There is a light, and it never goes out.

Imagine a different Almere Haven

In the West of The Netherlands, in the province of Flevoland, lies the Dutch city of Almere, officially the youngest city in the country. Almere was once planned as an additional residential area for Amsterdam’s growing workforce, but soon evolved into a city of its own—per July 2015 its population is more than 197,000 citizens, and this number keeps growing.

Almere Haven, the city’s oldest part, is surrounded by woods and is overlooking the Gooi Lake. This district is known for its rural vibe. One of the problems here is the feeling of abandonment—Almere Haven is often seen as an isolated village within the city limits.  Companies shun away from this location, knowing that too few customers would be attracted by the area; this in turn perpetuates the unattractive image that Almere Haven has in comparison to other parts of the city.

Four students from Windesheim University of Applied Sciences are convinced that a good use of spatial design and innovative lighting technologies can make Almere Haven a better place. They developed a plan to totally transform the district’s central part, the Markt, by reconsidering the street lights currently in use. Their project won the Light Challenge 2015, the finals of which were recently held in Nijmegen.


Europe’s light challenge

At the heart of the Light Challenge lies the need to improve public lighting in The Netherlands by allowing students to develop solutions to real-life cases provided by Dutch Municipalities across the country. The latter are facing the need to rethink the way energy is consumed in the cities, and this task involves cutting back the electricity wasted on ineffective and unsustainable street lights.  This is relevant for the European region in general: “Europe 2020”, the EU growth strategy for the coming decade, sets a “20% increase in energy efficiency” as a whole-European sustainability target. Lighting is one of the key areas in this regard: the European Investment Bank reports that, given that there are around 56 million street lights in Europe, of which roughly 18 million run on 1930s standard, there is a potential to achieve energy savings on a scale of 30-50%. Furthermore, Europe can save €3 billion in energy costs annually just by adopting new lighting technologies.






What do most of us associate with the word “street lights”? Most probably, a lonesome pole with a light bulb perched on top. This is not necessarily the most energy efficient way, let alone the most attractive.  That’s why when re-imagining the way we illuminate the cities, one has to think not only about the energy savings, but also about making public spaces ambient, and cities—more livable as a result. Street lights are an incredibly important factor in urban landscape: researchers claim that lights in public spaces can affect our health and mood, and they can play a role when it comes to increasing safety and reducing crime. Furthermore, an effective use of street lights can help create a better image of the city in general.

Dutch Municipality of Heerenveen was probably the first local authority to recognize the need of reinventing the street lights as the Dutch know them—in 2011 it initiated the first edition of Light Challenge, and it was joined by the Municipality of Assen and the Municipality of Groningen. This was their collective attempt to give the Dutch students a chance to creatively approach the problem of public lighting in the cities. In this competition the teams are supported by partner companies, which offer know-how and resources to help participants come up with a new physical product; meanwhile, municipalities ensure local residents are collaborating as well.


A new light on the city center

Two earlier editions of Light Challenge, held in 2011 and 2013, focused on street lights in residential areas. This year the organizers chose a new task for the teams and asked them to work in the downtown districts instead, hence the theme “New Light on The City Center”. The teams were expected to develop a new lighting concept for a central area of each participating municipality—and each one of those areas had a problem of its own, e.g. visibility, safety, image, etc. (more about the challenges here, in Dutch).  Every team was expected to tackle the problem of one municipality, while responding to the needs of local stakeholders: residents, businesses, shop owners and others.

Just like at the previous two editions, the teams had to present to the juries a prototype of the new lighting product. They were free to choose the overall concept, materials and design, and they had five months to bring their best ideas to reality. Final solutions were evaluated according to criteria like choice of material, applicability, innovative character and energy efficiency. However, the main requirement is for the teams to be able to show how the product can contribute to the lives of local residents and whether it can truly positively alter the look and feel of the area.


Relighting the Markt

In 2015 the Municipality of Almere decided to see whether the new street lights could help transform the Markt of Almere Haven into an area where locals can enjoy spending time together, and where tourists aren’t afraid to find themselves after dark. Ruben Boelhouwers, Nathalie Houben, Marissa da Thesta and Dustin Vos, together the team “Spot”, started by identifying the area’s main trouble—Markt is mainly used as a walk-through area, and people aren’t comfortable with lingering at this square. On top of it, one is struck by a drastic light contrast. Marissa da Thesta explains: “The difference between the lit areas and the dark areas is just dramatic. The lights are so bright, they are blinding.” The unpleasant light contrast was the first thing to free the square from.

This is how the Markt looks today.

This is how the Markt looks today. Image: “Spot”

According to the proposed project, the Markt is transformed by means of creating four different levels of light from fountain lights, glowing tree fittings, light boxes and light rings. The idea was to create a safe communal space.

Ruben Boelhouwers comments: “We used four separate levels of light, so there’s something attractive wherever you look. The luminaires are forming a mild light contrast.” Besides, the residents can control the light in the fountains through an app: the lights will turn a different color depending on a song that’s being played.

All of the new light sources would be appearing at a different height. Thus, at the lowest ground level are the fountains, and then come the glowing tree-enveloping circular racks (1,6 m high) and the lightboxes of the local stores (3,5 m high). Finally, there are five specially designed “light rings”. According to the plan, these are circles 240 cm in diameter each, secured 10 meters high above the area.

The rings are the most important part of the solution, as they deliver the basic light for the area. They are interactive and can change the intensity and the color of their light. These circles are attached to 11 meters high aluminium poles, with aramid cables interconnecting them into one network. They are strategically placed to better highlight the two monuments located at the Markt.

“The rings are central to the solution, but we like to believe that every luminaire is as important as the other. It is the power of a combination that strengthens the total,” clarifies Boelhouwers.

Future Almere Haven, as envisioned by the students.

Future Almere Haven, as envisioned by the students. Image: “Spot”

Carlijn Timmermans, the team’s coach and herself a developer of lighting products says: “The new lighting project will make the visitors enjoy the whole space of the square. It’s a completely new lighting concept that creates a better atmosphere through interactivity. I am proud of how the team managed to develop the whole project from A to Z. It was very challenging.”

Filiz Zorluer, previously a member of the team that won the Light Challenge in 2011, approached the students after the finals to congratulate them on their success. She said: “It’s particularly impressive that this team managed to develop the whole project in just about five months. This is incredible, because even an expert in the field of lighting design would probably work on it for several years.”

The cost of the renovation is calculated to be at €159,000, excluding the installation surcharge. With this project adopted, the Municipality of Almere can benefit from a minimum of 52% energy savings, by going from a power rating of 4600W to 1840W. A representative of the Municipality of Almere told NRG Magazine that the project is likely to be implemented in 2016.


TEXT Mariia Stolyga



There is a light, and it never goes out.


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