all its landmarks with LED lighting, reducing its energy consumption by 70%

Built between the 15th and 17th centuries, each landmark has been lit to reveal its history and highlight its architectural details while striking the right balance in the visual nightscape. The parish church, the Clock Tower, the old Town Hall, Misericórdia Church, Terreiro Fountain and Casa dos Pitas are all illuminated by a variety of energy-efficient LED floodlights, serving as a beautiful backdrop for community life after dark. Enriching colours and creating beautiful nightscapes, Caminha is going from under-the-radar favourite to must-see destination.

To conclude: Don’t Switch Off, Switch Smart

It may seem counterintuitive, but there’s no better time than an energy crisis to invest in lighting. Modern solutions include the possibility of dimming lights, changing the hours they’re on, and customisable settings alongside the huge energy savings of LEDs. Instead of leaving citizens, businesses and tourists in the dark this winter, look at upgrading lights to create an energy-efficient urban centre that really lets your city sparkle. 

About the writer
Toon is an industrial engineer in electronics who always had a passion for lighting and technology. He seized the opportunity to join the industry after graduating and now brings his wealth of experience in sales and marketing to develop lighting solutions for Schréder customers worldwide. 

Connect with Toon on LinkedIn.