Light Urbanism Workshop: a Lighting Masterplan for the City of Medellin
and the Aburrá Valley, Colombia.

Photo: Vincent Devillard

Last November the results of a pioneering workshop in light master planning for the city of Medellín in Colombia were presented to both the members of the Ibero-American lighting designers 2014 (EILD 2014) and the director of Urban Planning for the City of Medellín. The workshop was the first of it’s kind, having been developed to teach a working methodology for the design of the nightscape – in this case the metropolitan area of Medellín. 41 professionals including lighting designers and architects from different countries of Central and South America, architects and engineers of Empressas Públicas de Medellín and the Department of city planning, had six days in which to produce an outline Lighting Master Plan (LMP) for this town of 2.636 million inhabitants. The participants were tasked with defining the night image of the city as well as its dark infrastructure up to 2030, aided by developmental studies already carried out by the municipality.

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Copyright Pascal Chautard
Photo: Pascal Chautard

The workshop was led by veteran light Master Planner, Roger Narboni (studio Concepto, France) in collaboration with Pascal Chautard (Chile), Fanny Guérard (studio Concepto, France), and a Colombian architect David Vanegas. After a day and night visit of Medellín, followed by debates, lectures about the city urban strategy, an analysis of Medellin’s existing lighting and a discussion on the methodology of development of a LMP, the participants were divided into seven groups to reflect on the themes issuing from the analysis. The seven working groups were piloted by lighting designers (Virginia Nicolas, Frédérique Parent, Loeiza Cabaret, Raphael Girouard) experienced in the development of urban lighting strategies, a landscape architect (David François) and a philosopher and lighting designer (Alice Adrien). A graphic designer, Vincent Devillard, was in place to design the various graphic documents provided to participants, along with a materials library for reference on Colombian culture. A blog dedicated to the event was also fed daily.

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Diagnostic existing lighting - Copyright Pascal Chautard
Photo: Pascal Chautard

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Diagnostic Patchwork - Copyright Vincent Devillard
Photo: Vincent Devillard

The existing nocturnal environment: the inclined city

Arriving in Medellín at night, a myriad of orange light points rise up the steep hillsides. Termed “laderas” these reach almost to the obscured mountain ridge. This gigantic luminous constellation can almost be seen to be a replacement for the stars at ground level – since a combination of light pollution, the local moist climate and light diffusion generated by the densely urbanized blocks the real night sky from view.

The multitude of luminous points creates an iconic, almost poetic, landscape – albeit one born of a functionalist and systematic approach. These luminous points, closely linked to the current city topography and its special form of urbanisation, demonstrate that there is a political will to develop equal night treatment of all public areas of the different sectors of the city. However, they also oppose and overtake the discreet nocturnal images of rich neighborhoods in the South, formed from high and dense towers that in turn totally mask the public lighting in the distance. In this way the nightscape of the “barrios” has become the showcase of urban social development promoted by the municipality of Medellin.

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Neuronal approach - Copyright Fanny Guerard
Photo: Fanny Guerard


With this background, the Lighting Master Plan (LMP) for the city of Medellin and the Valley of Aburrá was conceived with a neural approach. This approach addresses geographical sectors and different nocturnal themes with lighting concepts that grow, strengthen, intersect, overlap, link and join according to nighttime temporalities. It includes the development of nocturnal gravity centers and the appropriation of the districts by the inhabitants after dark.

The themes that were discussed, detailed and proposed are:

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Night skyline - Copyright Loeiza Cabaret
Photo: Loeiza Cabaret

The Valley Landscape – the night conurbation in the valley will generate a strand of continuous light spots, with various sizes and densities along the River and will be maintained in a voluntarily controlled darkness.

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Conurbation black infrastructure - Copyright Fanny Guerard
Photo: Fanny Guerard

The Black Infrastructure will balance the exceptionally starry nightscape by defining the spatial and temporal distribution of dark areas near ecological corridors, including longitudinal, transverse, and along torrents called here quebradas and edges; all of which will be sanctified at nightfall.

Workshop PMIL Medellin -Nocturnal edges map - Copyright Fanny Guerard
Photo: Fanny Guerard

The City of Edges will be underlined by a thread of discontinuous lights, consisting of pedestrian lighting that will accompany the presence of city dwellers and lighting of planted fringes in the first part of the night, to depict the nighttime limits of urbanisation.

The City of the Seven Hills (ceros) would in the future create a print in negative on the starred and tilted nightlife scene of Medellin, composing three-dimensional obscure forms that will aid the formation of a mental map of the city.

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Subway station nocturnal map - Copyright François David
Photo: François David

Workshop PMIL Medellin - MetroCable - Copyright Catalina Harasic
Photo: Catalina Harasic

Presentación de PowerPoint
Photo: Carolina Salman

The City of Networks takes into account the aerial infrastructures of roads and public transport which are currently completely de-contextualised from the geography of Medellin. These could instead play a different night role and be staged as symbolic elements of everyday heritage of the city. The subway line parallel to the River will feature a series of colored light pearls, formed by the enlightened stations that become vectors for the expansion of the surrounding lighted public space. Cable lines (Metrocable) will also be marked out in colored nocturnal trajectories into the starred nightscape of the laderas.

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Quebradas map - Copyright Carolina Roese
Photo: Carolina Roese

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Parque quebrada La Iguana - Copyright Raphael Girouard
Photo: Raphael Girouard

The Modeled City – born of the ‘torrents’ water system together with the valleys that they helped create, the ‘quebradas’ will be used to mark, with a change in light tone, the built-up lateral limits of the public spaces. These nocturnal images of the quebradas will replicate in a fractal process, at the level where they cross into neighborhoods, creating places of conviviality, where light plays the role of a fireplace and reveals the presence of the water.

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Nightcape River - Copyright Virginie Nicolas
Photo: Virginie Nicolas

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Nightscape River - Copyright Diana Mazuera
Photo: Diana Mazuera

The River City – focuses on the creation of a linear Botanical Park that crosses the entire city along the Medellin River (or Aburrá River) – which is seen in the collective memory of the people to be the founder of the town. Although it has suffered from industrialisation and urbanisation and is currently difficult to see or walk by, the Medellín River is one of the key symbols of municipal ambition. In reconciling the city with its river, and restoring public space alongside or across it, the inhabitants will have a better connection with their environment, and will be able to rediscover the essential role of biological corridor that the river must play. The proposed light concept supports human activities at night, reveals nature, but also leaves darkness; reinforcing the role of the river as an urban axis. Playful light signals will animate the linearity – a liquid line will glow while approaching the bridges and footbridges and permeate the night with blue luminescence, a symbol of the new life of the river. The banks will then remain deliberate darkness to preserve the anticipation of the day, and nighttime biodiversity.

The City Silhouette today translates, through its varying heights, the Medellin social imbalance. In the future a plan for more subtle lightings of the towers will allow them a place in the new night image of Medellin, while preserving the visions to the tutelary cerros that are currently obscured.

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Nocturnal composition - Copyright Fredrique Parent
Photo: Fredrique Parent

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Plaza Botero - Copyright Fredrique Parent
Photo: Fredrique Parent

The Extended Centre is a very large scale urban renewal project that proposes luminous atmospheres mostly dedicated to pedestrians. Two major cross routes have been identified for tourists and city dwellers, to allow them to discover the (new) illumination of heritage buildings and visible towers in the downtown area and in the dense urban fabric. This theme also considers lighting the squares, the gardens, the meeting spaces, staged with lightings in an original way.

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Street art lighting - Copyright David Vanegas
Photo: David Vanegas

Workshop PMIL Medellin - Casa de la musica - Copyright Loeiza Cabaret
Photo: Loeiza Cabaret

The City of Neighbourhoods– currently suffering from a lack of definition through visual cues, the urban lighting will attempt to give the districts individual night identities by creating particular nocturnal atmospheres and identifying light elements. The composition will create a luminous patchwork – a network of colored light nodes reminiscent of the colourful family bedspreads so famous to the inhabitants of Medellin.

The Temporal City looks at how to manage the proposed lighting strategy overall, using light gradients according to the times of the night, reflecting the very characteristic tilting movements of Medellin, from North to South in the morning – from informal settlements to workplace – and conversely with a very intensive moment in the evening at night fall when all flows intersect and collide.

Workshop director Roger Narboni comments:

“All of the proposals created in the context of this unique teaching workshop were done in a relatively short space of time, but were based on detailed analysis of current and future uses, night dynamics of today and tomorrow, every day or festive, in order to offer to the inhabitants in all neighborhoods light that symbolises their joie de vivre and reveals their city’s unique tropical identity.

Their implementation would enable residents to better live Medellin at night and rediscover and appreciate the magnificent starry sky of the Aburrá Valley, hopefully becoming in 2030 a dream and a model of a nocturnal conurbation. The city has responded very enthusiastically to the outcomes and the ideas generated, and it has set them on a path that they would otherwise never have considered.”

The leaders and participants of the Workshop Roger Narboni, Pascal Chautard, David Vanegas, Fanny Guérard, José Luis Araiza, Márcia Chamixaes, Mariana Novaes, Veronica Rios, François David, Andres Vasquez, Carolina Salman, Catalina Harasic, Plinio Godoy, Raphael Girouard, Aquiles Pavez, Camilo Urquijo, Carolina Roese, Victoria Ramirez, Virginie Nicolas, Andres Restrepo, Diana Mazuera, Juan Echeverri, Sofia Troncoso, Loeïza Cabaret, Carlos Puente, Magdalena Roa, Maria Isabel Zuluaga, Sara Ramirez, Frédérique Parent, Alejandro Posada, Fabiola Martinez, Jairo Orozco, Javier Velasquez, Jorge Curtidor, Alice Adrien, Constanza Valdebenito, Cristina Gil, Esteban Duque, Tatiana De Albuquerque, Esteban Yepez, Vincent Devillard.

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