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Seeing Stars – Eighty percent of the planet’s population are inhabited by light polluted skies

In the face of environmental advocacy, Studio Roosegaarde team up with UNESCO to create Seeing Stars initiative. «we have become disconnected from them because of the way we treat light and design our cities»

Seeing Stars as a form of Universal Heritage

Roosegaarde divulges, «Seeing Stars is about the awareness that the stars are always there. They have been there for millions of years. For some reason in the last eighty hundred years we, as human beings, have become disconnected from them. Because of the way we treat light and design our cities. We teamed up with UNESCO».

Light created by the stars and other bodies have, for decades, enriched the spectacle of terrestrial nature. As well as the human habitat, creating reference landscapes traditionally perceived by people; as an integral part of their natural and cultural heritage. Ferrier explains, «As UNESCO when we were first introduced to Daan’s idea. We were interested as we have had other initiatives when it comes to the common heritage for people to see the stars. As humans we have started to lose grip of our lives».

Franeker: A city of cultural and historical astronomy

Franeker, the Dutch city where the project first kicked off, located north of the Netherlands was specifically chosen. Because of its astronomical history where the Eise Eisinga Planetarium is located; and has become a world heritage site. A site that is considered to be the oldest working orrery in the world built in 1780. The Dutch architect divulges, «the stars have been there for millions of years. In a way we are not proposing to add anything; but rather take away something in order to reveal the stars. The city of Franeker is home to around 40,000 people. Now that we have shown it is possible the next challenge is to target larger cities».

Unnecessary city lights

A main driver that has set this project was Roosegaarde asking himself what could be done with less? In a time where resources have gone scarce, alternatives must be utilized. «As of now a lot of city lights are considered unnecessary. Billboards in the middle of the night when nobody is there. Gas stations fully lit when they’re closed; eighty percent is nonessential light just burning away for nobody. It took around twelve months in preparation with the citizens, entrepreneurs, the government, UNESCO and photographers; so, it is a citizens’ or community project».

The fragile light of stars can become an engine for sustainable development in local communities. As Ferrier puts it, «we are trying to find ways to tell the story. To raise awareness on certain issues that are happening around our globe. For instance also the things we wanted to achieve are the sustainable development goals. But how do you make the stories for people to really understand what we are aiming at a different perspective? Not by adding but by taking away».

A decaying nightscape 

Light pollution can have a far-reaching influence on humans and wildlife alike. Affecting one’s health as well as showing serious impacts on our climate. Artificial lights dispel the darkness of the night bathe our cities in light; disrupting the natural balance of day and nights and sleeping quality. As a result of the large amounts of light pollution produced by cities; researchers have proven that nature’s cycle has been destabilized. Trees are triggered into thinking the spring season has started; because of all the lights and then winter; and start to blossom as a result during timings that are harsh for the plant. To do so they end up dying due to the severe cold. In addition to also affecting sea life, light rays manage to find its way deep in the sea; disorienting the fish and their sleeping pattern.

According to The First World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness; a report on global light pollution stated that two-thirds of the U.S. population. More than one-half of the European population have already lost the ability to see the Milky Way with the naked eye. «If we look at street lights or the way we treat lights today. We have to find a new harmony between human and nature. Actually when you darken it, your visibility goes up because your eyes are calibrated better. It’s a common myth that more brightness creates better visual perception; and that darkness attracts crime».

The International Dark Sky Association describes light pollution as «the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light». This includes glare, or excessive brightness; sky glow, which drowns out the night sky over urban areas; light trespass, or stray light falling where it is not needed; and clutter.Seeing Stars, an engine for sustainable development and grounds for a new balance by opposing the existing way of thinking; that has led to numerous forms of pollution and making the public change their perspective.

Lampoon, Seeing Stars project in Franeker
Seeing Stars project in Franeker, the Dutch city located north of the Netherlands

Dark sky awareness and tourism on the rise

With UNESCO’s aid in this project the idea of Earth Hour comes in hand. A global solidarity event to encourage communities, societies and individuals to switch off lights and unnecessary electronic devices; in hopes of reducing electricity consumption which contributes to reducing the impact of climate change. An initiative that the World Conservation Union launched; in the year 2007 in the Australian city of Sydney.  Ferrier explains, «every country that is part of UNESCO is more or less obliged to have a national UNESCO commission; to translate to the national level what happens internationally and vice versa. What is happening on the national level regarding science, education, communication. Art and culture to translate it to the international level».

«The tradition of stars and embracing them is not something new. In many cultures and throughout history people have used the stars for a bunch of purposes. It is weird that our western society has omitted such a factor». The Dutch architect explains that not only would this benefit the environment; but would also boost the city’s economy through dark sky tourism. There are new possibilities for tourist destinations. Offering diverse activities to watch starry skies, visit astronomical observatories; navigation of the stars or even discovering the nature of night.

Working together as a team

«Embracing the dark sky and making it part of our identity. In order to achieve this sustainable approach is management and communication from people; it is not about having a big budget but rather working together as a team. If you want to see the stars permanently you could also just redesign your street lights». Star tourism has the potential to become a viable, sustainable source of income and employment. Therefore they are already beginning to do so in an increasing number of areas around the world.

Ferrier concludes, «battling individualism. Feeling detached because of the whole covid situation and because of the way we have been living our lives. Using our planet over the last decade and altering mankind’s perspective on looking at who we are as human beings. Setting our priorities straight as part of an international community. Also as vulnerable human beings with regards to the immense universe. In that sense to not only hear it. But to feel it why seeing the stars.This is what we as UNESCO find a key part of this mission that we support».

Daan Roosegaarde 

Artist, designer, architect and inventor that studied Fine Arts and then Architecture at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam. In the year 2007 he founded his firm. According to Forbesand Wired Roosegaarde is among the innovators of our time and a member of the NASA Innovation Team. 

Kathleen Ferrier 

Currently based in the Netherlands, where she is Chair of the Dutch UNESCO Commission. Her work experiences include politics, international organizations, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and international businesses.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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