Neon lights are a bold, cosmopolitan statement that can easily revitalize or accentuate an architectural space or structure. With eye-catching brilliance, a plethora of color options, and ties to a retro aesthetic, these lighting pieces can make a space feel simultaneously modern and nostalgic. Yet few understand the scientific workings or material properties of neon, and many architects neglect its use due to its narrow association with commercial signage. Below, we explore how neon works, its architectural history, and how architects can continue to use it today. Neon gas itself was discovered in 1898, and was named after the Greek word “neos,” which meant “the new gas.” A rare noble gas that is colorless, odorless, and inert under standard conditions, it emits an orange-red glow when placed in an electric field, lending itself to use for colorful lighting.
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