February 13, 2002

Professor Starts Off New Evening Series

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Architecture Prof. Dietrich Neumann of Brown University and a visiting fellow at the Center for Advanced Study at Princeton University gave a lecture yesterday on “Architecture of the Night: Urban Illumination and the Avant Garde 1920-1960” to a packed audience of almost 100 students, kicking off the Department of Architecture Evening Lecture Series.

“Not many architects have in fact addressed this question at all,” he said, before engaging in a one-hour history of architecture, darkness and light. The lecture encompassed the increasing importance of lighting in building design, from the new skyscrapers of the ’20s and ’30s to World’s Fairs to Coney Island’s amusement parks.

Neumann traced the history of the emerging use of “the architecture of illumination” from the ’20s, when it was viewed as a “new art form,” even asserting that such buildings “provided hints about the architecture of the future.”

Neumann discussed examples probably well-known to architecture students, including the Eiffel Tower, originally planned as “a huge lighthouse” to eliminate the need for street lights. Another example is the first “nocturnal monument” of Chicago, the Wrigley’s Gum building.

It is highlighted in bright white to emphasize the freshness of the product. The building is still one of the brightest figures in the city’s skyline. The Chicago Tribune’s original design called for steam ducts at the top to be illuminated by yellow light, creating the image of billowing fire.

Neumann stressed his desire to see a resurgence of the trend, which ended in the ’60s. He concluded with the now-infamous image of the Twin Towers as beams of light. He spoke engagingly on this relatively unknown topic, one he asserts is an important factor in how the cities of the world look today. “There is clearly a notion of national identity tied to the nocturnal appearance of these cities,” he said.

Archived article by Andy Guess