Helsinki Hot Lights

Helsinki Hot Lights


Unsworn Research hotwires Helsinki's street lights to visualise the city's energy consumption.

Helsingin Energia is the main provider of power and district heating in the Helsinki area. Radically, they have decided to publicly publicise Helsinki’s energy consumption data in real time.

Together with a few other artists and designers we were invited to come up with novel ways of using and visualising this data. The proposals are presented and discussed at the Pixelache festival right now.

Here’s ours:

Hot Lights

Hot Lights connects Helsinki’s use of district heating to its outdoor lighting system. When heat consumption is high, street lamps will pulsate slowly.

The city breathes slightly heavier when the heat is on.

“Our individual actions are increasingly closely connected to global issues”, says Erik Sandelin, at Malmö-based interaction design and innovation studio Unsworn Industries. “The personal is indeed political, not least regarding energy consumption. When I turn on my sauna at home I’m partaking in international geopolitical struggles, whether I like it or not. We envision Helsinki as an ecosystem, with several essential infrastructures that are so entangled in our everyday lives that they have become invisible to us. We take them for granted. When Hot Lights ‘hotwires’ two of them – district heating and outdoor lighting – we become aware of the underpinnings of our current way of life. The pulsating “hot lights” are less of a warning signal than a subtle and beautiful reminder that we’re all part of the same urban ecology.”

Helsinki has 79,000 light spots, administered by Helsingin Energia. In the first phase of Hot Lights a pilot area would be selected to try out and evaluate the concept. Through workshops with the local community the desired level of heat consumption would be established.

A positive side-effect of the project is that it can act as a catalyst for Helsingin Energia to continue experimenting with dimming technologies and exchanging old mercury lamps for newer, more effiecient lamps. Many European cities have saved energy and money by switching to dynamic lightling systems that reduce lamp power at certain times and places – without compromising safety in the streets.