Since the second half of the 19th century, Paris’ inhabitants and visitors have known it as the city of lights (La Ville Lumière). Some historians suggest the name was given to the French capital because it was a hub for culture and intellect during the Age of Enlightenment, and its early adoption of a street light system after Napoleon’s demolition of Middle Ages’ neighborhoods and routes to make a modern city with advanced lighting.
Today, one century later, would Al Madinah Al Munawwarah in Saudi Arabia become this era’s city of lights?
This question is becoming more and more valid after Al Madinah Region Development Authority (MMDA) approved an inclusive study to upgrade and renew lightning with the help of global experiences and expertise in creative lighting solutions. The study has been conducted upon the directives of Madinah Governor and MMDA Chair Prince Faisal bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.
The Start with the surrounding of The Prophet’s Mosque
The first phase of the study is supposed to target the surrounding of The Prophet’s Mosque and expand gradually to include all the vital landmarks and sites in Madinah. It aims at creating a unique identity that suits the identity of Al Madinah Al Munawwarah, as well as offering inhabitants and visitors new, inspiring visual experiences that meet the Quality of Life Programs and promote more opportunities in tourism, trade, and investment in the region.
Religious significance of Madinah
Eng. Fahad Albuliheshi, MMDA chief executive, said the foundations of the study project to renew and upgrade the lighting identity of Madinah, takes into consideration “its religious significance for Muslims, and highlights the interest the government gives to the two holy cities and mosques.”
The relative feature and unique, urban architecture of Madinah “makes it a priority to renew and upgrade the lighting in the city with development and enhancement plans that benefit from global experiences and expertise in the lighting solution sector to help improve the inhabitants’ life quality and enrich the experience of people visiting the city of the Prophet (Pbuh). These plans come as part of the programs dedicated to serving visitors and promoting the system of service and public facilities in the city,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Model studies to shed light on Madinah’s landmarks
When asked about the project and its role in highlighting the city’s landmarks, Albuliheshi said that “we decided to benefit from previous expertise in architectural lighting to achieve model studies that highlight the landmarks of Madinah and improve the urban and visual landscape, enhance the major elements in the historic buildings and sites, benefit from visual effects to enhance serenity and inner peace for visitors in the pedestrian lanes, limit the annoying impact of random lighting, in addition to all the social benefits that modern lighting could bring to the city.”
Lightning quality that “boost environmental sustainability”
Because unique models require critical efforts that focus on results and enhance sustainability, MMDA chief executive assured that “the initiative will consider the right and wise distribution of lights, and the quality of lighting that suit the consumption demands. The plan will also focus on energy consumption rationalization in a way that enhances environmental sustainability, improve the quality of lighting elements and towers for less maintenance and cost, and finally highlights the importance of the city’s landmarks and sites including those related to the Prophet and his journey.”
Life after sunset doesn’t stop
“The social and economic life becomes much better with good lighting that maintains public safety and encourages people to meet in public places and routes in a healthy way,” Howayda Al-Harithy, a Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the Department of Architecture and Design (ArD) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) told Asharq Al-Awsat.
She said that “the first phase will be short and will focus on the central area, then, we will move to the second, larger phase.” Harithy expected the project “to be unique and pioneering in Saudi Arabia and the region,” noting that “it’s going to be an inclusive study project that benefits from high-end technologies and represents a new model for all the Saudi regions and cities.”
As an engineer and architect, Harithy stressed that lighting plays a major role in building and empowering the spatial memory, mainly in cities, and called for benefitting from “advanced technology whether alternative energy resources or smart lighting systems that control the power and colors of the light as well as energy distribution.”
Befitting from global expertise
Professor Howayda Al-Harithy revealed that the MMDA has been assessing lighting models from several countries and cities around the world, and has contacted MIT Professor Carlo Ratti specializing in city lighting and manager of many successful projects in Italy and the United States to benefit from his large expertise in this field and his MIT-based lab in Cambridge.
It’s worth mentioning that the Madinah Regional Municipality had already renewed the lighting systems several times in the city of 1.2 million inhabitants, by restoring lights on streets and neighborhoods using LED technology in order to rationalize electric consumption, avoid carbon emissions, and unify visual identity.