Street Light


diaporama lampes à daires

Weather traveling in a foreign country or simply discovering a new neighborhood in the city where I live, the object that tends captivate my attention is the street light.  Tall, short, round, pointed, antique, modern, ominous, or welcoming, the street light can be very telling.  In Berlin the different designs of the street lamps signal the territories of former East and West.  In the USA most street lights have their own individual photo light sensitive captor to turn themselves on or off.

And how is the street light in France?  Despite the countless variations and different designs from different eras, the French tend to adhere to the idea that one street should have one model of street lighting.  Paris is a good example.  Lighting for the streets, sidewalks, and historic monuments is very uniform and calculated.  One idea, one light.  The sidewalks illuminated in a cool white mercury blue, while the streets are often bathed in the sodium vapor orange colored light.  With the rare exception of a construction site with temporary street lighting,  one street will have one singular design that encompasses form, color, and even what kind of light bulb is used.  This discipline is virtually unknown in other cities such as Boston or Berlin where old lamps are cannibalized, heads cut off and sewn onto mismatching bodies and surviving old models stand amongst new generations in the same block.

What can the street lighting reveal to the contemporary visitor to ‘Montjoie’?  While the street lights stretching from la Plaine Stade de France to Montmartre tend to follow the model of one design idea for one street, development has occurred in many stages, and often one street at a time, so traveling from one street to the next reveals vastly different styles of street lighting reflective of the sporadic growth and lack of central planning during the previous decades.  The designs vary in aesthetics suggesting varying ideas from urban modernist village (but from the early 1980’s,) to contemporary industrial zone, to grand metropole.  Some of the lighting installations appear to have been temporary turned permanent, and the newer installations show a hesitation between urban space (a lamp post that is designed to light both the street and the sidewalk separately) and industrial zone (basic lighting, with little or no aesthetic design, purely functional intention).  While the daytime visit could not reveal the types of light bulbs used inside, one can imagine that the varying styles, technologies and budgets are additionally visible at night in the varying qualities of light (typical street lighting produces either cool white-blue, hot orange, golden incandescent, or white-pink illuminations).

Yet the various styles and technologies in street lighting all share a common function to brightly light the public space at night.  Newer installations seemed to have a greater density of lamp posts and one would imagine fewer dark spots at night.  In London the various lamp posts lighting the streets are often accompanied by a security camera that shares the pole with the light.  Will this model be further embraced in the Paris region?  While the street light does not benefit from the security camera, the camera, however, needs the street light to function optimally after sunset.  Even without the security camera, the light bulb and lamp positioned high above the pedestrian or motor vehicle seem to serve the same purpose as the video device.  Without visibility surveillance is impossible.

Nicolas Vargelis