‘Let there be Neon’- Neon lighting

‘Let there be Neon’- Neon lighting

After her first experience in creating and using neon sign for the design of an interior space, architect Jora Kasapi comes up with an article where she advises any architect or interior designer to use this element in its maximum potential.

From the architect. Basically, the way neon tube lighting is created is very intriguing and consists of using a glass tube which should be heated and shaped on certain points by hand, following a specific design which is important to be printed as a reference model, connected to electrodes (which will provide electrical discharge) on its two extremes, a specific device is used to extract all the air inside, leaving only vacuum. After the tube is filled with Neon, Argan, or another gas depending on the color desired and then for a softer lighting effect, the glass tube is bombarded. Here is a video that shows in detail the technique for all of us curious:


There is another very interesting fact regarding the colors of a neon tube lighting, the name of this lighting comes exactly from the neon gas which in itself produces an orange color, while to produce light with other colors are used: for red ( hydrogen), for yellow (helium), for white (CO2), blue (Mercury), white (argan), etc.

Image by Jonathan Kaufman, Unsplash

A brief history of the neon lighting development.

It all starts with the discovery of the Neon ‘nobel’ gas, by two scientists in 1898 as one of the major components in the Earth’s atmosphere. The neon lighting tube used today came as a necessity for the scientific experiment on the study of the properties of this and other gases when electric discharge was applied to them, the result was the production of colored light, and consequently, by the color of the light, the type of gas could be determined. Known as the founder of the neon tube lighting industry, the French engineer Georges Claud in 1910 exhibited the first neon light tube at the Paris Motor Show and in 1915 he patented the design idea of ​​the electrodes that provided the electrical discharge. This ensured him the establishment of a monopoly business on neon signage, very widespread in the 1930s. Their use shrank drastically during the years 1939–1945 World War II period, and this period continued for longer and beyond, as the world was going through a time of regression and economic difficulties in its entirety.

Image by Luis Villasmill, Unsplash

Neon signs and lighting as elements of the American city’s urban silhouettes.

The primary and most commercial use of neon lighting tube was in signage and advertising, especially in the years 1920–1950, during which a substantial development was achieved. Especially the ’30s marked a period of high creativity and neon mass-production, since G.Cloud’s patent on the electrodes, expired in 1932, making it possible for neon signs to be massively produced and take new forms of creativity.

This new element began to formulate the urban silhouettes of some of the major American cities such as New York or Las Vegas.

Las Vegas at night

Douglas Leigh was the one who created the most popular and iconic neon signages, advertisements and neon billboards that built up the identity of Time Square, and today it’s hard to imagine Las Vegas and its liveliness as a city without the glowing signs, signages with inviting and soft neon light, an urban silhouette made up not of trees or buildings but of a conglomerate of neon signs as Tom Wolfe used to sayThe application of such an urban aesthetic was widely embraced in Japan as well as in China with the most representative example of Shanghai, as well as in other European metropolis.

It comes naturally to conclude that the way this element is absorbed and used in the aesthetic of the street, the aesthetic of the city, and its functionality, has transformed it in a part of a real visual culture, the case of Time Square and Las Vegas.

Image by Keith Sonnier

Influence of neon tube lighting on Art, Architecture, and Cinematography.

In addition to the utilitarian character (thinking specifically about neon signage and advertisement) and their widespread use from the 1920s and 1950s, following the recession period of the World War II, after, there was again a revival, a return to the neon use as a contemporary art element now. Being an element which could not be mass-produced, automatically produced but needed hand made work, this gave it a slightly more artistic character associated with a specific production technique, that not everyone could master. Some of the most famous artists who have developed this type of art using neon lighting are Glenn Ligon, Mary Weatherford, Ivan Navarro, Tracey Emin, Keith Sonnier, Shezad Dawood, Jung Lee, Bruce Nauman, Olivia Steele, etc. (If you want to check their work)

Morse Alphabet, Viena 2016–2017, Brigite Kowatz

The aesthetics of neon signage and lighting as a whole has had an impact and direct application on the architecture of the facades and volumetry of many Art Deco buildings in America, through highlighting and emphasizing with soft and ephemeral light, the main composing lines of these buildings. In America, this connection of neon lighting with Art Deco architecture is part of a ‘popular culture’ of the ’80s. Sufficient to recall the neon lighting and neon advertisements on the entrances to major American cinemas, an image so vivid in all cinematic-lovers memory as much as nostalgic and retro.

Meanwhile, in Cinematography, the use of neon lighting signages is also related to a specific aesthetics, which we can define as a subculture of its own, known as ‘Cyberpunk’. We’ve come across it extensively, in iconic films, which generally address a dystopian, futuristic society with a highly impacted from very advanced technology. This aesthetics of ‘Cyberpunk’ culture finds use in the film industry with examples such as ‘Blade runner’ (1982), ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995), ‘The Matrix’ (1999), and others. This atmosphere is conveyed both in the visual aesthetics of a street and in the atmosphere of interior space, an example of this precisely is the Hackerspace, spaces that carry this atmosphere, among other things through the use of neon lighting.

‘Blade runner’ movie scene (1982)

Its application today and in Albania.

The later following developments in the lighting industry, brought about the most economic forms of lighting, easier to mass-produce in quantity, less harmless to the environment and without much maintenance (the case of gas replacement in neon tubes). LED lighting began to meet all these criteria, thus replacing neon lighting, and even this lighting began to be used to mimic the aesthetics of the now retro neon tube lighting. In Hong Kong the remaining signage has become part of a cultural heritage realm that is being maintained and preserved through mapping and documenting them on an interactive map, you can find here: (https://www.neonsigns.hk/?lang=en#) .

Source: Unknown

There is a tendency today to re-bring and reuse the neon aesthetics, as part of a very rich visual culture, and as such when there is a very rich past there is always a slightly nostalgic tendency to re-bring it contextualized with today. A similar case today is with the use of the Modern mid-century style (born in America after World War II) in the treatment of the interior spaces, an atmosphere that I personally prefer for a long time now. Such a tendency to use neon signs and neon lighting, in exteriors and interiors, can be noticed in Albania also in recent years. It is a very positive trend because it expresses a desire to stay as close as possible with the orientations that international architecture and Interior design are taking, even though knowing that such a visual aesthetic has never been part of the Urbanity of our past or our past visual culture. In the specific case of neon, this desire is to be highly appreciated due to the limited local possibilities in specialists and materials to realize the neon lighting. I personally know of only one such unit in Tirana, that has been making them for years now (but very open to know more, on the contrary).

My only concern as a designer currently working with inner spaces among other things is to avoid dry reproductions of images with which we are overwhelmed every day (yes, I’m talking about Pinterest also), but to maybe try and go a little deeper into perhaps the origin and history embodied in that element, by knowing that it is easier to use it to transmit the atmosphere we want the space to convey.

Therefore my motto, in this case, would be ‘Dare but dig in first’.

‘Boulder Theater’ Colorado, Art Deco.

~By Jora Kasapi, find the origjinal post here

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