Artificial Light and the Modernist Redefinition of Urban Space

Reading the “Electropolis”

Authored by: Robert Shaw

The Routledge Companion to Urban Media and Communication

Print publication date:  October  2019
Online publication date:  September  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415792554
eBook ISBN: 9781315211633
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter seeks to illuminate the history of the artificially lit city through three key moments. First, it will explore how through gas and then electricity the “night spectacular” of the 19th century was produced. Second, it will take the 20th-century night and its representations to show how artificial lighting has contributed to contradictory discourses of the night as an open space of change and opportunity, and as a dangerous space of fear and darkness. Third, it will move to the 21st century and the reworking of the “electropolis” through new lighting technologies. The wider argument in this chapter is that while the production of an “electropolis” fundamentally changed urban life, these changes quickly became accepted as a normal part of urban living. Further, the outcome of such changes is not a homogenous illuminated city, but a complex and layered tapestry of unequally accessed artificial lighting.

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