23 April 2020

If you do not control the light environment, the city is unlikely to be comfortable

Alexey Burykin, founder of QPRO company - on how Moscow is covered, what problems may arise in this case and how they can be solved
23 April 2020

– Tell us what is going on in architectural lighting in the city now. Does Moscow suffer from “light pollution”?

– Moscow, as you know, is one of the most actively lit cities in the world, and the main question is how compatible it is with the everyday comfort for those who live and work in the Russian capital. Cases are widely known when residents of individual houses complained that architectural lighting causes them significant inconveniences in everyday life. Unfortunately, we still quite loosely interpret the norms of illumination of facades and landscapes, often not the most suitable equipment is used. The situation is complicated by the fact that Moscow uses an extremely large number of artificial lighting equipment that are not aimed at objects, but simply directed upward. Also because of them we have a lot to the so-called “Light smog”, when the sky acquires an unnaturally bright and light shade in the evenings. This phenomenon is especially noticeable in the city center, for example, within the Boulevard Ring or in the Vorobyovy Gory region.

The trail of “light pollution” has been going on since the days of Yuri Luzhkov, when, in fact, the mayor’s office decided that active very expressive and literally ubiquitous lighting should become the main strategy for lighting design in Moscow. Since then, many customers consider this way their duty to participate in the competition, who has the brighter and more original illumination of the object. As a result we have an inevitable cacophony of light: spotlights shining through the windows; bright signs that interfere our sleep; not optimal lighting of facades and color dissonance. “Light pollution” negatively affects the well-being of city residents and the entire ecosystem. Muscovites, for example, often wonder why so many birds die in the city. The answer to this question must be sought among other things in such a phenomenon as “light pollution”.

Of course, in Moscow there are successful and even very successful examples of lighting design solutions, but so far, they are rather perceived as an exception to the rule. And the basic rule, I repeat, is still formulated as “the brighter the better”. If everyone continues to try to overexpose their competitors, Moscow will sooner or later turn into some kind of “Shanghai”, that is, a metropolis, the most characteristic feature of which is the dissonance of very bright spots. Our opinion is quite obvious that, if the light environment is not controlled, the city is unlikely to be comfortable for residents. Therefore, we at QPRO are currently working on a study that will outline the basic principles of harmonious lighting in cities. It can form the basis of the light master plan, including the capital in future. When implementing projects, this document could serve as a kind of set of rules that help to correctly formulate technical specifications for lighting and implement solutions that minimize “light pollution”.

– Now the architectural and artistic lighting is the task of many project participants; customer, designer, power structure. What objects (and within what boundaries) can be regulated using a single master lighting plan for Moscow?

– When we talk about Moscow lighting master plan, we mean a document that will clearly spell out the rules for the use of lighting devices and the use of various types of lighting (architectural, landscape, functional, advertising, festive) within the boundaries of a particular city district. It will summarize the prescriptions on what types of fixtures or what color temperatures can be used to illuminate, for example, facades on a sertain street, and how they fit in with pedestrian and driveway lighting, advertising signs and holiday installations. In order to draw up recommendations on such a scale, it is required to conduct a thorough audit of the current situation, identify “problem” places, determine ways to correct and/or eliminate problems, identify goals that can be solved with lighting, and then predict a development plan for the future, introducing the planned changes on current issues.

The norms adopted today in Moscow, for example, regulate the lighting parameters of an object depending on its category and location. Brightness standards for local, regional or city objects are different, so the intensity of light, for example, in the city center, near busy highways and in sleeping areas differs a lot. However, to harmonize the light environment, it is not enough to follow only the brightness of one or another luminary. It is also important to consider the color and color solution of the facade, the peculiarities of its plastics, possible proximity to historical objects. Balance can only be achieved if there are coordinated lighting and urban master plans. And then, developed on the basis of the master plan of urban development of the city, the light master plan could become a convenient and useful instruction for lighting a variety of objects, taking into account necessary parameters, pursuing the common goal of creating a comfortable and aesthetically attractive lighting environment in the city.

– How is this possible at the legislative level?

There are Moscow building rules today; perhaps it makes sense to release the master plan in the same format, but with a specific indication of what to light, how and for what kind of territory.

– The MCA previously agreed on the standards for the improvement of streets and outbound routs, where the task of lighting was taken into account (and is now being observed). It might be worth to continue this trend and work on this way point by point instead of creating an overall master plan. For example, to prescribe standards for lighting monuments.

– One of the problems of existing lighting today is that one project is often superimposed on another, and often contradicts it. It’s understandable: in order to highlight something in a very brightly lit space, you need much more light than if you do it in dark surrounding. Therefore, it is very difficult to address the task of lighting as separate object – it’s necessary a complex decision. We faced this problem in a lighting project for one of the residential complexes. During the design phase, we selected specific luminaires to illuminate the stylobate (lower floors) of the building. But it turned out that due to the high level of ambient lighting, the lower part of the building was already quite heavily lighted. And in order to create suitable architectural lighting solution, we needed to use more powerful equipment.

– Tell us about the projects of public spaces you worked at.

– The most famous are, perhaps, Triumfalnaya Square and Krymskaya Embankment in Moscow. We also have several iconic public buildings in our portfolio, where we made architectural lighting. These are, for example, the Media Center in Zaryadye Park, the building of the Skolkovo Matrex innovation center and the Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg. And although, strictly speaking, these are not spaces, but architectural structures. Thoughtful lighting contributes to their attractiveness in the dark, making them beacons of the social life of their cities. We are proud of these realizations, without exaggeration.

In addition, we have projects, perhaps less well-known, but no less interesting and significant. For example, we were engaged in the development of a lighting master plan of Cheboksary city. The main objective of this project was to create a comfortable environment for residents, a holistic light image of the city and an increase in the flow of tourists. We carried out a deep analysis of the current situation, studied the master plan of the city and developed a light master plan based on this data, we made a proposal for zoning the urban space, taking into account tourist routes, traffic and movements of city residents. We also proposed to create several interesting light objects that would become points of attraction for tourists and city guests. For example, in the center, on the bay, there were once a historical building flooded in Soviet times. We suggested to use lighting threads to outline the contours of previously existing streets. Lighting up at night, they would slowly dissolve in the water column, becoming a magical reminder of the city’s past. Similar original lighting solutions can be found in European practice, but they have not yet become widespread in our country.

Another interesting project is the lighting of the park in the city of Derbent. To avoid “light pollution” and negative impact on the ecosystem, we use luminaires with strictly directional optics. Our goal was to create the feeling of a clear moonlit night when light and darkness go hand in hand. Another interesting task will be the illumination of the archaeological exhibition under the open sky being created here.

– While working on the Triumfalnaya Square project, you were faced with the task of complex illumination of the space, which would not only highlight it in the evening panorama of the Moscow center, but also take into account the proximity of such complex highways as Tverskaya Street and the Garden Ring, as well as famous architectural structures – the concert hall, Variety theater, hotel “Beijing”. Did it create an additional complications?

– It is not so difficult to take into account the proximity of active highways and iconic architectural monuments, especially if there is a competently technical enquiry. Analyze the context as carefully as possible and propose the most appropriate solutions – this is professionalism. The question is how and at what stage these solutions are integrated into the architectural project. In the case of Triumfalnaya Square, all the key ideas for lighting the space were originally incorporated into the concept with which Buromoscow won the competition announced in 2014. And, by my opinion, this is a very important precedent for the entire competitive and wider – urban – practice of Moscow: the architects invited us, lighting designers, and landscape designers (landscape company Arteza) to their team at the very early stage thanks to which the rethinking of daytime and evening The reappearance of the square was carried out in parallel, and the project included not approximate, as usual, but real solutions for lighting, which are successfully working this day.