In praise of Christmas lights

In 1997 the RIBA Journal and Simon Thurley, then director of the Museum of London, invited ten architects to design a scheme for the Oxford Street Christmas lights in a way which could engage the public and use corporate sponsorship in a more subtle way.

Collaborating with Speirs and Major, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ idea used grids of recycled compact disks suspended over the street and illuminated with projectors panning white light continuously down the grid creating the effect of snow gently falling, and a rapid colour change each 20 minutes pulsing down the grid.

The exhibition, ‘Turned On: the RIBA Journal Campaign for Better Christmas Lights’ took place in 1997 but the scheme caught the attention of Vittorio Radice of Selfridges, who put together a consortium of traders in an attempt to use the idea as a visual landmark for millennium celebrations along Oxford Street. Funding did not emerge so the scheme did not progress, and Radici left Selfridges and subsequently the UK to take up the position of CEO of Italian department store chain La Rinascente.

Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands went on to design the food hall for La Rinascente Milan, which stands opposite the Duomo and has become renowned for its seasonal decorations. This year German designer Moritz Wadermayer has  added 1300 ‘snowflakes’ to the exterior, whirling in the colonnade and animating the windows when passers-by activate them via smartphone. In 2012 artist Olafur Eliasson brought his ‘little sun’ project to the store, with a special installation that showcased six off-grid shops supplied with the innovative solar lamps.  Meaningful installations and innovative use of light and technology mean that La Rinascente Milan’s Christmas display has become an international design event, proving that it’s possible to use the festive season to enhance a brand, enliven the streetscape and make a difference.

Radice’s plans for the La Rinascente brand include a new Rome flagship store and a series of enhancements to the Cagliari branch of the Italian chain. Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands is working on the restaurant and food offers at both.

To read more about Olafur Eliasson’s extraordinary ‘little sun’ project visit the website.