Chronic Gloom in Wintry Months

11 Nov

The bright band at the right shows the time on this futuristic sundial

It’s been a fairly bright Fall in northeastern Ohio. I love light. Sundials are a lovely anachronistic way to tell time, and they don’t have to look anachronistic (though that has its charms). Here’s onethat’s precise, within 30 seconds of the atomic clock. Plus it adjusts for latitude and Daylight Savings! Nonetheless, it requires those rays

A touch of Cleveland color in this great shot of Tony Smith's "Last", on Superior. Photo by Rob Corder

to pierce through the firmament. And that’s usually a tall order in Cleveland, once November kicks in. This week has vacillated between the cheery, the overcast, and the clouds of doom, and expecting more of the latter isn’t pessimistic, it’s just what the almanacs of yore support.

My townhouse has plenty of windows, but they seem veiled on days like this. As I’ve mentioned before, a dose of color can help, both indoors and out. And our downtown is fairly devoid of color, with the exception of a few doses of flat reds, like Oldenberg’s Free Stamp or Tony Smith‘s Last. The Belgian sculptor Arne Quinze created an installation that extends the glorious foliage of autumn—his 2008 installation The Sequence, brightens a corner of Brussels, another frequently gloomy metropolis, with a

This Belgian installation brings not only color but an intimate interconnectness to an urban street.

wooden canopy. Because it interacts with the small urban trees, its palette gets a chance to change throughout the year. I like the way it creates a new sense of street, and imagine how, on the rare sunny day, dappled light would stream down through it. It’s been up for three years, but it won’t be permanent–it’s made from wood, so its shelf life is limited–knowledge that contributes to its organic feel.

A relic! The first street lamp in the U.S., on Cleveland's Public Square.

Of course, we’re used to artificial light to banish gloom, and this can also be an uplifting experience. The antique lighting fixture on the corner of Public Square’s Key Bank is a classic example–it’s not just a fabulous cast iron Art Nouveau form, it marks the first American street lamp, the invention of Clevelander Charles Brush in 1879, If Cleveland is the U.S. birthplace of public electric lighting (he improved significantly on a British invention), and East Cleveland’s NELA Park was the first industrial park, based on GE’s buyout of a local lighting company, then one would think Cleveland should remain a leader in urban lighting–and not just at Christmas time.

It may seem that Tower City is doing its part here. Illuminated in lurid red and green during December, iit’s been branching out–green for St. Patrick’s Day, for example. It’s currently a curiously livid purple, which I

Public Square chameleoning it for varied purposes

thought was perhaps a Halloween whimsy–very wrong. The purple is a greater-than-Cleveland October initiative, meant to “shine the light” on domestic abuse. Noble though that may be, conventional lighting isn’t really what I’m thinking about. It can be sprightly, such as the simple lights that make 4th Street such an alluring nighttime destination, or snazzy, like Playhouse Square’s marquee and it RTA lighted sculpture.

Shanghai's nightlights make you want to put on party shoes!

It’s difficult to compete with some cities–Shanghai has an illuminated skyline that would make Las Vegas feel toned down. But what I was thinking about wasn’t necessarily this unrelenting drive to create a frenzied nightlife (though I appreciate that), but rather a way to illuminate in both temporary and permanent ways, ways that exploit new technologies and create a sense of place–sometimes intimate, sometimes celebratory, and sometimes mysterious.

Okay–like what? All right class, let’s look at a few examples. Some are art installations, some functional only. Let’s get creative in Cleveland–everybody needs to feel the glow in the winter. The Cleveland Museum of Art has its Lantern Festival every December, and occasionally it’s aligned with the downtown Winterfest, but everything doesn’t have to be institutionally driven. How about a competition along Euclid, or those dark stretches of Lorain Avenue?

CO2LED in Virginia

Example One: This is an elegant installation that occurred in Rosslyn, VA, a waterside town by DC. Echoing the Potomoc’s reeds, it’s made from 522 rods, each topped with a recycled plastic bottle that encloses a solar-powered LED light. Artists Jack Sanders, Robert Gay and Butch Anthony dismantled the project after its summer run, with the plan of recycling all of its components.

Solar plastic trees that hold real foliage

Omar Ivan Huerta Cardoso, a Mexican designer with Milan, Spanish and Mexican training, created solar trees to replace street lamps. The plastic “tree’s” extremities have cavities for seeds to be planted, which grow hydroponically from water in the trunk and limbs. Solar-powered LEDs in the base throw light that diffuses through the water to create a glow. These have their critics–one comments, “Who maintains the plants when they grow, a service team who has to cone off the road to gain access to each tree. very expensive. 2m high so this is easily climbed not good. most authorities have a 2.4m minimum height before banners to deter climbing. it is not one piece so lots of castings that marry up with glass or acrylic. going to be hard to marry the tolerances, and the weight will cause stress fractures on the glass, esp with wind loading.” Unlike the installation above, this project is intended to have a practical side, but I think it’s more suitable as niche lighting, rather than a citywide endeavor. Still, has an intriguing side.

 

 

 

 

While a solar-powered “brick” with illuminating powers in any color is coming down in cost as a building envelope component, it isn’t quite in the affordable range yet. But solar-powered, cordless LED pavers are, and could be creatively used in, say, the upcoming rework of Public Square as a traffic-free zone, or as part of CSU’s new Campus Village.

 

 

 

Using light to create a new interpretation of daytime space can be extremely transformative. Rotterdam had a competition that featured the potential of light, and the project-winning design creates a mood that both illuminates and changes the familiar streetscape of Atjehstraat.

Entitled Broken Light, it projects columns of light onto building facades, and creates tesselated patterns on the sidewalk. The projections can be changed as desired, allowing for variance. A lyrical video contrasts the day and nighttime appearance of Atjehstraat; there’s a lengthy description of the project in the YouTube “show more” area. I’d love to see something like this in Cleveland.

This is Kansas, not PA, but the luminaria lighting effect is the same.

 

In my home town suburb, there’s an annual Christmas tradition of luminaria–each family donates some money, distributors set up paper bags with a little sand on the bottom and a lit votive candle inside, and they’re spaced along the sidewalks up and down the streets. Some cities have them as part of a relay fundraising drive. It’d be

Solar-powered commercial lantern, with LED light inside

great to see them lining Euclid on a cold winter’s evening–better yet, Lorain, as it needs a facelift and could accommodate driving viewers more easily. Luminaria and lanterns can get quite fancy, but even the simplest light up the night and make the heart glow. I’ll be looking for more Cleveland illuminations–it’s a long winter.

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