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Illuminating the city's riverside

Illumination concept, Public space
District: Completed:

Project description

Reason for planning
For many years, the public green space at the heart of the city, extending along both banks of the river Main, remained in the dark. This area is ideally located for leisure time pursuits in particular for people living downtown or in Sachsenhausen, and the City decided to transform it into an attractive space that is also safe to use in the evenings.

Planning objectives
The goal: to develop a suitable concept that blends in with Frankfurt’s harmoniously illuminated urban fabric while pointing up the urban landscape by the river. On the one hand, this involved embellishing the public space by way of illumination: with lighting sources for the riverside roads, the pedestrian paths through the lawns on the riverbanks, as well as by using decorative lighting on the different bridges and historical sandstone embankments and groves. On the other, the concept included highlighting the contours of the buildings lining the riverside roads. Owned by Frankfurt’s gentry in the past, the grand mansions along the Main, the majority of which on the South Bank are now home to museums, require special illumination, as do the churches, for which bespoke lighting concepts were developed.

Development district
On December 12, 2002, the City Council commissioned the municipal authorities with the implementation of the “Illuminating the City’s Riverside” project in the development district, which extends from Flösserbrücke in the east to Friedensbrücke in the west.

Project progress
The “Illuminating the City’s Riverside” project is part of the “Schöneres Frankfurt” urban development scheme. Conceptual planning commenced in the year 2000. A first resolution covering the modernization of the Main embankments in the form of short-term to long-term projects was adopted and translated into a concept that included planning and organizational elements. The City Council decided to adopt the planning concept proposed by the Hamburg-based d-plan office. The illumination of the public space has meanwhile been completed, whereby the contours of the buildings facing onto the river have not yet been highlighted.

More information


Reference lighting system on Schaumainkai, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

In 2003 a reference lighting system was established and the basic requirements for the subsequent implementation specified. Among other things, the objective was to dramatically improve the existing street lighting network which, given the very high point of the lamps, large intervening spacing and use of technical luminaires, had been created solely with cost-saving in mind. The City set out to design separate and pleasant ambient lighting for pedestrians essentially by radically revising the illumination concept and introducing new street lamps mounted at a far lower height in order to eliminate the “effect of basement lighting”. Moreover, by positioning the luminaires facing one another on either side of the street the distribution of light defined the direction of the street.

Reference lighting system on Schaumainkai, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

Another important criterion was to use luminaires providing directional light for street lighting in the future as this ensures glare-free illumination. At night, the roadspace is only visible thanks to reflections. The above qualities also enable the use of decorative luminaires that enhance the aesthetic appeal of the significant urban space that is the Main embankment.
Added advantages of using state-of-the-art lighting technology are energy savings and better safety.

Illumination of the riverbank, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

In the past some 37 different luminaire types were deployed within along the river banks, all of which required different spare parts. As a result, maintenance of the public lighting system was anything but cost-effective. The new lighting concept has succeeded in drastically reducing this number and purely functional lighting is now provided by a single make of luminaire only.

In 2004 the Untermainbrücke bridge was embellished by decorative lighting as a first step in realizing the project. Subsequently the two riverside systems, the decorative illumination of another six bridges, as well as street lighting on the bridges and riverside roads were installed within a short construction period of only 15 months.

Highlighting the Main embankment

Underlit tree - winter image, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

The first objective when creating the new leisure-time zone on the Main was to identify the key architectural and structural design features that define this space. On no account were light effects to introduce or create unnatural or new elements that did not form part of the zone’s appearance during the day.

The intention was to carefully transfer the familiar key daytime features into the night-time world such that pedestrians would easily be able to recognize and identify their surroundings, thus helping them to find their way around at night, too.

Stairway on the fortifications, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

Specific attention was paid to: the old river embankments dating from the 19th century and now listed as part of the city’s cultural heritage, including the retaining walls, bastions, staircases and ramps; the specific structural details on different bridges and accompanying bridge heads; the typical boulevards lined with plane trees on different sections of the embankment, single trees or small groves.
In addition, the focus was also on a few historical features that bear witness to the commercial past of some of the embankment sections, such as the cranes used to hoist goods from ships to the shore.

Nizza: underlit avenue lined with plane trees, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

The project hinged on one of the largest integrated lighting concepts in Europe, as it involved combining different kinds of illumination used for the open spaces on the lawns on the river banks, for the promenades along the riverside, as decorative lighting for the bridges and embankments along with the street lighting on the bridges and riverside roads.