Urbis Schréder: Taking Control

We have been speaking in this series about where Public Realm lighting has come from and where we think its heading. So far, we haven’t mentioned the thing that’s made the single biggest difference to the way that Public Realm lighting works . . . that’s the way that its controlled.

It used to be so simple. And in many places, it still is so simple. After all . . .

  • What do we need from our street lighting? We need illumination during the hours of darkness.
  • What’s the easiest way to achieve that? Fit a daylight sensor to the top of every lantern; job done.
  • What else could anyone possibly want? Read on . . . because that will take more than a one-sentence response.
Dynamic lighting at Pier Approach, Bournemouth


The old assumption that ‘if its dark then we need illumination’ is wasteful on so many levels. If we grow that statement to read ‘if there are people around and its dark, then we need illumination’ it puts a very different slant on things. And then we can ask ourselves a few more questions:

  • When are these people around?
  • Are they walking, driving, cycling, partying?
  • And what do they need from us?

Answers to two of those questions involve just looking and recording, but how do we find the answer to the third question? Is anyone actually asking those actually using our public spaces what they want from those spaces and, in particular, how they want the lighting to work for them.

The old trope says that public lighting is all about safety and security; the ability to see the immediate environment and to avoid any hazards – including some humans. But when we start to ask, that’s not the real reason; for sure, it’s a simplification of the real reason, but if we think about other human activity, such as visiting bars and restaurants . . .  well, applying conventional public lighting to those places would see our social spaces lit by energy-efficient LED panels . . . and unoccupied.

Atmospheric lighting at The Grote Markt, Antwerp


Antwerp is a city for people, in which artificial light meets our needs for safety, comfort and a sense of well-being. The new lighting was to reinforce the historic and contemporary identity of the city while inviting people to take full advantage of the public space and spend time there. It has indeed created a unique identity that both residents and visitors can truly appreciate when the sun goes down

Susanna Antico; lighting designer


That phrase ‘the new lighting’ draws on a host of new technology, not least of which is the ability to create different lighting scenes, all while working within the vital need to reduce energy consumption. For many years we have been discussing – and demonstrating – the means to reduce the energy demand of our public lighting, but to create this ‘new lighting’ we have to start from a different place.  And from that position, everything else falls into place.

What does this have to do with controls?

If all you want to do is to control the on-off cycle of a streetlight via a daylight sensor, then there is no conversation to be had. However, realising that new ‘smart controls’ can drastically reduce energy consumption and maintenance costs doesn’t make it a straightforward replacement. ‘Smart controls’ offer the solution to a lighting issue that comes from a different place, and provides answers to questions that are often not asked at all.

‘Evidence-based design’ is a new label to a very well-known approach, although Public Realm lighting is late to the party. It’s a set of design metrics that establish what real people want, rather than simply applying BS standards. That’s not to say that BS Standards can be ignored – far from it – but those technical criteria form only the foundation of a project brief; what is ultimately delivered may be another thing altogether.

And that is the reason why companies like Urbis Schréder offer lighting controls that meet the needs of any number of design criteria.

The question isn’t ‘do you have Bluetooth’ or ‘is yours an open system’; the technical specification comes out naturally as the design is developed. The real questions are ‘ do you have a system that enables me to reduce illumination levels when a street or square is empty’, and ‘can you provide the infrastructure that will enable us to create dynamic lighting scenes in the town square on special occasions’.

And how about this one: ‘we can’t afford to transform our entire lighting estate into a smart univers overnight. We’d like to improve our lighting in the town centre; that’s our number one priority, but next year or the year after, we’d like to begin wrapping the surrounding street and open space lighting into a common control platform. But is your system flexible enough for us to do that?

In practice, this is how Urbis Schréder approaches this kind of request:

  1. Underpinning everything that the company does is the Schréder Warranty that offers a 5-year guarantee that can be extended into a full service agreement, including providing logistics for spare parts and accessories.
  2. As the ‘smart estate’ grows, there is the option to embrace geo-positioning and product feedback on its performance.
  3. And looking even further forward, the ability to interface with an Asset Management resource that provides complete oversight of the entire lighting estate -all through open source software that can be extended at will.

Urbis Schréder call their approach: LIGHTABILITY

Lightability at Plaza de Armas, Santiago


The Light Review spoke to Clare Thomas, Head of Applications and Solutions at Urbis Schréder:

For me intuitive and integrated controls are an essential part of public realm lighting, but in order to deliver a truly smart solution we have to focus on the space and its users rather than on what the technology is. Who will use space and what will they be doing there? Does the lighting solution need to adapt in real time? Who will manage and maintain the installed assets? Is the solution interoperable, and how might it need to evolve to meet future needs?

My role at Urbis Schréder is to work in partnership with our clients to enable them to better understand these issues so they focus on what they’re trying to achieve. By doing this we can provide a logical and sustainable approach that not only meets today’s needs but also can provide a platform for tomorrow.

For a review of Urbis Schréder control products, download the Smart Lighting Solutions catalogue.

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