OUT OF THE DARK
An east London estate has become a less fearful place at night thanks to a simple, sustainable lighting installation, explains Tom Jarvis
Pitch perfect: Tom Jarvis and Paviom’s Tubelite lighting for an urban football pitch, showing the Tubelite in place of the normal scaffolds
rom the lack of stars in our night skies, it is only too clear cities throughout the UK are awash with manmade light. Moreover, despite virtually every street now having some form of illumination, the distribution of this light is not evenly spread. What is less obvious is the changes this can trigger in our perception of an area or community. Imagine walking from a shopping centre in the heart of a capital city to a poorly-lit residential area, and consider the unease and preconceptions this can awaken within you as you pass through numerous dark and unfamiliar paths. This was the key notion behind my project ‘In the Shade’. Long before I began my research, I carried these ideas in the back of my mind as I walked through the streets of London and observed the variation in light distribution. My daily trek would take me to the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art, where I worked as a research associate. Whilst at the centre, I was fortunate enough to be assigned to a project with architect Megan Charley, with the aim of exploring new ways to provide a better solution for lighting in urban communities and defeat this ‘fear’ of the dark. Like so many innovations, reality hits hard and pushes back with costs and energy concerns. Therefore, I knew whatever ideas I came up with had to be sustainable, practical and cost-effective Despite the fact that, given the financial climate, I knew I was faced with the very real possibility any innovations could be shot down, I went forward with my research by investigating east London’s historic Boundary Estate.
Lighting Journal November/December 2015
COMMUNITY TENSIONS As London’s first social housing estate, built on the foundations of a slum, the area has a bustling economy and an active community. Despite this, some tensions exist between certain groups, tensions that were exacerbated by poor or entirely absent lighting when dusk fell. I recognised it was the perfect venue to explore options for lighting improvement. My first step was to approach the community directly by hosting workshops and asking residents to illustrate the area as they perceived it during the day, then as they perceived it after nightfall. From this, a map of problem areas could be drawn up. What surprised me was to find that the divisions within the community clearly drawn out on the ‘day’ maps were accentuated on the ‘night’ ones. Another point became clear. It was not quantity of light that was the issue, it was a matter of quality. Even where lighting was abundant, problems still persisted. Many of the residents who came to the workshop stated that their lighting columns were over-powering or ‘too bright’. Their effect was to cover huge areas in stark shadows, bringing back that perception of fear and unease that utterly disappeared during the day. Spurred on by this invaluable neighbourhood insight, I proposed a lighting strategy named the ‘Night-Time Neighbourhood Network’. This is where chains of streetlamps would be dimmed and re-arranged to improve the lighting conditions on travel paths. Secondly, areas deemed to be ‘social nodes’ (in other words bus stops, benches, playgrounds and so on) would