Light Challenge (2013)

Designing and manufacturing a smart lighting solution for the residents of the Van Nispenstraat in Nijmegen.

5 months (Competition)
2 years part-time (Manufacturing)

Yannick Brouwer, Ashwin van Dolder, Sway Leung & Wouter van der Wal

Municipality of Nijmegen
Schréder B.V.
Kaal Masten

Lightchallenge (2013): Winner
Social Design Talent Award (2013): Nominee
Cleantech Challenge (2015): Runner-Up

Dutch Design Week (2013)
Trouw (National Newspaper, 2013)
Radio 6 (National Radio, 2013)
CoBouw (Magazine, 2013)


Back in 1886, Nijmegen was the first city in The Netherlands with electric public lighting. Since the carbon arc light inside had to be replaced every 12 hours, the lamppost was designed to tumble for easy access. The tumbling design didn’t survive but the traditional fixture on a lamppost is still relevant today. As a student team of 4 we participated in the Lightchallenge, a student competition for innovative and sustainable street lighting. Another important pillar for the competition was the involvement of residents in the designprocess. Our challenge was to design a new lighting solution for the “Van Nispenstraat” in Nijmegen. 


The “Van Nispenstraat” is a residential street between two large transit routes in the city of Nijmegen. As team we started by desk research to learn more about the history and demographics of the street. We interviewed residents to get an insight in what they found important in their street. During the design process we held several workshops to get feedback from residents and validate concepts. Another important part of insights and validation came from meetings with several companies, professors and government officials to get better insights in the requirements and opportunities for public lighting solutions. 


The dillema of contrast

If you look at lighting in a theatre production or work of painters like Rembrandt, you learn that the use of contrast is what makes light beautiful and interesting. In public lighting on the other hand the focus is on making the light as uniform as possible, removing contrast. Uniform lighting increases safety and the sense of safety, it’s less tiring while driving a car and allows pedestrians to recognize other people on the street.

How do you find a balance between uniformity and contrast to create a safe and beautiful lighting experience? 


Part 1: Design Project

In 4 months we worked together with residents, companies and the municipality to design and validate a lighting solution for the Van Nispenstraat. Watch the video to get an insight in our design and prototyping process and response of the residents after revealing our prototype in the street. 


Our solution was to dynamically change the lighting conditions in the street based on human presence, using a moving cover. When there is no one in the street, the light dims and the cover cuts of the beam, creating contrast rich spots in the street for orientation. When the sensor detects presence, the light level increases and the cover rises, the light beam slowly grows to create uniform lighting together with the other fixtures in the street. By dynamically changing the light we want to create a simple but elegant experience for residents and people entering the street.

Drop uses energy efficient LED lighting and by dimming the lights on presence, the overall fixture becomes very efficient. The additional benefit of combined dimming and the moving cover is significantly reducing light pollution.

The slideshow above shows the effect of the moving cover in a prototype at the Dutch Design Week 2013.


One of the requirements of the competition was to design a lighting solution that is energy neutral and preferably energy positive. Rather than integrating a small solar panel with suboptimal efficiency we took the freedom to propose a new energy supply infrastructure. In consultation with energy technology experts we developed a proposal for a transparent energy supply infrastructure that powers both the streetlights and homes in the street. 

The model is basically a lease model which reduces the initial threshold of buying solar panels. The residents in a street together form an “energy service company” and buy solar panels using a loan by the government. An external installation company is responsible for installation and maintenance. The participants pay a lower rate for their energy to the “energy service company”, without having an initial investement. The homes and streetlights are powered with truly “green” and transparent energy and after 20 years the residents become owner of the solar panels on their roofs.

Winning the Lightchallenge


We presented our work at the finale of the Light Challenge in Rotterdam and won the competition. The jury was impressed with the overall quality of our work:


“The team showed great passion and professionalism while making ‘Dare’; a smart controlled light source that follows users with a beautiful new design ... Design wise it is gorgeous in its apparent simplicity, and this definitely counts for the delivered documentation, talent distincts itself.”

Jury Lightchallenge


Part 2: Manufacturing

After winning the competition, we continued the conversations with the municipality and partner companies. 


The municipality of Nijmegen had budget available to start manufacturing our lighting solution for the street in Nijmegen. Together with Wouter van der Wal, I was responsible for the manufacturing of our lighting solution in collaboration with several partners and contractors. As lead designer I was responsible for creating the specifications and the collaboration with external engineeers and for the development of the electronics that connect the different modules in the fixtures.


Because of limited resources, there was not much time for research, development and additional prototyping before starting the manufacturing cycle. Development and manufacturing were therefore integrated in a cycle. During this process we came across several problems. One of the most important problems that arose was that the moving cover became 2.5 times as heavy because it was executed in stainless steel by a contractor rather than the specified aluminium. We only heard about it when all the covers were created. 

Because of the additional weight we were limited in choosing the appropriate linear actuator to lift the cover. We found one actuator that could handle the weight with the by-product of creating more noise. I was responsible for designing the circuitry that would connect all the different modules in the fixture.  After more than a year of designing, soldering, sourcing components,  assembling and testing, the fixtures were ready to be revealed in the street where they were met with enthusiasm by the residents.


I hope you enjoyed this project.

How about looking at another one below?!