This study seeks to analyses the influence of artificial lighting in historic garden squares according to user perception and evaluation of public space. Nowadays some urban revitalization projects have been using artificial lighting to reinventing public square such as in Plaza del Torico in Teruel (Spain), Finsbury Avenue Square, Gordon and Beresford Squares in London (UK). On the other hand, in many undeveloped and developing countries, urban design is a discipline that has not been applied in practice due to the lack of knowledge of the local government, and the great majority of lighting projects in public squares have been done taking into account only economic variables, such as ‘the lower the cost, the better the project’. In this context, this research tests the following hypothesis: ‘implementing artificial lighting in public historic garden squares without taken into account user perception and evaluation damages symbolic meanings and historic identity’.

The objective is to identify which variables should be taken into account in lighting projects of public squares in order to preserve history identity and promote places perceived as positive by the majority of users, and not only for a minor group of people. The case study here is Coronel Pedro Osorio Square, a historic garden square in the centre of the city of Pelotas, in the south of Brazil, coast with Argentina and Uruguay. This square was chosen due to its historic importance to the development of this city as it was the first public space in the city to receive artificial lighting (in the beginning of 18th century), and 2011 it was ‘revitalized’ through a new artificial lighting project. The research methods of data collection were: observations, behavior maps, space syntax maps of the square and surrounding, measure of lluminance levels, interviews and questionnaires. The methods adopted to data analysis were qualitative and quantitative (responses from questionnaires were analyzed through non-parametric tests).

The results indicated that when artificial lighting is displayed in a public square without taking into account users perception and the importance of historic identity, the results can be chaotic. As the main issue considered in the project concluded in 2011 in the case study was low budget, the main final results are: areas completely dark, people perception of unsafety due to the darkness, and a series of vandalism. A place that could kept their image of central square with busy activities in both day and night times, today is considered a place of fear during night time. The choice for lamps and luminaires were wrong, as they are not appropriate to light large areas, and the local users were not consulted during the project renovation. To conclude, the study points out the variables that should be taken into account in the renovation of public squares in order to avoid the problems found in the case study, which reflects common issues present in many Brazilian cities.