Lights in Alingsås, Sweden

16th October 2019

This year’s Lights in Alingsås festival welcomed participants from 27 different countries: ten workshop heads from seven countries, 45 student designers spanning across 23 countries and 25 electrical students from the local high school, Alströmergymnasiet. The event was again organised by Alingsås Energi, who took over the festival in 2017, and the route for this year’s event took visitors out of the town centre and into the wilderness of the Nolhaga park. This route has returned by popular demand from both residents and visitors alike, after first appearing in 2014. The theme for this year’s installations was based around Be The Light – a chance for designers to interpret as they wish a message of how each of us can make the world a brighter place by being the light, whether on a small or large scale. “We had excellent feedback from this year’s workshop heads. We’ve firmly convinced them that it’s easy to make the world a little brighter through small, consistent efforts, and we hope that our Be The Light theme will spread that idea far and wide,” explained Event Manager at Alingsås Energi, Angelica Larsson. 

“Be The Light was a concept developed by advertising agency Femti5 and is a manifestation of the Eleanor Roosevelt quote about how it is better to light a small candle than to curse the darkness,” added Creative Director Christer Andersson. 

“It’s a powerful and evocative idea that we believe can spread and be very effective. Even if only a few percent of the 70,000 visitors make an effort to ‘Be The Light’, it could have a significant impact locally as well as globally.” 

As part of this year’s anniversary celebrations, two lighting designers who helped launch the event back in 2000, Kai Piippo, Head Designer at ÅF Lighting, and Torbjörn Eliasson, Lighting Designer at White Arkitekter, returned to the Swedish town again to present a permanent Jubilee lighting installation in the heart of Alingsås. Along with the help of ÅF Lighting colleagues Seren Dincel and Helena Johansson, the team installed multiple fixtures along the river Lillå, which runs through the central town square. 

The annual festival, with its many visitors, is close to the hearts of the two designers and has helped them build their professional network and spread light culture in Sweden. The inspiration for the installation came from the site itself. It is a defined space without invasive light from buildings, shop windows or glaring street lights. 

It was important that the installation was to make better use of the space, both aesthetically and for safety. The sides of the poles that the fixtures are mounted to have highly polished steel on each side that mirrors the nearby trees and water, allowing the whole installation to blend seamlessly into its surrounding environment.

Sustainability was also high on the priority list, with sustainable materials used, along with a versatile design that allows future events and designers to take full advantage of adapting the installation to fit different celebrations. 

“The site of the installation will change character during the year, with seasons, weather conditions and shifting temporary installations. It will be a popular and famous changeable Instagram-view for the citizens and visitors of Alingsås to enjoy for many years to come,” explained Eliasson. 

“Lights in Alingsås has changed the Swedish lighting culture and spread the knowledge of good lighting around the world,” added Piippo. “We wanted to give the citizens of Alingsås something back. A place to be proud of, to visit and to tell the world about.” 

As part of Lights in Alingsås this year, local primary school students were the first to utilise the flexibility of the structures by stringing across the river a selection of painted milk bottle lanterns, creating a magical effect of light reflections across the water. 

Jan Olofzon, CEO of Alingsås Energi, remarked upon the impact the light festival has had over the years: “Lights in Alingsås has spread knowledge about light and lighting to many. The city has taken this into consideration and in many ways developed the event into its own. It’s the best month of the year for hotels, restaurants and cafés, with schools, associations and local companies creating their own events during the five weeks. The people living in Alingsås have understood the importance of light for a safe and pleasant city.

“The lights have had a positive impact in Alingsås for many years. It is extra fun to use it for this year’s theme as a metaphor for everyone to contribute and make the world a little better – Be the Light!” 

In order of appearance, the seven sites that featured this year were: The Energy Hill with workshop heads Vladan Paunovic of Denmark and Juha Hälikää of Finaland; The Eye with Claire Tomara and Natalie Redford from Scotland; The Grove by Jackson Stigwood from Australia; The Pond Köllera with Erin Slaviero in the UAE; The Castle Avenue by Kapil Surlakar from India; The Source with Johanna Enger and Cecilia Cronelid from Sweden and finally The Mother Tree by Malin Wallin in Sweden. 

During the event, we spoke with Vladan Paunovic, workshop head of site one and Creative Lead at Ramboll Architectural Lighting Design, about his experiences of being a lighting designer in Scandinavia. Originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the transition to a Scandinavian region highlighted both naturally and culturally influenced shifts in the approach to lighting. 

“Denmark has a very distinguished lighting culture, which can also be found in neighbouring Nordic countries. People in the Nordics appreciate sensibly designed visual environments. Regardless of the type of installation (indoor, outdoor, public or private), 100% glare-free environments are always the ultimate demand,” he explained. 

“Poul Henningsen [designer who collaborated with Louis Poulsen during the early to mid 1900s] was on the forefront of this preference when he designed his iconic PH lamps as response to the new/modern light source – the incandescent lamp.” 

Along the light trail in Alingsås, a noticeable feature of the town was the small lamps in nearly every residential window. We asked Paunovic about this: “This is mainly a Swedish tradition, which occasionally can be seen in Demark. What is common all over Scandinavia is the preference for pools of light around the room, rather than one luminaire centred in the room to illuminate everything evenly.”

Another notable bond with lighting the Scandinavians share is the love for warm candle light. “In Denmark it is hard to find a dining experience without candle light being a part of it, even if it’s July and the sun is still high in the sky. This is not only the case for fine dining; when a middle-class family enjoys a low-key dinner on a Tuesday evening, you will most likely find a candle or two lit somewhere in the dining room. The invisible bond between dining and candle light is one of the most sublime cultural elements here,” added Paunovic.

The lighting trail for Lights in Alingsås took visitors and residents out of the town and into the darkness of Nolhaga, a park close to the town centre that follows the river. The site installations could take advantage of the natural darkness that can be experienced in many areas of Scandinavia. Paunovic elaborated: “The landscapes and cityscapes are darker here than they are in more populated parts of Europe. This is a natural quality that we tend to preserve in our lighting projects. We are careful with what we illuminate and what stays intentionally dark when completing outdoor projects. We always go for the less is more concept.” 

This respect for light is a sentiment that is also shared by Kai Piippo. “We talk about light as others talk about the weather,” he noted.

“Every day we comment on the grey sky or the amazing sunsets we experience the night before.

“We love light, especially the warm light. Nordic light is slow in movement with long sunsets, the blue hour and long shadows. During the summer we have long hours of sunlight, with sunlight even at midnight. During the winter we experience arctic light, which is a total lack of daylight. We refer to it like walking into a tunnel and coming out of it in six months’ time.” 

Paunovic’s site one – The Energy Hill – is a celebration of sustainable living and a comment on the current climate crisis. 

“You are in Sweden. Greta Thunberg is Swedish. The importance of sustainable living cannot be communicated too much. This installation is another cry for climate justice,” explained the site’s team. The light-loop takes visitors through four different energy sources; sun, wind, water and bio fuel. It is also a nod to Alingsås Energi and its incredible achievement of supplying 100% renewable energy to the entire town. Sponsors for this site included: Fergin, iGuzzini, Martin Professional, Meyer, Traxon, Osram, and Wireless Solution Sweden. 

Site two – The Eye – is the first that takes visitors into the Nolhaga park. “When the eye receives light, it captures all events and experiences we encounter, and as it has been said before, is the mirror into our souls,” explained the team. 

A central fountain is reminiscent of a stage with an audience waiting in anticipation for a performance. In the centre of the fountain is a mirrored sculpture, which reflected the soul of the surrounding area – acting like the eye of the site. This site was lit by Fergin, Lumenpulse, Meyer, Mike Stoane Lighting, Stockholm Lighting, We-ef and Wibre. 

Site three, named The Grove, was headed by Jackson Stigwood. This area invited audiences to experiment with different perceptions of the space’s depth through light; inviting you to enjoy the scenes from both inside and outside, creating different ambient atmospheres. “At the centre of the grove, individuals compose the unity community. We encourage you to commence an adventurous journey to explore the unknowns,” explained the team. Fixtures from Cameo, Gantom, Fergin and Meyer were used to complete this installation. 

Site four – The Pond Köllera – brought the trail up close and personal with the river’s edge, with Erin Slaviero as the workshop leader. “In a world where many negative things surround us, positive energy is fragile and easily lost. This energy weaves and bends and appears unexpectedly from all directions,” describes the site’s team. 

“Our site is a reminder to take that energy that surrounds us and always reflect it on to others to make a positive change. A change that can carry and impact others no matter how many months and years beyond your time at Alingsås.” 

Fixtures were compiled from Cameo, EcoSense, Fergin, Meyer, Stockholm Lighting, Traxon, Osram, Uplight and We-ef. 

The Castle Avenue – The Diurnal Rhythm titled site number five, headed by Kapil Surlakar. Taking audiences through a scene of sunlight, which transmits energy to create life, this installation depicts a time lapse experience of a day condensed into a two minute sequence. Sponsors for this site came from Cameo, Fergin, Griven, Meyer, SGM and We-ef. 

Site six, The Source, was headed by Johanna Enger and Cecilia Cronelid. This site is split into three sections, the source, which provides the energy; the connection is the meeting point where we experience and become a part of that energy; the environment is the point of contemplation, where we can see ourselves in the larger context both as a human and as part of the universal cycle – it is a place of clarity, reflection and enlightenment. Sponsors for this site included Griven, Fergin, Fox Belysning, Led Linear, Luxlight, Meyer, Traxon, Osram, Uplight, Wireless Solution, Sweden AB. 

The final site was The Mother Tree. Led by Jim Farula, this team’s site took inspiration from the Ancient Greek name Gaia, to be one with the universe and our planet. “We cannot deny our planet is a living organism, which we are affecting in an extremely adverse way,” explained the team. “Mother Tree is a visualisation of this synergy, with light, feel the emotion, BE THE LIGHT!” Sponsors for this site were Colour Kinetics, Informationsteknik and Signify. 

An added highlight to the light trail this year was located at Alingsås Energi’s Pumphus and Momenti bridge, also known as Site-Luke. The site, designed by Luke Farula, was made interactive with an app, supported by Signify, where residents or visitors could book a time slot then choose one of three different lighting scenes that ran for three minutes.