NOEL KING, HOST:
In Los Angeles, there are more than 200,000 streetlights. You've probably seen some of them because so much stuff is filmed in LA that you see them in the backgrounds of movies and TV. Some are ornate. Most of them are pretty plain. But those lights have not been redesigned for more than 50 years, and now it's happening. Here's NPR's Mandalit del Barco.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Chris Burden's "Urban Light" is an arrangement of 220 restored, elegant LA streetlights from the 1920s and '30s. The installation has been a popular setting for photoshoots and Instagram selfies. This is where LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the winner of an international competition to design a new city streetlight.
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ERIC GARCETTI: You know, we have some of the most beautiful streetlights in the world. And some of them were designed right here in Los Angeles. But after the Second World War, they became very utilitarian, a little less interesting, the anonymous streetlights that you see in many of our neighborhoods. But we set a clear goal out to select a new standard streetlight for our city.
DEL BARCO: Garcetti said there were more than 100 entries from designers around the world. The winner is an upcoming four-person design team from LA called Project Room.
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DEL BARCO: Their winning entry included a video illustrating their design titled "Superbloom," a bouquet of elegant light poles bundled together. A taller pole in the bunch arches toward the streets, a lower one illuminates the sidewalks. The project's design lead, Joakim Dahlqvist, says the poles can be reconfigured in different ways.
JOAKIM DAHLQVIST: We needed a kind of flexible design. It's almost, like, kind of a Swiss Army knife or, like, a multiple-plug, but that kind of retains a very elegant silhouette on its own, you know?
DEL BARCO: A round islet on one pole can be used to fasten banners, decorations, canopies, umbrellas. There are adaptable options for adding a small bench and a strip of colored LED lights.
DAHLQVIST: Maybe there's a lot of things that we need in the future that we haven't really anticipated yet. So we're leaving that open.
DEL BARCO: Christopher Hawthorne, who was appointed by Garcetti as the city's first chief design officer, says the diversity of the design reflects the diversity of the city, which, each year, replaces one to 2,000 streetlights.
CHRISTOPHER HAWTHORNE: We really wanted to use the competition to think about how we could distribute good design, efficient design, beautiful design in the public realm more equitably across the city.
DEL BARCO: Hawthorne says Project Room's winning design reconnects with LA's history and looks ahead to the future.
HAWTHORNE: It has a very LA sensibility. It seems very much rooted in some ideas about Los Angeles. But it's sort of a remix.
DEL BARCO: Still, the team from Project Room does have some nostalgia.
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GENE KELLY: (As Don, singing) I'm singing in the rain...
DEL BARCO: Like the light pole Gene Kelly danced around in the movies, LA's new streetlights are playful, says Project Lead Sandy Yum, who is married to Dahlqvist. The LA native says the team's design entry included a still from the movie "La La Land."
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SANDY YUM: It was really just trying to capture this romantic sense that we all have.
DEL BARCO: Yum remembers the romantic scene where the actors meet near a streetlight at the Griffith Observatory overlooking the city and dancing.
YUM: The story of "La La Land" is that, like, you can be anyone here, and you can make it and if you have this dream. And it was definitely captured in that movie. And I think it's definitely captured in the design of the light.
DEL BARCO: Like many Angelenos, the new lights are a reinvented version of themselves. But it may take more than a year before they light up the streets of LA.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF JUSTIN HURWITZ'S "SUMMER MONTAGE/MADELINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.