NightSeeing™ Islington, London

Photo by Leni

The NightSeeing program’s intention is to open people’s eyes to an existing nighttime milieu, as well as providing an overview of public lighting theory in an experiential setting.

NightSeeing™ Islington, London

Photos by Leni

NightSeeing was presented on January 11th, 2011, as part of the Architecture, Residential, Commercial (ARC) Lighting Show in London.  This interactive experience was a guide to the nocturnal lighting environment, culminating in an hour-long evening walk through The Angel, Islington district.

Prior to the program I worked with the hosts on a virtual event preview to brief conference attendees for registration.  (links to Preview Part 1 and Preview Part 2).

NightSeeing™ Islington, London

Photos by Leni

NightSeeing London consisted of two parts.  The first section comprised a LightTalk during conference hours, providing a basic understanding of the systems lighting our cities. The second aspect, LightWalk, was the after-dark walk, in which I decoded the shadows, emanations and reflections that defined the nightscape—from shop silhouettes and signage to streetlights and the phantom photons of passing cars.

NightSeeing™ Islington, London

Photos by Leni

Numbering approximately 50 participants, , we started off from the Business Design Center – equipped for the London weather with glowing umbrellas, a gift from Lighting Alliance/UK. As the group explored the rain-whipped streets of The Angel in Islington—amid the pulsing neon and Saturday night pedestrian and vehicular traffic—the attendees’ many observations and insights created the atmosphere of a movable symposium on the after-dark urban environment.

NightSeeing™ Islington, London

Photos L to R by M Kramer, Andy Spain, M Kramer

Among the significant features of The Angel we focused on were the distinctions between two of the district’s retail sites.

N1 Centre, with the glare of stark white-metal surfaces and shop fronts, was offset by illuminated public art.

NightSeeing™ Islington, London

Camden Passage was distinguished by its handmade surfaces—especially its painted signs and the charming window displays.  In one instance, the reflection of high-pressure sodium light from a lettered sign created an illusion of gleaming gold.

I was pleased and astonished that the attendees at the ARC Show NightSeeing™ were from many nations— including South Africa, Serbia, Germany, Netherlands, France, Norway, and of course, the UK.

Moreover, The Angel event was for me, personally, a kind of homecoming. In the 1970s, I resided in North and East London for a number of years.  Bicycling to Camden Passage and the Chapel Market, in the Angel, and riding the 73-bus and the Northern Line are reference points in my memory of London.  I attended London Film School in Covent Garden, and learned to be very observant of a fully sensorial London with its familiarly welcoming sounds, sights and smells.  What a privilege and pleasure, then, so many years later, revisit these environs, and to be in the Angel as an interpreter to of the after-dark streets.

Here, on YouTube, video of the actual LightWalk courtesy ARC Show’s partner UBM Interiors, Part 1 and Part 2.

The idea for the NightSeeing program originated with a class I taught—at New York‘s Parsons School of Design—in which we would explore urban environments at night.  As soon as we walked out the door there were things to contemplate and discuss. The smallest pixel of light turned into a subject. The excursion became like a treasure hunt, a way of recognizing both “found”, existing light and designed light.

NightSeeing™ Islington, London

From  these modest beginnings, NightSeeing  evolved into site-specific itinerary for the benefit  of lighting designers who work with architects, landscape architects, engineers and other urban design professionals illuminating city structures and locations.

The NightSeeing programme focuses on an ever expanding variety of luminous possibilities.  My personal dream is to take NightSeeing™ to 50 cities in two years.

NightSeeing™ is a trademark of Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD.

All photos courtesy Andy Spain Photography except where noted.

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NightSeeing Video

NightSeeing Preview Part 1 – an online virtual briefing for participantsand Preview Part 2

Video of the actual LightWalk, Part 1 and here, Part 2

Night City with Leni Schwendinger

Other NightSeeing Resources

Blog articles, including Times Square, Lyon, Washington D.C.

NightSeeing Website, including guestbook


The book reception at Center for Architecture on Thursday evening was sensational!

The line crawled out the door half the block down La Guardia Place… the seating once inside filled three spaces – the multipurpose hall downstairs, the mezzanine, and the library. All had projected video of the presentation held on the ground floor. The murmur and the luminaries present heightened the excitement of the launch of this three-year book project.

Produced in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, “High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC” is the first document of its kind in the nation: a comprehensive, municipal design primer for sustainable parks and open space. The Guidelines cover every aspect of creating sustainable parks, from design to construction to maintenance, and feature hundreds of best practices for managing soil, water, and vegetation resources, as well as dozens of full-color photos and illustrations. — Design Trust for Public Spaces website

Luminaries; Nancy Owens, Charles McKinney, Deborah Marton, Nette Compton

Adrian Benepe, Commissioner of New York City Department of Parks and Recreation welcomed the audience and Deborah Marton, Executive Director of Design Trust, gave an impassioned speech about the process to institutionalize  sustainable standards for park design. She stated that the deeply comprehensive publication is the first of it’s kind.  This is the third set of guidelines from Design Trust.  The others are High Performance Building Guidelines (1999) and High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines (2005).  The primary authors are five Design Trust fellows – a team that includes landscape architects, a sustainability expert, and a water resource engineer: Michele Adams, Steven Caputo, Jeannette Compton, Tavis Dockwiller and Andrew Lavallee.

Charles McKinney,  Principal Urban Designer at Parks, a new role at Parks as of last year, was a moving force and champion of the project – with its 50 collaborators including landscape architecture firms, the NYC Parks Dept and Mayor’s office.  There were 40 peer reviewers.

David Bragdon from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability discussed PlaNYC and how an interdisciplinary approach is the most sustainable.  His plea for high-performance for all – humans and other species – was eye-opening.

Jeannette Compton, a Senior Project Manager with Parks, was a primary author.  She reviewed the table of contents of this beautifully and colorfully designed book of 279 pages.  The chapters are based on linear process of design with varied access points.

Table of Contents

Part I: Context
Part II: Site Assessment
• Site Inventory & Analysis
• Site Types
Part III: Best Practices in Site Process
• Design
• Construction
• Maintenance & Operations
Part IV: Best Practices in Site Systems
• Soils
• Water
• Vegetation
Part V: Case Studies
Part VI: Next Steps

A pdf download is available at Design Trust.

Jeremy Barring is the Parks Department’s Capital Projects arborist. This is another new job at Parks, which started in 2008.
He emphasized that;

Trees provide more benefits as they get bigger. And that trees come up in almost every section of the book!

Stephen Koren, a landscape architect with the Parks Department authored the playground site type.  He reviewed a playground that had not been improved in 60 years and discussed the ways that each material was “chosen through a filter of sustainability”.

Nancy Owens, landscape architect, principal of her own firm, discussed the development of Fort Totten in Bayside, Queens, as a case study for sustainable design (althougth the book was not available when the park was designed).  This 149-acre peninsula includes Civil War–era fortifications, and the eight-acre section that was designed by Nancy Owens’ firm, North Park, was former WWI military site.  The military buildings were demolished to create a beautiful park.  When the book was published Nancy highlighted items in book that were relevant – from my view of the screen it looked like more than 3/4s of the checklist had been used for the Fort Totten project.  She feels that the book is scalable and will be very  useful for all park designers.
She stated that,

The natural history of the site is important, not just military history.

When the first trees were planted the ambient sound changed… with birds & butterflies – almost a miracle within a day.

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The book is hardback and available at Amazon.


On the evening of December 9th I will be viewing the City of Lyon from the hilltop of Croix-Rousse. The city has layers upon layers of visible history from ancient to very modern. It will be a pleasure to present the light and shadows of Lyon to the exclusive attendees of Philips Livable Cities Initiative in the NightSeeing™ style.

Lyon is home to the Lighting Urban Communities International organization.  This city hosts one of the most sophisticated and spectacular light festivals in the world.

Leni Schwendinger at the Light Projects' Studio (for Dwell Magazine)

Dwell Magazine’s series, As You Light It <link here>, focuses on my idea of the City as home and the NightSeeing™ program. The video takes the viewer on a journey starting in the Light Projects LTD studio and on to the far west side of Manhattan, Triple Bridge Gateway at the bus terminal, Times Square and Bryant Park.

Link to learn about my Public Lighting Theory and walk with me (and the camera) on Night City, a movie.

Comment> A renowned lighting designer takes a walk in the dark in search of illumination

(Full text and images link)

In October 2010 my article on the NightSeeing™ program appeared in the Architect’s Newspaper.  It was a welcome opportunity to describe the development of the program, current events and future aspirations.

Leni Schwendinger leads a LightWalk in Washington DC

Here, some excerpts:

Savor the word “light” and the interior landscape of language evokes images of atmospheric effects—mysterious, picturesque, sublime.

What is the NightSeeing™ program?

Conceptually, NightSeeing is an itinerary of group exploration and discovery, a curriculum designed for the general public and those in the architectural and planning professions. Presenting the nocturnal city of light, NightSeeing is a real-time travelogue through the culture of urban lighting in public spaces to convey recognition of one’s own environment of the shadowed vistas that define our surroundings literally half the time, and yet are so familiar they are almost unseen.

The program can stand alone, or be presented by a conference, festival, or as an event for urban planners to enhance their public outreach efforts. It provides a context to examine and decode the shadows, emanations, and reflections that define our cities’ darkened hours. NightSeeing consists of several events: the LightTalk, a LightWalk, and a Light Planning Workshop.

Why is it important?

The issues and substance of public illumination increasingly influence the global language of urban design and urban experience. Through initiatives like NightSeeing, we can learn to see shadows in a whole different light.

Stories about NightSeeing™ past…

In the article I cover the NightSeeing™ LightWalks in Manhattan’s Little Italy/Chinatown, Bryant Park and in Washington D.C.

And coverage of upcoming events

The shifting interplay of nighttime dark and light makes every city a unique destination. For London’s Architecture Retail and Commercial Lighting Show on January 12, 2012, I look forward to mapping the Angel Islington district with the International Association of Lighting Designers to find the perfect route through preserved and chic-modern alleyways and unusual paved topographies. I spent time here in the 1970s frequenting Sadler Wells Theatre, the Angel’s Chapel Road second-hand market, and a particular pub with my crowd from the East End. For me, the LightWalk will be eye-opening to the pleasures of the crowds dining, walking from bus to subway to home, window shopping the antique shops, and experiencing evocations of Dickens’ darkened muddy passageways which have existed since the dawn of public lighting.

NightSeeing is a trademark program of Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD

Experience the urban  light… contact Leni (leni@lightprojectsltd.com) to book NightSeeing™ in your town or city with your organization, company,  friends and neighbors.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.
Can you find your way at night?

In the evening Washington D.C. NW is a monochromatic blend of light.

People are the action.

The shifting interplay of nighttime dark and light make every city a unique destination. Join acclaimed lighting artist and designer Leni Schwendinger and a group limited to 35 as she presents impromptu the D.C. nocturnal city of light, culminating at the ASLA Gala. This mistress of light sculpture and installation will decode the shadows, emanations, and reflections that define the nightscape, from shop silhouettes to the phantom photons of passing cars.

American Society of Landscape Architects’ Annual Meeting (2010)  invitation

Saturday, September 11 7:45–8:30 pm, LightWalk with Leni Schwendinger –Sold Out!

The NightSeeing™ LightWalk is conducted like a treasure hunt — a diverse group of participants searching for a fresh perception, a discovery of those lights and shadows, large and minute, to delight the mind and senses.  Or rephrased for planners, designers and landscape architects; an analysis of the character of lighting in any given place.

I began the tour with a quote from the artist/engineer/planner, Pierre Charles L’Enfant from September 11, 1789.  On that date he wrote to President George Washington “to solicit the favor of being Employed in the  Business” of designing the new capital city. His became a Baroque plan featuring open ceremonial spaces and oversized radial avenues with respect for the natural contours of the land.

With my intrepid group — landscape architects, designers and manufacturers from all over the country — I sought L’Enfant’s plan, lighting detail and filigree, and found a soft undifferentiated layer of light.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.

Public lighting — the lighting supplied by the municipality, business improvement district/CBD, utility, or institution in the United States — is generally “designed” by engineers and manufacturers.  An increasing trend, however, is to incorporate lighting designers onto streetscape design and engineering teams to revitalize districts, neighborhoods and communities.

City designs and plans, are strictly limited by regulations that are based on the primacy of the automobile (e.g. street lighting) and reducing risk , recommended brightness levels, maintenance and stocking issues, and the light pole and luminaire styles that manufacturers are currently marketing.

On the positive side, this is the light that we can depend on – the base lighting that allows residents, workers and visitors to feel comfortable sallying forth into the city’s night.   Public lighting is the threshold of light, upon which private and found lighting are layered.

NightSeeing™ Map Washington D.C.

NightSeeing™ Map Washington D.C.

We started our journey focused on the Historical Society’s colonnaded edifice floodlighting.  A traditional, uplighting method of  frontal illumination, this approach results in soft ambient glow.  Appropriate for classical buildings, and inexpensive.

Onward past rows of historicist streetlight lanterns.  Here, an effort could be made to differentiate street types and districts with varied types of poles, oh! a relief, the Chinatown lanterns with their red posts and lantern tops.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.

We went through the Techworld canyon and surprisingly found the same decorative luminaires, rather than lighting fixture forms referencing forward-thinking technologies, although, there was one difference, induction lamps are being used — a source that is white light and has a long lamp life, requiring less maintenance.

Some of the endearing details that we did find included count-down Walk/Don’t Walk signals, bracketed facade down-lights (cheap and easy), LED media signs and the colorful floodlit Chinatown gate.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.

The most exciting part of the tour were the people on it and the acceptance of the D.C. residents and tourists milling about — the sidewalks were packed on 7th Street NW that evening.  The small groups of loungers on the National Museum of American Art grand stairs were curious about the LightWalk and we in turn, discovered them using steps for the appropriate evening purpose… sitting in the floodlight of the stair and colonnade, a staple of light and architecture in our nation’s capital.

Leni Schwendinger’s LightWalk drew our members through the shadows of DC’s urban streetscape, guided by the eye of an artist and technician to experience the magical interplay of darkness and light.

— Clark Ebbert, Education Program Manager, ASLA

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For more illumination, reading and pictures:

Public Lighting Theory – developing the nexus of lighting and urban design

Light Planning; Chinatown Little Italy Historic District

Accolades and Finales (and the Winter LightWalk)

Night City, The Movie

The Making of Night City

Leni Schwendinger on camera

The urban nighttime environment is a dark canvas that humans have created – our previously daytime oriented “clocks” have been extended into the night.

Lighting designers work with architects, engineers and landscape architects to illuminate city structures – including buildings, bridges, parks – to make these places visible and safe to walk at night.

But, before that act of design, there should be an urban -planning and -design phase to determine how the public spaces of our cities will be lit.  This intersection of lighting and urban design interests me.  It is important to merge the ideas of urban design with public lighting design – taking the uses of buildings, pedestrian and transportation patterns into account.  Street-scape design — street alignments, curbs, medians and street furniture — sets the stage for public lighting. I am not just talking about utility lighting – I am looking at creative lighting that exposes the built environment at night – promoting legibility (“where am I”?) but also illumination practices that encourage public connections and conversations and more usage of our sidewalks and public life.

Public Lighting Video Storyboard

Urban designer Brian McGrath and I have developed classifications of light in the public realm.

Public lighting is provided by the city or utility as the very basic in safety lighting.  It is augmented by private sources of lighting – significantly, cars themselves with their headlights.  Additionally shop windows, displays and various types of commercial buildings provide light on the sidewalk to help pedestrians find their way cheerfully and safely.

Finally the phone booths, bus shelters, light billboards and even ATMs provide what I call “found” lighting.

In addition to “designed” lighting, emergent — undesigned — systems develop as site-specific “unplanned” lighting.  Light added by users, inhabitants, building owners, etc. can help the designer understand the needs of a neighborhood by documenting the incidental additions of light.

In mid-October Light Projects will release a short video tape produced by TVGals – an on-the-street light walk – where I will reveal the concepts of public, private and found lighting in depth.