Small-scale architecture in urban space

Urban space is filled with small architectural objects designed to improve the functioning of the city. These elements can be variously named: from technical terms such as: “technical devices”, to more poetic terms such as: “urban furniture”.

This diversity of definitions is due to the wide participation of the various trades involved in city lighting issues. This group mainly includes architects, road designers, constructors, electrical engineers and others.  Different definitions are used depending on the need for interpretation. The variety of forms of street furniture and city lighting devices further complicates and expands the range of verbal interpretations. They have a significant impact on the overall aesthetics of urban space. Their functions are varied: from informative – information poles, through recreational – benches, protective – shelters, separating space – posts, to strictly lighting – street lamps. 

The latter deserve special attention. They occur quite frequently in the urban space, reaching up to tens of thousands in some cities, but also due to their vertical spatial form they often dominate as representatives of the group of small architecture objects.

Contemporary city lighting

As the function of lighting in the city has changed, the very form of utility lighting has evolved throughout history. In today’s city, we can no longer find only traditional pole lanterns, but also objects with much more elaborate shapes and with various, often unconventional additional uses. Such examples include the lantern which is part of a small architecture object – the platform in Kartuzy, or the University of Agriculture in Krakow, where the lantern illuminates the road, but also becomes an illuminating post.

A new role for lighting in the city

At this point, it would be appropriate to reflect on the very essence of the contemporary facility for lighting the city and its public spaces.  Its shape is the result not of its function alone, but of the importance of the place and its function in the spatial system of the city. The architecture of this object is usually influenced by two issues, firstly the function of lighting and the creation of a unique, memorable sign in space.

An element that becomes essential to the functioning of an urban space after darkness falls, but is a “silent” element in the space during the day. It also significantly influences the visual perception of urban interiors, giving them an appropriate character.  Nowadays, they are also becoming an integral part of the furnishings of a modern city’s public space, furnishing it, so to speak, while at the same time becoming an object of small architecture. This is a new role for the lighting object, made possible by the individualisation of the form of mass products.          

This trend is evident in the development of an increasing number of public space projects, where the lamppost no longer performs the function of illumination alone, but becomes, for example, a bench, and in this way integrates the functions of small architectural objects into the space.

We all want to function in practical and nicely arranged spaces. Small-scale architecture is like a kind of clothing accessory that, when well chosen, enhances the overall appearance and adds character.  It is important in urban design because it organises the space, adds functionality and a unique, often inimitable appearance.

The text is based on: Martyniuk-Pęczek J., 2013, From pragmatism to mass individualisation in shaping forms of city lighting. Gdansk University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture, Gdansk