The streetlights that lined LA were once so fine that in 1909, journalist Charles Mulford Robinson singled out Los Angeles as “the most beautifully lighted city in the world.”
Would someone say the same thing about LA today?
Probably not. While some of the original posts—ornamented with roses, dragons, and stars—remain, the vast majority of LA’s 220,000 streetlights are skinny, unadorned poles.
To replace its standard streetlight, the city is launching a public competition to come up with a new design “emblematic of 21st-century Los Angeles.”
“It’s that rich design history that’s inspiring us to rethink the standard pole,” says Christopher Hawthorne, the city’s chief design officer.
Hawthorne, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and other city officials are scheduled to announce the competition to the public today at an event in front of Urban Light, the Chris Burden artwork that collects dozens of handsome 1920s-era lampposts into a grid in front of LACMA—one of the most Instagrammed places in the U.S.
In selecting a winner, a jury comprised of city department heads, architects, and urban planners will look for a “range of entries.” That could include “streamlined, elegant designs for a new streetlight with a modernist or minimalist sensibility as well as ones including nods to history or contemporary culture.”
But the competition isn’t just focused on style. Each design will have to include “pedestrian fixtures” to illuminate the sidewalk; a plaque to carry poetry or a historical blurb; an LED strip; and a shade “sail.” Other elements, such as solar panels, EV charging stations, and wayfinding signs, are also encouraged.
The goal is to illuminate streets not just for cars, but for people on foot, in wheelchairs, and on bikes and scooters.
A more ambitious standard streetlight design, “has something to say about how we treat the ‘average,’ ‘typical,’ or ‘background’ sections of the public right of way,” the competition brief says.
Hawthorne says he’s working on a larger strategy for public spaces that will call on all of the city’s departments and agencies to think about “design in a more coordinated way.”
“It took us more than half a century to establish the kind of public realm that favors the car,” he says. “We need to be thinking about rebalancing that space.”
The plan is to install as many as 2,000 new streetlights per year at new construction and to replace the existing standard ones as needed (the historical ones will remain intact, says Hawthorne).
The streetlight design jury will meet for the first time in March and will choose four finalists who will be asked to refine their design before a winner is announced in June. To compete, applicants must register by January 10 (the website is set to go live later today). Proposals are due March 6.