Parcheggio multimodale a Poiters
Parcheggio multimodale a Poiters, Francia. Architetto Antoine Grumbach | Multimodal pole parking in Poitiers, France. Architect Antoine Grumbach

I do not look for a peculiar meaning when I want to use colours. I try to find and match the colours I like and that will be, in my opinion, the most suitable for the ongoing lighting project.

CONCEPTO has managed from its creation to differentiate itself and to be characterized by theoretical input and continuous innovative reflections on the roles of light can play in the city, the landscape and the architecture.
The studio has initiated as early as 1987 the light urbanism and the first urban lighting planning strategies with today around 130 Lighting Master Plans studied in France and abroad. Since then, the notions of nocturnal landscape, ecology of light, social and sustainable light, black infrastructure, nocturnal biodiversity conservation are specifically tested in competitions, projects and studies. Roger Narboni, one the French pioneers of that profession dedicated to urban lighting, has witness these changes. He tells us here more about his lighting projects approaches, how he likes to use coloured lights and what are his expectations for the future of urban lighting.

Ponte Rion-Antirion
Ponte Rion-Antirion, Grecia | Rio-Antirrion bridge, Greece

Concepto Studio was founded in 1988, a geological era if compared to today. What has changed in these 30 years in the lighting design world?
Almost everything has changed since 1988, unless maybe my way of thinking and designing a lighting project. Now we face a lot of regulations, obligations and constraints: European norms, efficiency, energy consumption, very low budgets, lighting pollution, nocturnal biodiversity preservation, calculations, 3D models, specifications, maintenance issues, legal problems, etc. In order to fulfil all these expectations, a mix of lighting engineering and lighting design is nowadays a necessity in every lighting design studio. But the changes also concerned the recognition of our profession as lighting designer. When I started my profession in 1987, the role of the lighting designer was totally unknown to most of the actors of urban design (politics, clients, urban planners, architects, landscape architects, interior designers). Today, in France, in many competitions, and for most of the important urban projects, a lighting designer is required within a multidisciplinary team. And I would say also with a lot of pleasure that the discipline of Light Urbanism and the methodology of the Lighting Master Plan, which I invented in 1987, are nowadays both obvious and useful tools for many cities around the world.

Roger Narboni is famous for his use of coloured light, especially red and blue, like in Eco-District Clichy Batignolles or Memorial Acte in Guadalupe. Do these colours have some peculiar meaning for you? 
I started my career as an artist, doing oil painting for 12 years (including 1 year in ancient paintings restauration). Then, I started to create monumental sculptures and art installations with industrial glasses and light effects. In 1987 I became a fulltime lighting designer dedicated to the urban and architectural field. The use of colours has thus always been both easy and a pleasure to me, and it is a technique that I mastered from the very beginning of my artistic start. I do not look for a peculiar meaning when I want to use colours. I try to find and match the colours I like and that will be, in my opinion, the most suitable for the ongoing lighting project. The way the eye perceives colours in the nocturnal urban environment is also very important to me. In some specific occasions, like for some lighting projects in China, we use some specific colours (like jade, blue-green or gold) that are suitable for symbolic purposes.

spazio lounge notturno
Extimity, spazio lounge notturno | Extimity, nocturnal lounge space photo©Roger narboni e Technilum

Your projects range from Urban Design to Product Design. Which is more interesting or difficult to solve? 
I do have more freedom in urban design projects than in product design projects. In urban design, you need to adapt your lighting design work to the whole project and to make the future nocturnal uses possible. But you are the only one deciding for your lighting design. So, you can be very creative and fortunately you can directly see, at the end of the construction work, the end user reactions. Designing a product is driven by marketing issues, cost calculations, payback, industrial possibilities and the necessity of being very innovative compared to all existing products. So, you make a bet and have to be very convincing. In this case, you are not the person that will take the final decision to realize or to launch the product, and you do not know the end users. What I really like in product design is to imagine prospective strategies, to think the lighting products of the future in accordance with the cities nocturnal evolutions. There is a real lack of futuristic approaches in all lighting fixtures companies. The marketing managers are stuck with a 3 years business plan and they never have time to think about what could happen in the next 10 or 20 years. We should face these future needs if we want to be or to stay innovative.

I do not look for a peculiar meaning when I want to use colours. I try to find and match the colours I like and that will be, in my opinion, the most suitable for the ongoing lighting project.

Your project philosophy is “dynamic lighting based on a chronobiological approach”. Could you explain it in more details? 
This is not really a philosophy. It is an approach that we launched for some specific urban projects that were lacking of natural light even during daytime, to be more tuned with people’s circadian rhythms within the urban lighting pedestrians’ perception. It is something we first developed for the Robert de Flers street lighting in Paris. In the future, I would like to develop more this new approach, expressing with urban lighting the possibilities of offering well-being pauses, anti-stress solutions or even dark-therapy occasions to the citizens at night within the public realm.

Dujiangyan, Cina
Veduta notturna di Dujiangyan, Cina | Dujiangyan nightscape, China photo©Concepto & Zhongtai

It is impressive how as the anonymous Robert de Flers Street changed after your action. Could you tell us more about it?
Located under the Parisian district called “Front de Seine”, it is a very atypical covered street that leads to the recently restored Beaugrenelle shopping mall. In addition to the district renovation, a part of this street was re-lighted in 2013. The goal was to create a real day and night internal street image, treating the entire space with a single tone warm white light with a very good colour rendering index. The sidewalks are illuminated using special custom lanterns, equipped with a perforated mask, which are installed right in front the building entrances. In addition, a colourful and dynamic lighting, based on a chronobiological approach, was conceived for the very special concrete underside structure of the vaults, giving this underground place a livelier dimension. The light on the vaults changes in intensity and colour in a continuous and imperceptible way during the day, adapting to human needs. In the morning, the street is lit in blue for its stimulating properties in the arousal phase, and in the evening it is lit in warm white, creating a soft and relaxing atmosphere.

Antico ponte a Terrasson
Antico ponte a Terrasson la Villedieu, Francia | Old bridge in Terrasson la Villedieu, France photo©Darlavoix

How does the approach to light change in different countries? I presume that there is a different idea in France or in China; is it so? 
There are some differences, but the need for fulfil the expectations of the nocturnal users is almost the same everywhere. Sometime citizens in China would expect more brightness or colourful night ambiances, but with the necessity to fight against climate changes the Chinese policies are also evolving with a more concerned approach to darkness, ecology and preservation of nocturnal biodiversity in the urban environment. Even the concept of dark infrastructure that we launched in 2011 for the City of Rennes in France, during the study of the City’s Lighting Master Plan, is starting to become popular among some Chinese cities authorities. In China, lighting has become a very important tool to develop nocturnal tourism. This is the why many Cities authorities are launching huge project of nightscapes along rivers or within city centres. They expect to attract a larger number of tourists (mostly Chinese) and therefore develop the economy of the city.

As a magazine curator – Lighting, Illumination in Architecture –, what is your feeling about paper journals? Do they still have a future?
Yes, I definitely think they have it. Because many people, just like me, love to touch the paper, to feel it in our hands while reading. We can store paper journals to look at them in the future. Digital news can be lost if not printed. And whatever useful may a screen be, it is still for me a very “cold” media compared to paper edition.

This article was originally published on LUCE n°323, 2018