Better lighting ‘could draw more tourists to Tehran’

Better public lighting in the Iranian capital of Tehran could help encourage tourists back to the city, says lighting designer Roger Narboni, who led a workshop on the city’s lighting at a recent conference.

Narboni, a French urban lighting specialist whose company Concepto has designed more than 90 lighting projects in France and beyond, described Tehran’s current public lighting as ‘very basic’ and the lighting in its bazaars as ‘an amazing mess’.

Participants in Narboni’s workshop, including representatives from the Tehran Municipality, spent four days coming up with a lighting ‘masterplan’ for parts of Tehran’s historic centre.

The plan focused on the city’s Marvi and Oudlajan bazaars, which are currently being renovated, and the surrounding areas. Designers studied the local architecture, existing lighting, the kinds of activities that take place and how people move around by day and night, before coming up with designs.

The four-day workshop – which took place during the second Iran Lighting Design Conference in Tehran in November – really only produced a ‘sketch’ of a lighting plan for the area, says Narboni, rather than a full masterplan. But he hopes that the government’s ambition to bring more tourists to the city, and the current renovation of the bazaars, will create an opportunity for ideas from the workshop to be taken forward.

‘In the public spaces in Tehran it’s really functional lighting, high-pressure sodium, 12 metres high, very simple and without any attention to anything. There’s no pedestrian lighting. And in the bazaar, it’s an amazing mess of projectors and fixtures, some of them 40 or 50 years old, cables and wires everywhere. Nothing is ever cleaned or taken away, they just add and add. Lots of the fixtures are 10 or 20 years old. It really needs a big job, because it’s not just the lighting that needs to be changed – it has to be cleaned and completely rethought.’

For the first time since the 1970s, the number of outsiders who visited Iran last year was greater than the number of Iranians who travelled abroad. If tourism is to continue to grow, Narboni says Tehran needs to be made more hospitable at night.

‘It’s a big challenge for many huge cities that are not really appealing and friendly at night, he says. ‘At the moment people just stay in their hotels at night, because there’s nothing to see. The city needs to create things that can be seen at night. There are huge heritage buildings and palaces to be seen, so they need to make it possible to see these things at night. The bazaar closes at night, but if we could light some part of it, it could stay open later.

‘It would totally change the city. It would totally change the way of being in the streets and in the public realm.’

Narboni is optimistic that the plan will help the municipality to install better lighting. ‘They need help and expertise,’ he says, ‘but I hope they will go on doing things, to follow up our ideas and come up with a masterplan that’s more professional. Hopefully this is just a beginning.’