OK, I confess to getting childishly excited at the onset of Christmas. There is something magic in the way cities re-invent themselves with fairy lights and decorations when the winter sun sets, a defiant glory of light against the dark.
Christmas lights in our shopping streets are a relatively recent delight, but one that has now become a part of our urban tradition. My parents used to take me to see the Oxford Street lights, riding on the top of a bus the whole length of the street, and the sense of wonder that a dreary day time street could transform itself at night has stayed with me for 55 years. I’d almost forgotten how glamorous street decorations can be until I saw these from Madrid designed by architect Teresa Sapey.
See more of them at: Lights in Madrid by Teresa Sapey
It must have been a tough decision for the authorities in Madrid as to spend money on decorations in the depth of a fiscal crisis. Madrid’s spending on lights is down 30% this year, but shop keepers might feel that municipal spending that encourages people to visit and keep the retail economy afloat is a good thing, sustaining jobs and employment.
There’s an interesting discussion about the issue here: Fiscal crisis in Madrid slashes Christmas light
Not all public decorations have to be expensive. I remember an astonishing transformation of the then Lothian Regional Council’s offices (now the site of the Hotel Missoni) on the corner of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh one year in the 1980’s. The offices were in a bog standard ugly late 1960’s curtain walled office block, all window and no style, about 6 floors tall. Historic Scotland wouldn’t agree with me about the aesthetics of the building as they campaigned to save it from demolition, damn them.
The Council commissioned an artist to work with local primary schools to design a tree of life. The image was broken down into window sized segments, painted on Perspex and installed in every window of the building. At dusk when they switched on the office lights the whole vast and offensive building was transformed into huge, spreading and beautiful tree, glowing with colour, fruit, people, animals and life. Gorgeous, and much cheaper than stringing lights across the road. Now, just think what we could do with the Shard.