Looking Back to Find the Road Ahead

In the wake of massive power outages in the Northeast, lighting designer Linnaea Tillett describes pre-industrial techniques for lighting and wayfinding that just might be worth revisiting.

Unacustomed to utter darkness, blackouts leave most of us stumbling around as we search for flashlights and candles. Linnaea Tillett describes navigating the city post-hurricane as a disorienting experience, unsure what street was which; dodging manholes, bikes, walls. Tillet laments an even greater loss, that is what she calls the "glow", or the social experience of light when people on the street see and are seen by one another. Making the case for laterns Tillet points out, "a flashlight lets me see you, but you can’t see me. It works as a policing strategy, but we need lanterns to create a social environment.  Lanterns’ soft balls of light...capture faces and illuminate the carriers in groups of two or three or fifty at a time. They create the spaces for us to see each other when we really need to.  And a social environment — one that “glows” and enchants —is the best antidote to fear."

Tillet takes us on a journey to the dark ages to learn a few lessons about lighting beyong lanterns alone. "Our ancestors used white chalk and paint to mark the sides of pathways. They painted stones by the edge of the water to denote the danger line. Whitewashed tree bases acted as sign posts; piles of chalk caught the moonlight," she writes, urging us to harness the experiential power of being without power. Tillet concludes, "Small lessons from the time machine that create ease of movement in the dark may just illuminate our thinking of a new urban system that uses less light without sacrificing utility or delight."

Full Story: Scared, Bothered, and Bewildered

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