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Sustainable city lights bring beauty, nighttime magic: U.S. architect

2010. 18 May

( While recognizing sustainability as the critical issue in urban lighting, a Chicago architect believes it is the deliberate placement and balance of lights that gives the city a magical image at night.

During the ongoing 2010 Shanghai Expo, under its theme of " Better City Better Life", Chicago's lighting system,
and how it helps bring both a functional and esthetic experience to its residents, has become a hot topic, drawing global attention and generating global discussion as well.

Vojo Narancic is an accomplished architect with 30 years of experience in architectural design and urban planning. His extensive experience spans the globe from the U.S. and Asia to Europe and the Middle East, and encompasses projects from health care and education facilities to civic and performing arts centers.

On the important lighting issues facing cities today, Narancic told Xinhua at an exclusive interview on Monday, "Sustainability is more critical than ever. Most cities, certainly Chicago, are interested in improving the lives of their citizens and becoming more energy conscious."

Narancic noted, "Lighting systems are responsible for the largest consumption of energy in cities. People in my profession and others, including the city government headed by Mayor Richard Daley, are very committed to making Chicago one of the greenest cities in the world. That includes addressing the new sources of energy as well as being wise in using the energy that we have today. It certainly includes lights that require a great percentage of energy used in the city."

He continued to explain, "Technology of light source is continuously evolving. New developments and new fixtures are becoming more energy-efficient without sacrificing the quality or the amount of lighting. These are being installed throughout the city buildings and open spaces."

The extensive usage of lighting has caused pollution in cities and actions should be taken to address this issue. Narancic suggested, "A number of things could be done to control the extensive usage of lighting. One is to control the direction of light. The intensity of lights may change, which also goes hand in hand with sustainable consideration. So, perhaps at a certain point at night we could reduce the intensity of light or maybe totally turn it off if it does not affect public life or safety."

Speaking about the significance of light in human history, the distinguished architect said, "Ever since humans discovered fire, the desire to conquer darkness was achieved. Security was one of the great benefits of lighting one's environment but there was also a mysterious beauty of objects and spaces when rendered by light. "

From an esthetic perspective, Narancic introduced the beauty of the lighting system in Chicago, "There is a secret in what makes the city magical at night. The secret lies in its planning, its layout and its relation to the big body of water and prominent buildings. When those features are lit at night they transform the city as we know during the day into a magical image of itself."

He continued to explain, "In Chicago we have the John Hancock and the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), which are beautifully positioned and anchoring the city on opposite sides. They are well lit at the top and dominate the city skyline at night. Smaller buildings between the two giants form a dense fabric of the city, emitting lights in a variety of tones and intensity."

In addition, one of the best parts of Chicago is that it is fortunate to be at the edge of Lake Michigan. Narancic said, " Along the lakefront there is a long line of lights glittering like a golden necklace that defines the city's water edge."

Another general observation by the architect is that contemporary buildings are often lit within, while more traditional buildings are often lit from outside. "Contemporary buildings are enclosed mostly in glass which allows for the interior lighting to spread beyond the buildings illuminating immediate and distant areas."

"On the other hand, the traditional buildings are often composed of materials like brick and stone and have smaller amounts of glass proportionally. Rich in decorative details, those buildings are often lit from the exterior revealing a great texture and drama of architectural expression. It is really that combination that gives diversity and richness to Chicago," he added.

There are many instances in Chicago where the illumination of buildings creates nighttime magic. "The Wrigley building is one of those examples. The main face of this beautiful terra-cotta building is flooded in lights at night," said Narancic.

In the architect's eyes, lighting is like paint selectively brushed onto buildings or parts of buildings to accentuate their features and presence.

Throughout his career, Narancic led design efforts as a design principal and head of design for a number of prominent architectural firms and received numerous awards for his design work. His work has been featured in international magazines and trade journals, as well as been recognized by the American Institute of Architects with an honor award for design excellence.