Of late, the lighting community has been talking a lot about “darkness” and how we’ve lost our connection to the night sky. As much as 60 percent of the world’s population has never seen the Milky Way and almost two-thirds of the world lives in areas where urban lighting is brighter than the threshold for light-polluted status set by the International Astronomical Union. As the global population moves in ever larger numbers to cities, there is more of a need than ever to embrace darkness; by 2050, 70 percent of the world will live in cities where light pollution is at its worst. But it’s not simply about light pollution; we need to understand how to manage the balance between light and dark and get to a point where we have the right amount of light, in the right place, at the right time.
Two years ago, Paulina Villalobos of DIAV, a lighting consultancy based in Santiago, Chile, asked us at Light Collective to help create and host a darkness event in Chile. This past October, we were pleased to be part of the first Noche Zero (nochezero.org). Created by DIAV and Light Collective in conjunction with the Universdad Católica del Norte, Noche Zero was designed to be an inspirational event—an educational summit and a darkness experience held in San Pedro in the Atacama Desert. With notable lighting experts such as Mark Major and Kaoru Mende speaking alongside National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson and Massimo Tarenghi, the head of the European Southern Observatories in Chile, this collaboration was targeted at an international group of influential people working in and linked to urban lighting design. The aim was to connect the groups interested in this topic, to celebrate darkness, and to create a methodology for light and urban design to help preserve the night sky in cities.
Essential to the event’s success was that it was held in the Atacama Desert in the north of Chile, the driest place on Earth with the clearest sky on the planet, and thus one of the world’s epicenters for astronomical observation. The stunning starry skies were the backdrop for the expert’s presentations, and for participants contributions to a new way of treating and understanding the role of darkness in urban lighting design.
Major and Mende discussed how to create spaces and simultaneously maintain a sense of darkness and control. Professor George Brainard of Thomas Jefferson University spoke about the effect of light on humans, and environmental expert Alvaro Boehmwald talked about nighttime biodiversity. Participants signed the Atacama Manifesto—a document that outlines how the work started at Noche Zero can be used as an ongoing resource. “The most unexpected element of the whole event was to find how like-minded we all were in not only wishing to tackle the issues of light pollution,” Major said, “but also in sharing real passion for light itself.”
Martin Lupton is the co-founder of U.K.-based Light Collective.