Do you like your cities when they're even more like graphics-intensive video games? Then you'll love the trophy cities of the very near future, because LED lighting is already changing the iconic skylines of New York, San Francisco and the shiny new towers of China and the oil emirates. Slums will stay the same.
LED lighting is transforming skylines all over the world—and architects, city governments, and urban denizens should take note. These illuminated nightscapes promise a new worldwide arena where global cities will compete for recognition.
Dubai at night. Photo: viamenmat.org
It's a gradual trend that has reached a fever pitch in recent months. Recent articles from the New York Times and NY1 discuss the LED-ification of two of New York City's landmark skyscrapers: the Empire State Building and the Helmsley Building. Why the intensifying deployment of these powerful lighting systems? Well, for starters, LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are energy-efficient, long-lasting, increasingly affordable, and easily controlled by computer programs. Architecturally, these little lights can significantly change a building's nighttime character, transforming shadowy forms into immaculate performances of infinite color and vivacity.
These exhibitions of variegated light utilize a building's form to its fullest extent. As you can see above, LED performances adapt a building's architecture as set pieces for a theatrical display. The resulting form-tailored performance can produce newfound evening celebrity. The more advanced the LED system, and the better artistry with which its used, the more prominent the architecture (and the owner's investment) becomes.
The Helmsley Building, designed by Warren & Wetmore in 1929, shows off its new LED light system. Photo: Andrew Dallos via flickr.com
And that's a good thing, right? In some ways, certainly. It gives building owners the means to preserve older structures that might otherwise be a financial burden. However, it also means that many of the buildings in the world's global cities will be awash in the same riot of colors.
We should take note for the simple reason that we place great value on our skylines: Walk into any corner shop and everything from refrigerator magnets to T-shirts will be emblazoned with nighttime urban profiles. Cities naturally transmit their individual identities through their visual topography. These skylines are identifiable by residents and visitors alike. Do we risk that visual identity by coating all cities with the same seductively vibrant palette?
Top image: Hong Kong's nighttime skyline illuminated by LED lights. Photo: Scrolllock via commons.wikimedia.org