How a Few LED Lights Can Change Your Whole City

The Ravens’ journey to the 2013 Super Bowl has cast a purple glow on Baltimore.  Building owners and facilities personnel have found creative ways to illuminate facades, windows, and trees in shades of purple. Regular playoff trips and this year’s Super Bowl compete with Christmas for festive supremacy.

Baltimore harbor

Baltimore harbor glowing in purple preceding the 2013 Superbowl

Photograph source: Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore

In 1828, Paris lit the Champs-Elysees with gas lamps becoming the first European city to widely adopt street lamps. In addition to being the center of education and ideas, the lighting of Parisian streets helped give Paris the nickname “La Ville-Lumiere.”  In describing the lighting of Paris, Nicholas Green in the Spectacle of Nature writes “what a magnificent spectacle this boulevard presents when at dusk the café waiters light the gas lamps and torrents of light instantly flood forth, pure and white as the moon.” Gas lights allowed socialization and the economy out into the open and into the night.

Victorian paris-at-night

Photo source: Victorian Paris

Hundreds of years later, cities are again using lighting in new strategic ways.    Light displays are credited for a big reason in downtown Philadelphia’s resurgence, particularly their “Avenue of the Arts.”  Even in non-playoff times, Baltimore uplights City Hall, The Bromo Seltzer Tower, Penn Station, the 37 story art deco Bank of America Tower and others. Should Baltimore and other cities do more?  When attending an art gallery or museum, lighting will be carefully directed to highlight each piece. Shouldn’t lighting do the same for our best buildings or their architectural details?  Modern buildings can highlight their geometries whereas historic buildings can focus on domes, spires, columns, or façade details. Street trees also add festivity when illuminated.

lighting historic buildings

Historic building features illuminated
Church in Bath, England Photograph source: Enlightened Lighting Ltd

Why let our best buildings be enshrouded in darkness when the sun goes down?  Lighting is more than design. It is about vibrancy. Light is energy and provides energy.  It can help to resuscitate places that may be tired and disinvested.  It can highlight craftsmanship and prideful work. More people might invest, spend money, and appreciate buildings that are newly energized with light. High tech illumination can help invigorate older beautiful churches, traditional downtowns, and main streets.

Kelley Bell, a graphic designer and professor at UMBC, uses a projector to showcase her art by beaming projections onto buildings in Baltimore. Recently, she has created an exhibit that illuminates blue bubbles onto the clock faces of the iconic Bromo Seltzer Tower.

Can lighting be overdone? Yes.  In an age when the world should be reducing our carbon footprints, lighting takes energy. However, LED lighting is significantly more efficient than earlier types of lighting. If lighting helps to “reuse and recycle” the embedded energy of our existing cities, its trade-off is worthwhile.

Do you have an urban feature or building that is a good candidate for illumination?  or have a picture of a strategically lighted building? If yes, send a jpeg less than 1MB to  Please include an address for the building.


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Administrator and writer for Comeback City

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