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

5 months (competition)
2 years parttime (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


This project in 60 seconds

As a student team of 4, we participated in the Light Challenge, a student competition for innovative and sustainable street lighting. Our challenge was to design a new lighting solution for the 'Van Nispenstraat', a residential street in Nijmegen. An important aspect of the competition was the involvement of residents within the design process. 

In the process we interviewed residents to learn more about what they value within their street. We held workshops to get feedback on initial concepts and got in touch with both public lighting companies and architectural lighting experts. We boiled the information we gained down to the “dilemma of contrast”. Contrast is what makes lighting beautiful while flat and uniform lighting is considered safer.

We, therefore, designed Drop, a public lighting solution that responds to the presence of people in the street. When nobody is on the street, the lights are dimmed and cut off, creating contrast full spots on the ground. When somebody is detected, the lights open up in a wave, becoming brighter and creating uniform and safe lighting. In addition, this helps in energy efficiency and cutting down on light pollution.

Our lighting solution, together with a service model that removes the upfront cost of solar panels while getting cheaper green energy for the residents, won the Lightchallenge 2013. After the competition we got the opportunity to manufacture our lighting solution. 

My role

After our initial research, I came up with the final concept and worked on the development of the prototype. After winning the competition, I – together with Wouter van der Wal – was responsible for refining the design and collaborating with partners and contractors to get a total of 12 products in the street.



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.


The 'Van Nispenstraat' is a residential street between two large transit routes in the city of Nijmegen. As a team we started by desk research to learn more about the history and demographics of the street. We interviewed residents to get an insight into what they valllued 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 public lighting companies, professors focused on the energy transition and government officials to get better insights into the requirements and opportunities for better public lighting solutions. 


The dillema of contrast

If you look at lighting in a theatre production or the work of painters like Rembrandt, it's the use of contrast that 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, it’s less tiring while driving a car and allows pedestrians to recognize other people on the street.

Therefore our research question was:

How do you balance uniformity and contrast to create a lighting experience that is both safe and beautiful?

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. We did a lot of hands-on prototyping and exploration before ending on our final concept 'Drop'. 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. Below you can see the effect of the moving cover in a prototype at the Dutch Design Week.

  • proto 1
  • proto 2


One of the requirements of the competition was to design a lighting solution that is energy neutral and preferably energy positive. Rather than focussing on generating energy within a single lighting pole with suboptimal efficiency, we took the freedom to propose a new energy supply infrastructure. In consultation with green energy experts, we developed a proposal for a solution that powers both the streetlights and homes in the street. 

The model is basically a lease model that 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 investment. The homes and streetlights are powered with truly “green” and transparent energy and after 20 years the residents become the 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 the budget available to start manufacturing our lighting solution for the street in Nijmegen. Wouter van der Wal and I were responsible for manufacturing our lighting solution in collaboration with several partners and contractors. I worked on the final designs, build plans and collaboration with external engineers. In addition, I worked on the development of the electronics that connect the different modules within the fixtures.


Because of limited resources, there was not much time for research, development and additional prototyping before starting manufacturing. Development and manufacturing were therefore integrated into a single cycle. During this process, we encountered 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 aluminum. We only heard about it when all the covers were created. 

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Because of the additional weight, we had to change the linear actuator that lift's the cover. Limited by the changes in the design, we found one actuator that could handle the weight with the side-effect of creating more noise. We, therefore, had to work with a soundproofing company to limit the amount of noise in the fixture. We learned an important lesson, to keep checking in with contractors because one mistake can carry far within the process.

After more than a year of designing, sourcing components,  soldering,  assembling and testing, the fixtures were ready to be revealed in the street where they were met with enthusiasm by the residents.

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

I hope you enjoyed this project.

How about looking at another one below?