Urban Lighting Design

With the recent bombardment of electricity and oil price hikes, the need to cut down on power usage is prevalent more than ever. As the sun goes down, this bustling metropolis of ours is ablaze with the eerie glow of every lighting fixture burning the night sky unaware of just how much energy is being wasted.

You may already know about smog, that brownish-grey cloud of filth that hover our city’s skylight. At night, the smog is still there but it’s also blanketed with sea of light emitting from street lights, massive billboards, commercial establishments, and vehicles, as well. It is called Light Pollution. 

True, light is essential in our lives but don’t forget it takes energy to create light, and energy doesn’t come cheap. Now there are ways to address this problem.

In Europe, lead by the Czech Republic and Italy, laws are being passed to protect the night sky and meant to ensure that exterior & road lighting luminaires are directed to only where they are needed. In Germany, exterior luminaires are powered down from 11PM to 5AM not only to address this matter but also serves well to conserves energy.

It is critical though that the reduced illumination levels do not affect the road safety and security. This coming from a German study in 2005 wherein localities turned-off half their road lighting system to cut energy cost, but due to insufficient lighting, it resulted in an increase in road accidents and crime-related violence costing billions of euros in economic damages. The study pointed out that it would have been better if the authorities back then opted to invest in upgrading to high-efficient luminaires instead.

Fact is, light shouldn’t use that much energy and cost to meet our needs. Today’s lighting technology has come a long way that even Thomas Edison’s brilliant (pardon the pun) incandescent bulb is mostly headed towards the recycle bin.

Current lighting innovations stem from replicating daylight levels in a grand stadium for a World Cup finale, right down to that small LED dot on your mp3 player telling you it’s powering down to its last note. The fluorescent bulb, now an industry standard, has evolved from a fat, buzzing, flickering annoyance into a slim and versatile light source, so durable that the latest ones are rated to last 75,000 hours.

Pairing the right fixture for the right application, illuminating an urban environment is just a matter of using these technologies to be more energy-efficient and minimize light pollution.

Of course, urban design is not design without aesthetics. Sadly, in most localities, an effort in beautifying the urban landscape by means of lighting is just downright appalling. Lamp post and bollards strewn about, floodlights everywhere, all with blatant disregard for practicality as long as it ’looks good’.

Emotions do play a vital role in design especially under the public’s eye. A Porsche race engineer once received praises on how beautiful their GT race car is, but he simply said it was the wind tunnel that dictated the architecture of the car. If coming out looking admirable is just a bonus for them and was not at all an after-thought.

Form should always follow function. Cove lighting, believe it or not, is a very wasteful exercise. You have watts-and-watts of fluorescent bulbs in a row only to squeeze a small part of that brilliance into a narrow slit along the ceiling. For most, that soothing glow may be pleasing to the eye but definitely it doesn’t serve its purpose of providing proper illumination. If it’s ambiance you’re after, there are other ways to achieve it.

This leads us to another relevant topic – Economics. Take our aforementioned cove lighting; the aesthetic intent does not justify excessive energy consumed.
Here’s another example, let’s roll down a 2.5km stretch of your typical highway. Considering it is creating acceptable light levels for motorists, there you see 250W round metal-halide floodlights spaced every 10 meters. Assuming they run 12 hours every night, so that’s 500 fixtures for both lanes consuming a total of 613,000KW annually, equaling about 4.9million Peso..

By using more advanced, 150W fixtures that can be spaced every 25 meters, 3.8 million Pesos can be saved per year. This is exactly 75% savings! Fixture cost, you say? True, a special fixture like this may fetch 40,000Php, but then seeing how much we can save, theoretically, we get our money back in 18 months time.
Now picture this same scenario with an office, a place of commerce or a production facility. Imagine the financial benefits one can gain by simply cutting down overhead cost through proper lighting design and management.
Today’s lighting design with computer-aided simulations and electronic data from manufacturers has eliminated much of the guesswork in creating a perfect layout in any application. Fixture selection required light levels, consumption, maintenance cost and return-of-investments are just some of the vital information that can be easily acquired and with less effort than before.

Let’s not forget, the best light is the one we get for free – sunlight. Advancements in window and skylight technologies, which are letting light in, without the heat, are now being used, not only for climate control on buildings but also promote the use of natural light for general illumination. Control operation has never been so easy, just roll-up or down the blinds to your heart’s content. Or have it automated, if the budget permits it.

So what’s in store for lighting in the near future? Well, trying to anticipate the future in lighting trends is somewhat like crystal ball gazing, but it is important that we try to do so in order to create the most effective schemes possible for the environments in which we live.

Factors affecting our future lighting will involve human needs, such as safety, recreation, the shift or not towards different working patterns and the effect that this might have on the night time environment.

Also social responsibility: sustainability, energy use, the environment, legislation and limiting lamp types etc. – the implication on our night time landscape and cities.

Similarly, social awareness; an increased social awareness and knowledge of the effects of energy use and wasteful use of light in particular will affect how we light our towns and cities, especially the buildings we are able to light.
The net effect of these considerations is anticipating how they will drive technology and innovation, how the need for greater collaboration between planners, authorities and public are fundamental to the future success of urban lighting strategies and of course, how the involvement of a proper lighting designer is key to the success of our future environments.