When I first put together the 2011 editorial calendar, all the way back in June 2010, I wanted to devote an issue to light from a different perspective. As so, I decided that we should spend some time exploring the very opposite of light—dark. It's not necessarily a novel idea, but ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING hadn't really tackled the topic in such a direct way. I wanted to explore what it might mean to design with light—and without.
Since we spend so much time focusing on our illuminated world, maybe we should take a minute and examine those places where light is an incredibly precious commodity. In these places, such as remote parts of Africa, India, and Nepal, any kind of light, even a 1W LED lantern, becomes a game changer that allows a community to work, study, and live beyond the cycle of the sun. When light is so precious in places like this, it makes the recent conversations about impending lamp phaseouts seem somewhat frivolous. Dark-sky debates also become more complicated as we question whether we should have light at all in certain places. Should we expect to see the night sky in the heart of Times Square or does urbanization dictate that true darkness is something only to be seen in very remote areas?
The contrast between light and dark is something that began to take on more relevance as September 2011 approached, and with it the 10th anniversary of 9/11. In time, I am sure that the magazine will talk about the rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero from the vantage point of lighting. But for now, to speak of the place or the memorial that has opened in terms of how many luminaires or what type of light sources were used just doesn't seem right. It's not what that place is about.
Of the many memories I have of that morning in New York City, where I lived at the time, was the incredible clear blue sky. Among the sights, sounds, and smells that I, like so many others, never thought we would witness, there was this extraordinarily beautiful weather. And it made what was taking place all the more unnerving and unfathomable.
“Light cannot exist without dark, and dark cannot exist without light. It is only when we can embrace all levels of illumination that we understand light's full potential—to console, to remember, to heal.”
Several months later, I think it was February, I was walking home from an evening event at the Center for Architecture on LaGuardia Place. It was one of those really cold, but clear, winter nights, when it hurts just to breathe. I turned right onto West Houston Street and made my way to the corner of 6th Avenue. As I stood on the northeast corner waiting for the traffic signal to change I looked south and was hit with an overwhelming sense of sadness. There was a void in the sky. The reference point you could count on, no matter where you were in the city, was gone.
Is it possible to mourn the loss of a building, or in this case two? It wasn't so much the buildings themselves that I missed but what their absence represented. In the clear navy-blue night sky, I acutely felt the Twin Towers' absence, and was transported back to that morning and the bright-blue cloudless sky when, on this very corner, I witnessed the collapse of the North Tower.
A cab honked coming up 6th Avenue and the real world snapped back into focus. I waited for the light to change, all the while thinking about the beautiful light of that Indian summer day and of the darkness that evening. The contrast unified them.
And so it is with the symbols of our remembrance—of that day and the places which have been dedicated as memorials. From the twin beams of Tribute in Light, to the silhouetted profiles of the Staten Island September 11 Memorial, to the line of light that now washes the waterfalls of the recently opened National September 11 Memorial, we seek solace in the warmth of light, its illumination made that much more meaningful because it is surrounded by the dark. Light cannot exist without dark, and dark cannot exist without light. It is only when we can embrace all levels of illumination that we understand light's full potential—to console, to remember, to heal.