Appendix: Toolkit for lighting design

Seeing clearly: How lighting can make London a better city

Appendix: Toolkit for lighting design

This toolkit is an educational resource for non-specialists in lighting who nonetheless have an interest in (or responsibility for) the built environment and lighting scheme design. The principles outlined below should aid thinking at the early stages of a project and help practitioners pay attention to the full range of considerations that go into good lighting design. The toolkit is also designed to be general enough for applicability to a wide range of people and settings.

Purpose The starting point for planning a lighting intervention should be a clear definition of who the users are and what they will be using the light for.
  For example, scheme promoters should consider whether the purpose is wayfinding, creating a particular mood, a demarcation of space, or a combination of these. Deliberately stating at the outset what the end goal is will help avoid relying on assertions and crude standards.
Sustainability Well-designed lighting reduces impacts on the environment by using energy-efficient lamps, dimming lights when they are not needed, and avoiding light spills into green spaces and the sky.
  Lamps and lighting infrastructure also have “embodied carbon” – although at present there is little data on whole-life carbon emissions from raw materials, manufacturing, maintenance or disposal. Lighting interventions should consider those embodied emissions as carbon labelling becomes available.
Evidence Lighting interventions should be based on quantitative and qualitative evidence. Getting the right evidence first time is more efficient in the long run, as it means failed schemes do not have to be redesigned or reworked.
  Good lighting schemes need an audit of baseline conditions in the proposed area to understand the existing space and context. These audits can be relatively straightforward and cheap. They should include a luminance study of existing levels of light in order to avoid over-illumination. Importantly, they should also incorporate qualitative evidence. This should include detailed analysis of how people use the site, with direct input from users. Getting the right evidence first time is more efficient in the long run, as it means failed schemes do not have to be redesigned or reworked.
Participation Current and potential users of lighting should participate in its design to ensure that the scheme works for all. The process of participation is also a benefit in itself.
  Obtaining the rich qualitative data needed to truly understand a place can only be done with the participation of users. This will require surveys, interviews and participatory active learning through site visits in the dark (“night walks”), all of which are proven, effective tools for embedding social research in lighting design. 54 The process of participation is also a benefit in itself. Engaging people in conversations about lighting can be a way to share understanding of how light works, what it does, and what it could do.
Expertise Lighting is not just a technical exercise, and there needs to be greater recognition that involving lighting designers can transform a scheme without necessarily escalating costs. Routinely involving lighting designers will improve practice in the city.
  The knowledge exchange that takes place in participatory research and design can help to educate both the public and professionals about the skill and complexity involved in designing good lighting. Achieving greater recognition of the fact that lighting is not a strictly mechanical utility is key in changing popular understandings of lighting. This should mean greater prestige afforded to lighting designers, a seat at the table, and ultimately improved practice.
Flexibility Good lighting is more than a simple on/off switch – it responds to the complexity of spaces in London, and is flexible enough to change over time as people use space in new ways.
  Once evidence has been gathered, designers should have a better idea of the social complexity of each individual site. Accommodating this complexity requires flexibility in responding to different users and interpretations of space, as well as different functions and moments of the night. Building in flexibility over the long term leaves room for how use of the space might change.
Restraint Brighter is not necessarily better when lighting a building or helping people see at night. Often a good result can be achieved by dimming lights.
  Keeping this principle at the forefront of design means avoiding the worst impacts of over-lighting and light pollution. It is important to make explicit the idea that brighter is not necessarily better: the aim is to think only about what is necessary for a space. Being informed by the evidence around lighting and safety is also important here.
Context Good lighting should integrate well with its neighbours.
  Considering the complexity of uses (and users) within different spaces will aid holistic thinking about a site. One effect of interrogating how a site works is to consider its relationship with neighbouring sites and spaces, and how light works and integrates beyond site boundaries. This is crucial to avoid standalone, overlapping projects which result in over-illumination. It also helps ensure that lighting serves to improve the legibility of urban space rather than detract from it.
Ownership Lighting high streets, routes or buildings requires a consistent approach. This improves wayfinding, avoids contrasting light levels or colours, and provides a sense of place. Well-lit places have an organisation playing that coordinating role.
  A longer-term aspiration is for this coordinating role to be played by the adoption of comprehensive lighting strategies in each borough. More immediately, it could be played by existing groups and bodies without requiring formal regulation or planning. For a housing estate, this could be the landlord or a Tenants and Residents Association – but in a more commercial area like a high street or town centre, the responsibility could fall to existing town centre partnerships such as Business Improvement Districts.
  • 54 Arup (2015). Cities Alive: Rethinking the Shades of Night. Retrieved from: