Local lighting experts, engineers, designers, and architects came together at Culture Commons on Friday to talk about possible new approaches to lighting downtown San Antonio.

“We’re in a transition phase where we’re changing out LED lights throughout our city, specifically downtown,” said City Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1). “Lighting should be a partner, not an afterthought.”

CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams, local artist Bill FitzGibbons, architectural lighting designer Joe Kaplan, and security consultant Ken Stapleton explored the need to update lighting systems for efficiency and budget reasons, but they also discussed the impact lighting has on the overall design of downtown.

CPS Energy President an CEO Paula Gold-Williams discusses the energy companies history with public lighting. Photo by Scott Ball.
CPS Energy President an CEO Paula Gold-Williams discusses the energy companies history with public lighting. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Gold-Williams attributed her developing appreciation for the artistic value of lighting to Treviño.

“I totally embrace that, and so does the staff at CPS Energy,” she said. Historically, CPS has favored a more functional approach over an aesthetic one.

The installation of new light fixtures wouldn’t be cost prohibitive, said Gold-Williams, but “we are committed to providing as many solutions as our diverse community needs.”

This includes offsetting costs by employing new methods to detect inefficient use of energy in lights, which are being developed, she said.

Kaplan said one of the biggest mistakes he sees in lighting at night is contrast.

“You typically see highly lit (areas) next to unlit (areas), and it’s not a comfortable thing to look at,” he said and recommended a balanced lighting scheme that provides both visibility and safety.

The most overlooked energy conservation method is turning off fully-lit structures at night, Kaplan said, such as baseball fields. “If we’re going to start taking energy conservation seriously, we’re going to have to consider commercial use as well as private (and public).”

Architectural Lighting Designer Joe Kaplan discusses the aesthetics of multiple variants of light. Photo by Scott Ball.
Architectural Lighting Designer Joe Kaplan discusses the aesthetics of multiple variants of light. Photo by Scott Ball.

Lighting is the most important issue to consider when trying to make people feel comfortable in a public space, Stapleton said. “I always ask the fundamental question, which is ‘What are we trying to do with the light?’”

In trying to prevent vehicular as well as pedestrian accidents, he added, all aspects of lighting need to be considered. “You have to consider the color, the consistency, and the context. Where does a person find themselves and under what light?”

Citing his extensive work experience in urban neighborhoods with crime issues, Stapleton said that while street lights help deter criminals, it is just as important to have viable lights attached to the home.

FitzGibbons, whose recent work Kinetic Skyline lights up the Bank of America building among other installations locally and internationally, argued for standardized lighting guidelines so as to have consistent, aesthetically pleasing lighting in all areas of the city.

He also said that good lighting can have positive health effects. “I’ve read studies about the circadian rhythms that can be disrupted if you are subject to too much bright light,” he explained. “Wildlife is also affected, but those things can be moderated and fixed.”

In response to a question from an audience member, panelists agreed to take the health aspect of brighter lights into consideration when it comes time to make decisions and take action.

The panel was hosted by the San Antonio Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Centro San Antonio, and the office of Councilman Roberto Treviño. In an interview with the Rivard Report after the event, AIA San Antonio President Christine Viña applauded the City’s work on this issue.  She said AIA will be instrumental in assisting the City in its next steps such street analysis, lighting choices, and technical considerations.

“We have been working with the council for a long time to advance the concept of ‘city by design,’” she said,”providing lighting that has beauty but is also safe.”

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

Top Image: The corner of East Houston and Soledad streets currently offers a variety of mixed color temperature lighting.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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James McCandless

Former intern James McCandless is a recent St. Mary's University graduate. He has worked with the San Antonio Current and Texas Public Radio.