October 12, 2009 / 10:35 AM / in 8 years

Torch-bearing "guerrillas" look to light up cities

ISTANBUL (Reuters Life!) - Armed with nothing but powerful torches the foot soldiers of the “guerrilla lighting” movement gather in front of gloomy, nocturnal buildings, take aim, then bathe them in brilliant light.

The manifesto of the group of young designers declares war on “bad lighting” and “wasteful use of light” and the movement has illuminated buildings across Europe to show how a more artistic use of light can breathe new life into cities.

“People don’t realize how effective lighting can be. Most would just buy some floodlights if they wanted to light something and wouldn’t think about how to show the building at its best,” said Chantelle Stewart, one of the organizers.

In Istanbul’s historic Galata district 40 locals have volunteered to work with the group as torch bearers.

With a co-ordinated burst of light they transform some of the grand but drab buildings, picking out architectural features such as columns or ledges with their beams, and making them instantly imposing and beautiful.

They even light Istanbul’s landmark Galata tower -- after first asking local authorities to switch off the floodlights -- replacing the flat yellowish-orange light that usually illuminates the tower’s base for upward shafts of light which make the tower look longer.

Guerrilla lighting shows have wowed audiences across Scandinavia, Britain and Ireland. In Dublin it led to a commission to devise permanent lighting for a city square.

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Organizers complain that too often little or no thought goes into how buildings and streets are lit, leading to light pollution and energy inefficiency.

“You should never direct light at glass, it will just pass straight through it and into whatever is behind. You should also be careful not to over light, and bear in mind that floodlights make buildings look flat,” said Stewart.

Besides the playful aspect of the transformations those behind the movement say they want to gain recognition for architectural lighting as a discipline and profession.

“Las Vegas is the first place where city lighting designers were really called upon 40 years ago or so. The casino owners wanted to keep people awake and so they wanted powerful, eye-catching lighting,” said Emre Gunes, another organizer.

“Lighting has to have a purpose -- Paris is a city which has really thought about its lighting, because they want to create a certain mood, and create this romantic atmosphere you expect from Paris.”

The organizing team also praise Tokyo as a city which has used nocturnal lighting to dazzling effect.

“Lighting designers can help cut excess light and use it more efficiently, and that can help see the stars again at night,” said Stewart.

Reporting by Alexandra Hudson, editing by Paul Casciato

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