The staples of Modern Architecture—glass, steel, and concrete—made large glass expanses possible for buildings of the 1920s and 1930s. This allowed an abundance of daylight to permeate spaces by day, and by night the reverse effect, as internally electrically illuminated buildings cast their light back out into the urban realm. The Van Nelle Factories, Rotterdam, 1931, is one such example. A model is on display as part of the exhibition.
Photo: Courtesy of the Netherlands Architecture Institute The staples of Modern Architecture—glass, steel, and concrete—made large glass expanses possible for buildings of the 1920s and 1930s. This allowed an abundance of daylight to permeate spaces by day, and by night the reverse effect, as internally electrically illuminated buildings cast their light back out into the urban realm. The Van Nelle Factories, Rotterdam, 1931, is one such example. A model is on display as part of the exhibition.

Although today the illuminated nighttime presence of buildings, monuments, and urban spaces is not uncommon, this was not always the case—the advent of electric lighting in the nineteenth-century changed that. Such is the subject matter of the exhibition currently on view at the Netherlands Architecture Institute, Architecture of the Night–Luminous Building, which runs through May 6, 2007, in Rotterdam.

Over the past 100 years electric light has completely transformed the public realm. Beginning with the illumination of the Eiffel Tower at the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris, lighting enabled an even greater monumentality for such landmark structures and buildings. Modern architecture, with its large expanses of glass, redefined a building's interaction with its surroundings. Windows, which let natural light inside by day, at night, allowed these same internally electrically illuminated spaces to cast light back out into the urban realm. With the invention and development of LEDs, building skins have become interactive light sources. Yet, the evolution of illuminated buildings and the abundance of electric light in our nighttime environments is not without concern, and the exhibition seeks to address issues of light pollution and safety, as well.

A comprehensive and chronological overview of electric light's impact on architecture and the built environment, Architecture of the Night is sure to provoke and inform how “light, the city, and the future have changed since the invention of electricity.”