Winter has arrived in Munich (or at least it seems to us Texans!), and with the drop in temperature has appeared Christmas trees and the warm glow of twinkle lights around the city. The change in illumination was accompanied by a Light Walk this past Thursday evening, lead by lighting designer Katrin Rohr. Rohr began by warning us that much of the Munich “lighting design” was not design but rather a poor result of the incongruity between city planning and light planning. As our group emerged from the dimly lit steps in front of the Munich Opera house, the extreme light density of the LED-lit retail fronts across the square from us was bright to the point of ocular discomfort. This examination of facades continued, encompassing those that were evenly and gently “moonlit;” halogen down-lit (to appear almost like the sun across a facade); dramatically up-lit (to enhance the depth of the building elements); and lit by historical lamps (that detract from the ability to see the buildings themselves. The discussion of historical lamps brought up one of Rohr’s main points: light is all about reflection. The historical lamps have visible light sources that create a glare, making the ability to see the surrounding features difficult. Light itself cannot be seen: it is the result of light reflected off materials and surfaces that is perceived.
The color and temperature of light also makes an enormous impact on the creation of space. As humans, we respond both to the high intensity of daylight, very blue in color and about 5-6000 Kelvin. We are also drawn to the cozy warmth of just a small amount of dim light like a fire which, as Rohr described, stirs within us references to where our human survival and connection originated. Designers can control light effects for human perception using this sort of knowledge, determining the appropriate color and density of light. These two factors, Rohr reminded us, are all about comparison. She drove this point home by showing before and after images of a warm golden welcoming stairwell and a cold uninviting stairwell, surprising us all when it was revealed to be the same space and the same materials. With this, Rohr said, “Now we look for a real fire and a drink.” Text by Alexandra Krippner, Photographs by Alison Steele