In landscape design, light is a counterpoint

Jahrhunderthalle a Bochum, Germania - credits LAND

Andreas Kipar, one of the best-known Italian and European landscape architects, explains his relationship with the lighting of green spaces. Yesterday’s ideas and today’s ideas and the decisive role of technology, which makes it possible today to enhance the symphony of nature.

Andreas KIPAR
Landschaftsarchitekt Dr. Andreas Kipar auf Zeche Zollverein photo ©D. Asbach

He is Andreas Kipar, founder and creative director of LAND, a landscape architecture studio with offices in Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

We met him in the Milan offices to talk about his relationship, – that of a highly experienced architect, with the artificial lighting in the design of natural spaces.

About fifteen years ago, Kipar was responsible for the idea of the “green rays”: a pioneering model of green urban planning for the county seat of the Lombardy region, an example then exported and applied to Essen, which was awarded the title of Green Capital of Europe in 2017.

In recent months, with his team, he is following the landscaping for the Expo 2020 site in Dubai (which for the reasons we all know will be held in 2021; author’s note) and the greenery strategy of some centres in the Middle East. In his many years of career, he has designed the urban and periurban green plans of numerous cities, – including Milan, Cagliari, Piacenza and Reggio Emilia, and drawn up several plans for the territory: for the Ruhr basin, in the Karst, in the Langhe, on the Garda lake and for some Italian islands.

The chat with the founder of LAND starts from memories of his youth, from the Parco Nord Milano (one of the most interesting experiences of creating urban green in the last fifty years that took place in the Milan area; author’s note) and from the cultural confrontation with one of the masters of green planning, Francesco Borella, creator, designer and director of the regional park, which today extends over 790 hectares in the territories of seven municipalities in Northern Milan.

  • Thyssenkrupp
  • Thyssenkrupp

« My first encounter with the light started right there, from the Parco Nord and from the confrontation with Borella. It was a comparison that happened many years ago, when the Parco Nord was, so to say, taking its first steps. The focus of the discussion was whether or not to turn on the lights in an urban park like the one recently created. Or rather, the debate was about having the lighting, but not to be forced to turn it on. The park, seen from above, was the only oasis of darkness in the whole Milanese metropolitan area, which year after year was becoming more and more illuminated. At that time, there were no limits related to glare and there were still no regulations limiting the so-called light pollution. The question at the time was whether or not to resemble an ordinary urban element or to be inspired by something else, different from the ordinary. Nowadays, for example, the nature that enters the city through its new parks fits into the urban fabric respecting the logic of lighting technology. Everything, even nature, according to most people, should be functional to the city and its functioning. In the current thinking, there is the idea of the assimilation of nature to the urban fabric. The debate at the time was ahead of its time. Since the theme of landscape and green area lighting is a philosophical theme I would dare to say: Is light to be considered a companion of ordinary lighting or should these natural spaces be left to the lights of day and night, of twilight and sunset, of clouds or of a blue sky? Is ordinariness preferable to authenticity? In my opinion, the theme of light is played between its fullness and its total absence. It is in the vibration of these two extremes that light takes on its own value».

Die Welle,
Die Welle, Germania – credits Peter Bartenbach

This long and necessary foreword by Kipar helps us to better understand the point of view of a landscape architect grappling with the delicate theme of the presence of a lighting system in the open spaces. However, years later, something has changed in the architect’s own thinking and cultural attitude.

«It is inevitable that this is the case – he admitted -. Today we are working on several projects in which the light plays a key role, I would say that it is almost inevitable. I think of the ongoing projects in Moscow, where the lighting is part of the life of the capital, the Muscovites are real masters in lighting the facades of their most important buildings. One reason is because the light, at those latitudes, is an antidote for depression. Or, I think of some cities in the Middle East, in Riyadh, where we are working and where the lighting supports the normality of life, as an extension of the day. These are two examples to say that, in landscape design, we have gone from the negation to the moderation of the lighting. This theme must to be dealt with carefully, in a timely, non-extensive manner and always according to a multi-layered logic, typical of landscape design. You cannot draw a landscape as if it were something flat and uniform. So here is how, in landscape design, the lighting becomes a counterpoint, which allows you to enhance the symphony of nature. In the Langhe area, in Piedmont, where I worked, looking down at the multi-layered landscape of the hills from above, the lights of the church, of the bell tower and of the tower and houses were nothing more than the counterpoint of the surroundings. The artificial lights of the hill gave new life to the nature of those places ».

  • Porta Nuova
  • Porta Nuova,

Kipar stated two essential things: that there is always something to learn from nature and, today, also from technological innovation.

« For some time now, we have learned to use the lighting not in a uniform, linear way, but in a versatile way, in terms of tones, quantity and also in its automaticity. For example, we have learned to use the lighting when it is really needed. Twenty-five years ago the current technical content was not available to us. Today we light digitally through touch-point media. And in times like today, where the safety of places is required, having a light that simulates the natural one, at least in parks, provides an important support to our work».

But how do you work within a landscape design studio that has made the correct relationship with nature its reason for living? How do you organize a design team dealing with a lighting project for a green area?

  • Parco del Portello
  • Parco del Portello,

«It’s hard to think of making a good landscape project without the support of a lighting designer. – Kipar said – Nowadays there is an increasing need for skills and specialization. But to obtain a good design we need the light designer to understand the profound meaning of the landscape project and be able to transform it into a good lighting project. It is important that those who work with us understand and share the cultural approach to the project of nature we have in mind. And this relationship must be established immediately. Then we work on what historically already exists, ours is never an iconic production. If it were, we would be garden designers. We are landscape architects and what we have to produce is nature».

Krefeld-FischelnStadtpark, Germania – credits LAND

But what is the relationship between a design studio like yours and the industrial production?

«It is certainly not our task to choose the lighting components that will make up a landscape project – the co-founder of LAND explained -. Also because the less you notice the light source, the more you enter the mystery of the project of nature. If years ago, in the nineties, the goal was to show the product, because at that stage the quality of the design was more important than the quality of the light, today the relationship, at least as regards our work, has changed. Today, what matters is quality. What matters is the message, not the product. I would add that the smaller the presence of the elements that diffuse the light, the better it is for the message we want to convey. Today, the industry research should focus strongly on the elements that landscape architects use in their work, for example the land, and on introducing innovation. Thanks to technology, today we should be able to interact with plant elements and with its forms. Production, in my opinion, should also take on the very strong message that comes from the public opinion of the world that demands a new relationship with nature and its constituent elements».

  • Expo2020 Dubai
  • Expo2020 Dubai

Is there, for a landscape architect like you, a desire to express with regard to sector research?

«Oh yes, there is. I will tell you. I would like that sooner or later the flow of energy that exists in a landscape or park project could be made transparent, really palpable. I wish that one day the exchange of energy that exists in nature, in the woods, among the plants, among the trunks and the branches could be shown to us, enabling us to have something that can symbolize and make tangible the incredible strength of nature, which seems to be dormant, but, as we know, never sleeps».

This article was originally published on LUCE n°333, 2020