Architectural lighting does more than just illuminate our iconic buildings and structures. It allows them to be seen in a whole new way, adding an extra layer of creativity and meaning that drives tourism around the world. All of the most popular cities have a completely new visual life at night.
Here are 10 of the world’s most iconic pieces of architecture that have been brought to life with light.
1. Louvre Pyramid, Paris: some 6 million visitors pass through this iconic entrance to the Louvre Museum each year. Illumination of the glass and steel pyramid was originally designed by Claude Engle, who placed luminaries in the internal base of the pyramid structure to light up the steel beams. In doing so Engle was able to enhance the intricate metal design without creating reflections in the glass surrounds. While the core design has remained, 15 years after original installation the lighting was modernised in 2004 with cooler toned luminaries. The pyramid is now even more contrasted against the warm building facades surrounding it, making it a truly stunning, standout structure – especially when the sun goes down.
2. Eiffel Tower, Paris: lighting has made the Eiffel Tower an icon since as early as 1889, when it was first lit with gas lights. Not only is the Tower iconic in itself, but its lights were also historically monumental in transforming the way we thought about bringing structures to life after dark. Over the years, the Tower lights have continued to become more elaborate, serving as a beacon for Parisian culture and tourism. In more recent years, the Tower lights have also become a political signifier for France, with the Tower dressed in different colours and patterns to celebrate significant events such as Bastille Day, the French EU presidency in 2008 and as a symbol of solidarity following the November 2015 terror attacks.
3. Trevi Fountain, Rome: the lights at the Trevi Fountain have made this landmark arguably more popular after sunset than during daylight hours. In 2015 over 100 LED lights were installed at the fountain during renovations to improve illumination. More recently, there have been a number of spectacular 3D light shows incorporating the fountain and surrounding building facades, which draw huge crowds. This is a great example of how modern technology can mesh with centuries old architecture to create a truly mesmerising piece of art.
4. Gardens by the Bay, Singapore: the spectacular Supertree structures are a futuristic delight in themselves, and when the sun goes down they are brought to life with light and colour. The 18 Supertrees act as a man made forest, functioning as vertical gardens, solar power generators, shelters, air vents and rainwater receptacles. At night, they glow with lighting and projected media, bringing colour and creativity to Singapore’s bay area.
5. Birds Nest, Beijing: Beijing National Stadium (also known as “Bird’s Nest”) was home to the 29th Olympic Games in 2008. The stadium was designed to convey the essence of Chinese culture, with the brilliant lighting representing a luminous pearl. At night, the stadium glows with the traditional Chinese red, with gold and silver tones illuminating the impressive golden nest-like structure. The lighting also played an integral role in the opening and closing ceremonies.
6. Tower Bridge, London: London’s Tower Bridge is the city’s most iconic landmark and was given a full lighting overhaul prior to the London Olympics in 2012. It was then that for the first time, the now 124 year old bridge became fully visible at night, pulling it’s phenomenal architecture and grandeur back into the spotlight. The bridge’s new LED lighting system has made it a centrepiece for celebrations in London, with computer controlled lights able to display different coloured lighting for various events. Some examples include the white “diamond” lights displayed for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the pink lights displayed after the birth of Princess Charlotte.
7. Canal Bridges, Dubai: Since opening in 2015, the Dubai Water Canal transformed downtown Dubai and surrounding districts and neighbourhoods into a whole new destination, bringing with it a boost in tourism and trade. The bridges themselves are illuminated in various colours (with the iconic blue arc being a stand out), lighting the way for pedestrians and creating a dazzling display in the buzzing leisure precinct. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the bridges is the waterfall cascading from the side of the Sheikh Zayed Dubai, lit up in vibrant colour from underwater LED projectors.
8. Kobe Luminaries, Japan: Kobe was hit with a devastating earthquake in 1995, plunging the city into darkness. Later that year, a light festival called Luminaire was created as a tribute to those who were killed and to restore a sense of hope in the locals. Luminaire was not intended to be an annual festival, however due to the immense popularity it is now held for two weeks each December – with an average of over 3 million people now attending each year. The festival sees iconic buildings transformed into works of art with intricate, almost neon like LED lighting displays that are nothing short of breathtaking.
9. Dancing House, Prague: considered to be one of the most valuable postmodern buildings in Prague, Dancing House is a great example of how lighting can make an already outstanding architectural work of art even more striking. Architectural lighting is used to cast shadows and create highlights that emphasise the unusual shape of this building, making it appear almost twisted. This building is also a centerpiece during the Prague Light Festival, where it is lit up in dazzling rainbow hues.
10. Sydney Opera House, Australia: Deemed to be “Australia’s greatest canvas”, (or Billboard if some get their way- gulp!) the sails of the Sydney Opera House are a prolific platform for Australia’s arts and culture. In 2017 and 2018, the Songlines and Badu Gili light installations, which project artworks created by indigenous Australians on the eastern sails of the Opera House, have received tremendous acclaim from the public. These initiatives have given Australia’s indigenous artists the opportunity to put their work in front of a global audience, with over 8 million people visiting the site each year.
So these are just a few quick examples of high quality installations where Illumination enhances and informs the structure, conveys a message, and welcomes the night so that these buildings can lift out of the darkness. Here in Perth, little by little, more and more projects are including illumination as a “real” part of their fabric, and not just a token floodlight at a sign…. Lighting has been such a part of my life and career. I love clever, efficient and “suitable” lighting designs, that have a reason to exist and embrace the form, function, and use of a space, structure or building. With the rapid emergence of LED technology, we are looking at more and more possibilities, which should keep us busy and well lit!