One of four lighting master plans entered into a 2005 competition organized by the Paris City Council for an area of the city known as the Paris Crown—the ring of land extending from an inner railway loop out to the city limit—the winning scheme conceived by Paris–based lighting design firm Concepto Agency brings light to the everyday. Approved by the city council after more than a year of studies, the design aims to define street lighting, night-scapes, nocturnal ambiences, and the shape of the Paris Crown. With a depth of approximately half a mile, the area is just one of Paris' six concentric circles of land, a recognizable feature of the city's development over time that highlights its historic periods of expansion.

Containing 11 council housing estates (currently undergoing renovation); a variety of diverse districts; a disjointed greenbelt of parks, squares, and gardens; a railway line; and the Périphérique that encircles the city, the once neglected Paris Crown surrounds the brightly illuminated area that is Paris proper. “The main idea was to counterbalance the historical center and to take care of the everyday life of the people living in these quarters,” says Roger Narboni, lighting designer and director of Concepto Agency. “To focus on the social quarters and prove that light can be as interesting for these areas as it is for the historical center of the city.”

Because Narboni has both lived in and worked on social quarters for many years (since 1988 his firm has worked on close to 100 lighting master plans around Europe in countries including France, Belgium, Germany, Greece, and Italy), he was the ideal person for the job. “I know very well these kinds of buildings, this kind of life, and this kind of people because it is a part of my life,” he says. Indeed, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the size and disparity of the area, Narboni explains, “Sometimes it is easier to work on these quarters because what you propose is very appreciated by the people.”

Avoiding lighting design for tourists, for heritage, or for the beautification of the city, Narboni focused on the residents as the driving force behind the design concept. In the Paris Crown, where existing lighting is practically nonexistent (with only high-pressure sodium street lighting), Concepto Agency began by dividing the area using two theoretical strategies that they refer to as the “extraordinary town” and the “ordinary town”—two distinct yet complementary illumination approaches that work to form a single nighttime landscape.

The “extraordinary town,” which focuses on the lighting of symbolic, monumental dimensions, includes four design elements, which speak to a scale of lighting that can be seen from afar. The first element consists of the city entrances, which will be marked by vertically oriented linear fixtures of varying lengths with colored light sources. The second focus is on everyday elements. Narboni explains, “Because there are no monuments or places that are very exceptional, we thought it would be interesting to take advantage of what we call the ordinary monuments.” Thus, everyday entities such as tall apartment blocks and public buildings will become landmarks emphasized by colored lights on the upper corners, set at a 90-degree angle to give each structure a more pronounced dimensional feel. For the third design component, Concepto created a nocturnal landscape that defines the disjointed and difficult to interpret scale of the greenbelt, interlacing pedestrian lighting with the street grid to emphasize each park, square, and play area. The fourth and final part of the “extraordinary town” is the illumination of the inner railway loop, which has not been used for approximately 30 years and currently awaits its own transformation into a series of promenades and gardens. Unlit, it creates a ring of darkness in the Paris Crown, an unusual urban feature for a dense city that Concepto Agency chose to maintain. Narboni says, “We thought it would be fantastic to keep this part of the area dark, addressing issues of light pollution. When we can save some space where there is contrast and darkness, we really push for it.” However, the firm did include solar fixtures with blue sources that will line the route of the railway, a feature that could be removed at any time, as the national railway company, not the city council, owns the land.

The “ordinary town” represents everyday movement through the city at a pedestrian scale. “It's what happens when you go out of your building, when you go to school with children, when you go to buy something at the shopping center,” Narboni explains. This includes the illumination of an assortment of districts throughout the Paris Crown, from 19th-century Haussmannian-style apartments and council housing estates from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s to detached houses that once formed the suburbs and a jumbled collection of buildings, including tower blocks, industrial wasteland, and old warehouses. Instead of a standardized lighting plan, Concepto chose to maintain the diversity of each district, in turn preserving its charm and character and ensuring that this variety translates into the nocturnal landscape.

Pedestrian lighting is a significant aspect of the “ordinary town,” creating visual links and removing potentially dangerous areas of darkness as well as illuminating the entrances and surroundings of schools, day-care centers, and cultural buildings. And because parks and gardens are closed at nightfall, the plan includes the illumination of footpaths to emphasize their boundaries while keeping within appropriate light levels.

Although fixtures and materials will be the charge of future architects and designers working on individual projects within the Paris Crown, the lighting master plan does include guidelines for energy conservation. Light-emitting diodes will be used for many design features in the Paris Crown, such as the luminous lines and angles of the “extraordinary town”—“elements that could be very low in energy consumption with a very beautiful and nice impact,” Narboni says.

As for lighting master plans, Narboni feels they are an urban tool as useful as any other. “It doesn't solve everything,” he says, “but at least it gives you a lighting strategy and guidelines so you can construct and build a nightscape.” Considering energy savings, ecological aspects, and new technologies, he adds, “it is a very useful tool, which is why the need for lighting master plans is becoming so obvious.” It is no surprise that a city known for design regulations throughout its historic development (building heights were determined by the width of the street they stand on) should use a comprehensive lighting plan to bring it one step closer to being a 21st-century metropolis, maintaining its role as a leading example of urbanism and further solidifying its designation as the city of lights.


PROJECT | Paris Crown Lighting Master Plan, Paris
CLIENT | Paris City Council, Paris
LIGHTING DESIGNER | Concepto Agency, Paris
PROJECT SIZE | 1600 hectares (circle of 32 kilometers by 500 meters in depth–approximately 172 million square feet)
PHOTOGRAPHER | Images/renderings provided courtesy of Concepto Agency, Paris