With recent projects such as Maynard’s entry into London Smart Districts digital wayfinding and a current competition entry in the Rome Smart Cities Lighting competition on my mind, a small development in my local neighbourhood sparked my interest. A recent installation of new LED street lighting has produced a stark example of the benefits and pitfalls of this new technology and thrown up questions about the push for Smart Cities. The development of LED’s and the adoption across various areas of the public realm lighting industry has long been put forward as a approach which can simultaneously reduce costs and the environmental footprint for business, councils and citizens. With a cost of £300m per year that the UK spends on street lighting(1), with an approximate saving of 50-80% for Local authorities(2) who switch to low energy LED technology the financial benefits are hard to ignore. However the market has at times seemed to move slower than some of us would want in terms of widespread adoption.
Current projects and competitions within the studio focus on well considered lighting design schemes which aim to be context relative, with a myriad of factors to be accommodated, all the while aiming for quality of the environment and whether it has a positive influence on the public who will use and live with it.
The positive implementation of LED lighting shows how this technology could help make our cities safer through improved nighttime visibility, reduced crime and increasing quality of the built environment for residents, all the while reducing costs for councils with increasingly constricted budgets, considering the 30% of a Local Authority’s energy bill (3) which is spent on street lighting. One issue I have with the quality of this light is the starkness of it in certain context’s, this links mostly to the way it is deployed through the light fixture itself. Advanced optics and developments with production of LED units has helped enable high quality fixtures to come to market, such as the ‘Halo’ light by Stefan Borselius, but all to often high powered street lights are utilised in settings which require a more nuanced approach.
The utilisation of optic’s which enable a high overall surface coverage from a small flat source, has driven the adoption of high powered luminaires with significantly higher glare ratio’s compared to traditional sodium lamps. This is usually offset by recessing the point sources to hide them from approaching viewpoints with Bat-wing optic’s enabling directed lighting distributions over road and pavement surfaces. This approach cannot however work where road’s are narrow, buildings relatively low and close to the pavement, ie. Areas of London and Victorian era neighbourhoods. Here standard LED street lamps throw high intensity ambient light over the neighbouring buildings, causing negative social impacts and animosity towards a technology which has so many positive attributes.
It would seem that the positive steps of introducing cost saving LED technology across streetscapes in Britain needs to be approach in much the way we consider smaller lighting scenario’s, with context being at the fore-front of street planners and urban designers minds. The approach to the choice of luminaires cannot be a single solution which takes no consideration of the impact it will have on the surrounding city scape. New approaches to lighting smaller residential streets and public spaces requires more nuanced approaches such as that taken by Stefan Borselius, taking into account the very strict requirements for street lighting while aiming for fittings which add to the public’s appreciation and enjoyment of their city.