Luminale has become the signature event associated with Light+Building, the international building and lighting trade show that takes place every two years in Frankfurt, Germany. ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING spoke with Helmut M. Bien, director and owner of Westermann Kommunikation and curator of Luminale since 2000, about the event and its important role not only during the fair, but on the city and region long after this year’s lighting displays have been packed away.
How did Luminale come about?
As a museum consultant and exhibition director, I am fascinated by light and the possibilities of creating different atmospheres. In 2000, I was asked by Messe Frankfurt to create a concept that could build a bridge between the [then] new trade show Light+Building and the city of Frankfurt, something that would allow each to complement one another. Frankfurt is an exciting city for architects and architecture, and the trade show was positioned to become a leading international meeting place for all who are interested in technology. That was the key idea: to create a synergy between the commercial marketplace for the industry and the city where this event takes place. That was the birth of Luminale.
How has the event evolved over time?
We started with 50 projects in 2002. The second edition expanded to 100 installations, and the third edition had just over 200 projects. For the upcoming seventh edition of Luminale—March 30 to April 4—we will have approximately 180 installations throughout the city and environs. The main point is to involve a lot of people and to initialize a process of working with light, for professional lighting designers as well as Frankfurt residents. Participation is a key idea of Luminale. The festival is a platform for experiments with light. It’s about exposing professionals and non-professional alike to the many facets of light.
How many people are involved in the planning of Luminale?
We are a very small office, only two people, but we are connected with more than 600 partners to create this festival, and we cultivate a network with the international lighting community. It takes more than a year to find the partners for the upcoming event. Luminale is a no-budget festival. Each artist or designer has to raise his or her own funds to support their work. We simply moderate the process. We ask architects and artists to envision a project and we help them to find a site and partners, such as the many exhibitors at Light+Building. It’s like design match making. We also do the marketing for the festival.
What distinguishes Luminale from other lighting festivals?
Most festivals are driven by city marketing, tourism, and big budgets. Luminale is free of these intentions. Frankfurt is filled with lighting professionals during Light+Building. The city becomes a center of lighting during the week, and Luminale uses this opportunity to create a festival with these [lighting] experts, for these experts, each night after the fair.
For the people of Frankfurt and the region, Luminale is a huge opportunity to see what lighting designers can do in addressing quality of life issues with the resources and needs for the urban age. A lot of students and startups also use this chance to exhibit at Luminale as a way to start a career. Seasoned professionals like to see the experiments of the next generation. Many projects are not perfect but that adds to their charm because they are telling the artist’s story through their personal passion about light. That’s an authentic approach and a huge source of inspiration for everyone who sees the festival.
How do you keep Luminale up to date?
Luminale is deeply connected with the fair, and the trade show follows the stream of innovations. In between each edition of Luminale, we scout new talent while we follow the evolutions of technology: the digitalization of light and its interactivity; LEDs and OLEDs; sustainability and green building strategies. It is not a festival of lanterns and romanticism, but a festival of art, design, and technology. We also follow the urban development and growth of Frankfurt. For example, this year there will be installations in some of the new residential neighborhoods—reclaimed industrial areas—along the River Main. Cultural campuses and museums are also our stages for installations. In this way, we introduce new places, so Luminale is as fresh as the city itself. We also have symposia within Luminale on topics such as light art and media façades. And there are Pecha Kucha gatherings, concerts, and guided tours.
How did you get the city of Frankfurt involved as well as the private sector?
Frankfurt is one of the leading green cities in Europe; it’s the capital of Passive Haus construction. The city administration, along with real-estate developers, architects and designers, and schools, such as the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, are keen on being part of Luminale. The festival is like a display window for new ideas, buildings, and the involved people in a vibrant region.
How does Luminale serve as a catalyst for growth for Frankfurt and the region?
Luminale is a stage for the new. It showcases a strong and fast-developing region in the heart of Europe. Images from Luminale’s installations and activities are dispersed globally. Some of the projects that have taken place during Luminale have served as symbols of change for the city, such as the now-iconic exterior illumination of the Commerzbank Tower in its wash of yellow light and the lighting along the River Main.
What do you hope visitors take away from their Luminale experience?
For every colleague working in lighting, it’s reassuring to see that so many people share an interest in and a fascination with light. Luminale provides motivation and inspiration for the entire lighting community. It gives one the sense that your work is valued and that people are interested in seeing what you’ve done.
What do you hope residents of Frankfurt take away from their Luminale experience?
It’s as the German Romantic poet Novalis said 200 years ago, “We must transform the things of everyday life into something new and fascinating.” Luminale motivates people to “see” with new eyes.
How do you see Luminale growing?
Luminale will follow Light+Building and will reflect the developments of technology and urban life. More than half of humanity is living in cities today. We have to face that challenge, urbanistically and environmentally. Luminale should be an urban-age festival to see and discuss all the challenges of participation, interactivity, automatization, and sustainability.