by Zohra KhanSep 08, 2022
The discussion surrounding the future of our urban centres would seldom not cross the juncture of smart cities, a plausibility that is lent a very tangible perspective by the rapid strides we have made in artificial intelligence and robotics. Within the purview of that discussion and the realm of urban infrastructure, streets and the life they sustain may primordially belong to a more "classical" school of thought in a very colloquial sense, the fixtures lighting them can tetherless-ly look to the future and contribute to the very dynamic conversation about smart cities. The designers at Vantot, a Dutch lighting design and art studio, had exactly the same thought, intent, and expertise to smartly light the streets and urban spaces of this smart city, a “beta” version of which exists in the hybrid urban conglomerates we see today. Our streets are chock-full of sensors and surveillance devices, and the buildings these streets provide access to continue to grow increasingly autonomous: the technology exists, what is needed is thoughtful implementation. 'Sunseeker' aims to achieve that, merging technology, a functional aesthetic language, and responsive and responsible design principles.
Sunseeker is "programmed" with the intention of making cities smarter, sustainable, safer, and aiming towards a larger picture, more liveable. The design incorporates an aspect of interactive experience, while being modifiable to adjust intensity and colour, with an option to program further for responsiveness to motion, sound, and in extension, people. Fully solar powered, as is eponymously encapsulated in its name, Sunseeker literally seeks out the sun and tracks its motion across the horizon to charge itself during the day, delivering clean energy, and the light emanating from its expending by night. In the future smart city, Sunseeker essentially introduces an aspect of retrofitting, a concept which I believe to be the most plausible considering trends in urban density, essentially eliminating the need to connect the fixture, or a network of them, to a grid.
"The potential of the sun inspired us to harvest her light before creating light,” states the team at Vantot, headed by the lighting designer duo, Sam van Gurp and Esther Jongsma. Intended as an "idiosyncratic and dynamic" intervention in public spaces, Sunseeker, according to van Gurp and Jongsma, also responds to an additional demand that doesn’t maybe exist yet, or manifests through the implementation of the bespoke fixture in urban spaces. In the sense of contemporaneity, Sunseeker engages in a conversation with the static street lighting fixtures that adorn most streets today and ones we are mostly familiar with, to establish itself amid an interesting flux, an intersection of disciplines. To the non-discerning eye, the Sunseeker may very well be viewed as an installation more than a utility, adding a rather intangible layer of interactability to public spaces and avenues.
The chain of umbrella-shaped lanterns is a dynamically transforming micro-system in itself during the day. Individual fixtures along the light chain behave akin to people looking for the sunniest spot on a pleasant day. Each module of the light system is equipped with light sensors, and is movable linearly along the light chain, like a tightrope walker, to be always kept in the sun, in such a case that the fixture may be cast upon by the shadow of a neighbouring tower, another building, or even a tree. The dynamism in its function is two-fold, since Sunseeker’s flat top mounted over its funicular body that is responsible for the spread of light on to the ground can be programmed to rotate along its own central axis. Akin to a sunflower, the Sunseeker too dynamically 'faces' the sun, rotating its top to optimise gain of solar energy relative to the position of the sun. This is especially useful when the day may be prone to odd bouts of weather and ample sunlight may only be available during specific parts of the day.
Metaphorically, and almost rather poetically, the chain of lights that composes the structural and functional assembly of Sunseeker when installed, acts as a guide, one that you can almost physically touch to guide you through a particularly dark stretch at night. The network of lights strung together is intended to also act as a distinct signage and established visual connection between point A and point B, owing to its design language: subtle yet inventive. The fixture may also be endowed further to move along and interact with the people walking along, accompanied by change in light intensity and colour. The underside of the ring of the lighting module is illuminated like a halo, imbuing an increasingly positive interventional outlook to any urban space.
Designers: Sam van Gurp and Esther Jongsma, Vantot
Location: Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Function: 8 modules per lighting fixture for functional lighting placed inside a circle of diameter 145mm. The fixtures hang at a height of approximate 5225mm, and are placed roughly 10m apart.
Power range and luminous flux: 321 lumens (2W), 465 lumens (3W), and 682 lumens (4.5W)
Colour temperature: 3000K
Depreciation/Aging factor: 0.8