Light Matters: UN Celebrates The International Year of Light 2015

Light is all around us, and it increasingly affects our daily lives. For example, we have started to carry personal light sources around with our smartphones, and in our homes many electrical machines now utilize light to display information and simply to appear more attractive. In a larger context, architecture and cities have also developed a new dimension with the advent of electrical lighting for work and entertainment.

Inspired by the central role of light for our culture and technology, the United Nations has proclaimed 2015 as the “International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies” (IYL2015). With IYL2015 the UN wants to raise the awareness of the importance of light and optical technologies in our lives, our future and the development of society.

Read on after the break for more enlightenment around IYL2015.

Light Matters: UN Celebrates The International Year of Light 2015 - More Images+ 7

"Over the Rainbow", Shanghai, 2013. First place in the SPIE International Year of Light Photo Contest, Image © Paul Reiffer

Light is a key element in architecture. For centuries the sun was primarily used to simply illuminate stone facades, but glass opened a path for interior spaces with increased brightness and a feeling of openness. With the introduction of electrical light and sophisticated optical technology engineers have looked for ways to copy the qualities of natural light, from diffuse illumination to accentuation. They were driven by the vision to create an attractive atmosphere within buildings and to improve life in the working environment. Through the rapid innovation of lamps with increasing light outputs we have already moved towards the point where the goal of avoiding glare is as relevant as the light itself.

With contemporary LED technology we possess a building element where tiny software driven pixels can be flexibly embedded in furniture, interior surfaces or even facades, changing their intensity and colour dynamically. Thereby building surfaces have started to turn into self-luminous media elements for aesthetic or commercial storytelling. At commercial melting pots for flickering light experiments like New York's Times Square, we can grasp the idea of living within dynamic screens that never rest.

New York – The City and the Storm. Image © Iwan Baan for New York Magazine

Light is often taken for granted and only through its absence do we become aware of the overall influence of illumination. With Hurricane Sandy in 2012 the lights suddenly blacked out and busy lower Manhattan fell into silence in the evening. Non-functioning street and traffic lights delivered the public realm into darkness. Only the headlights by a few cars brought hasty moments of brightness into the empty streets, and in the apartments people turned back to candles and received an impression of how life was before electrical lighting colonized the night.

Due to the abundance of light today we have lost the beauty of the night in many places of the world. Particles in the sky that reflect urban light emissions reduce the opportunity to enjoy the stars at night. Not only does this “sky glow” affect people, particularly astronomers, but it also affects other organisms, such as birds that are oriented by stars. Therefore several groups like the Dark Sky Association or the research team “Loss of the Night” have raised public awareness for the ecological effects of outdoor lighting. In addition, medical scientist have pointed out the health risk that night shift worker face when their circadian rhythms are disrupted.

Hence, more research is necessary to understand the dependencies between light and health in order to find adequate answers for challenging living and working situations. The wide perspective of the IYL2015 will ensure that the various dimensions of light, culture, technology and energy will be included. Sometimes even very simple technologies can have a remarkable impact in solving problems: “Liter of Light” or “SolarAid” have proven to be successful ways for developing countries to enjoy better light. In the case of “Liter of Light,” all that is required is an old plastic bottle filled with water and chlorine that refracts sunlight - enough to light up a home and easy to make, thanks to Alfredo Moser and a group of MIT students.

Swing time. Boston, 2014. Image © Howeler + Yoon Architecture

Get ready and join the International Year of Light 2015 with interesting conferences, attractive exhibitions or enlightening publications. Check out the global event programme by the United Nations or partner sites like L-RO, which focuses more on architectural perspectives. The following selection includes some highlights for the architecture community:


  • Gent, Belgium, until March 15: Lightopia, an enlightening exhibition considering different facets of designing with light and creating luminaires.

Realities:united, NIX, simulation drawing, 2005. Exhibition: Lightopia, Gent. Image © realities:united

Exhibition "24:00:00 – Lighting in the Urban Age," London. Image Courtesy of Arup

  • Stockholm, Sweden, until January 23: You Say Light – I Think Shadow, a collection of 109 perspectives on light and darkness from architects such as Tadao Ando, Jean Nouvel and Snøhetta.
  • Paris, France, until February 23: Contact, an exhibition by Olafur Eliasson - one of the most important contemporary light artists – at the new Fondation Louis Vuitton by Frank Gehry.
  • Paris, France, March 4 – May 31: The Play of Brilliant, an exciting exhibition to experience the brilliance of light by a selection of fantastic light art pieces organized by Light Collective.

Soo Sunny Park. Light Art: Unwoven Light. Exhibition, Paris. Image © Soo Sunny Park


Lighting for future healthy architecture. Light Symposium KTH University, Stockholm. Image © KTH

  • Baltimore, USA, October 8-10: IALD Enlighten America, a comprehensive global lighting conference on themes raised by the UNESCO initiative.
  • Atacama, Chile, October 12: Noche Zero, an inspirational event to preserve the night sky.

Noche Zero. Conference, Atacama/Chile. Image © Noche Zero


  • Cities of Light - Two Centuries of Urban Illumination. Global framework for historical studies of urban lighting offering new perspectives on the fast-moving developments of lighting today. Authors: Sandy Isenstadt, Margaret Maile Petty, Dietrich Neumann. Routledge.

Book: Cities of Light. Authors: Sandy Isenstadt, Margaret Maile Petty, Dietrich Neumann. Image Courtesy of Routledge

  • SuperLux: Smart Light Art, Design and Architecture for Cities. Authors: Davina Jackson (ed.), Mary Anne Kyriakou, Vesna Petresin-Robert, Thomas Schielke, Peter Weibel, Peter Droege. London: Thames & Hudson. (forthcoming)
  • You Say Light - I Think Shadow. Collection of 109 perspectives on light and darkness from Tadao Ando, Jean Nouvel up to Snøhetta. Authors: Sandra Praun and Aleksandra Stratimirovic. Stockholm: Art and Theory Publishing.

Book: You Say Light - I Think Shadow. Authors: Sandra Praun and Aleksandra Stratimirovic. Image © Sandra Praun and Aleksandra Stratimirovic

  • After Dark. Impressive and multifaceted online issue about the dark for entertainment, for illumination, for experimentation and for life. uncube magazine No.29: After Dark.

Uncube magazine No.29: After Dark. “Yellowred” sculpture by Arnout Meijer from his “Thanks for the Planets” series. Image © Pim Top, courtesy Arnout Meijer Studio via

Light matters, a monthly column on light and space, is written by Thomas Schielke. Based in Germany, he is fascinated by architectural lighting and works for the lighting company and academy DIAL. He has published numerous articles and co-authored the book „Light Perspectives“. For more information check or follow him @arcspaces.

About this author
Cite: Thomas Schielke. "Light Matters: UN Celebrates The International Year of Light 2015" 16 Jan 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

You've started following your first account!

Did you know?

You'll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.