The Book Review: Urban Lighting for People, edited by Navaz Davoudian

The strapline for this book is “Evidence-based lighting design for the built environment”, which should be warning enough not to expect just another ‘how to’ guide to lighting design.

Yes, there are elements of the book that could easily be read as a guide on how to achieve good urban lighting, but the underlying premise is a different one – not unique, perhaps, but very welcome in a lighting sector where poor decision-making has blighted much of the public realm.

Navaz Davoudian has collected contributions from the lighting industry and from academia. And when you clock the presence of a sociology lecturer among the contributors, you know we’re in unusual territory. Don Slater (Associate Professor in Sociology at London School of Economics and Political Science) provides the core for the ‘evidence-based’ focus for the book.

The argument is a familiar one; too much of the recent lighting in the public realm (that’s where you and I live, not some exotic outpost that we only read about in the weekend supplements) has been badly compromised by cost strictures and inferior technology. That has resulted in the lighting of much of our urban space (though let’s not leave the rural communities out of this) actually working against the needs of the community. Put simply, just being able to see things isn’t enough; there are other things going on.

What’s been going wrong is that the lighting planners (I hesitate to use the term designers) have used the lighting Codes and Standards to determine the minimum light performance and have then opend the door to LED product that is, in some instances, not fit for performance. What has NOT been going on has been a full and proper assessment of the lighting needs of an area – of a community. This is where the ‘evidence-based’ aspect of urban lighting comes in.

Davoudian calls for a holistic approach by lighting designers and planners; an approach that puts people front and centre of the design process.

The book is divided into three sections:

Part 1: Night, City, Society

Part 2: Exploring the Night City

Part 3: Post-Project Evaluation

And if that Part 3 piques your interest, so it should. Evidence-based design assumes an outcome that can’t just be measured on a light meter. The ‘soft’ components of evidence-based design are all about human response, so a scheme cannot be considered a success until the community of users have deemed it to be a success. That sounds like a lot of cost and effort, but it really does mean that we can learn from project to project to do things better, with more empathy and understanding for those who have to live with our design decisions.

The final chapter in the Afterword sets the scene for a broader use of evidence-based design, so if there are any exponents of bio-dynamic world of lighting reading this, please pay attention.Evidence-based design is not only applicable to large scale projects. It can and should be sued in any lighting scenario where specific outcomes can be studied and measured. The guidance offered here should help to show not only what works but also why it works and why its so important.”

Urban Lighting for People deserves its place on the bookshelf of everyone who ever enters into conversation with clients about what a lighting design brief should look like.

Publisher: RIBA Publishing, 66 Portland Place, London W1B 1 NT

ISBN: 978 1 85946 821 0/978 1 85946 822 7 (PDF)

Author: Navaz Davoudian

Urban Lighting for People can be purchased online from RIBA Bookshops

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John Bullock is the editor of The Light Review

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