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Sutton Vane – The Value of Public Realm Lighting

Public realm lighting has long been about providing an even level of illumination, regardless of where or what the surroundings are. There is however, tremendous potential to create exciting and unique schemes using a variety of lighting techniques…

Public Realm areas can be lit to an appropriate lux level, that will satisfy the guidance set out by a British Standard or something to that effect. However, the lighting will undoubtedly be uniform and ultimately boring and add no value apart from making traversing the space possible and safe in the hours of darkness.

Most parts of most cities in the UK have this, regardless of the area or whether they are rich or poor. In the poorer areas, the quality of the lighting is more likely to be lower, but the lux levels and uniformity will likely be similar.

But, when done correctly, Public Realm lighting can add value.

Value is added to the public realm by lighting that adds something to the space, whether that is through creating a story, highlighting the architecture or creating events through light.

Having variation, contrast, highlights and deliberate shadow may seem completely counterintuitive when it comes to good lighting, but intentionally including these helps disrupt the uniformity of a space and creates excitement.

Listen to and play on the surroundings

In Ipswich, wayfinding lighting was required between Crown Street and the Crown Carpark to give pedestrians a welcoming and safe route at night. Rather than use conventional methods to light the route, Sutton Vane Associates played on the design of the Car Park façade and its branding which had a strong diamond theme throughout. Diamond projections were used on the pavement to reinforce the story of the destination, complemented by high-level low glare spotlights to provide a general wash of light and discrete handrail lighting. This makes an unmemorable place, memorable, through a playful and unconventional approach to wayfinding lighting.

In some instances, a more subtle approach is suitable to add value to the public realm. Sheffield has a rich and proud steel-making history, so when Sutton Vane Associates were commissioned to light Sheaf Square, it was important to recognize and incorporate this into the design. Sheaf Square leads visitors from the railway station and into the heart of the city; for many, it’s their first introduction to Sheffield. The design played on this, some fountains were uplit with bright red light to look like molten metal, giving a warm and welcoming glow to the square. Discrete concealed lighting was used throughout to leave the square unobstructed and free for people to gather and socialize, creating an unlikely new social hub for the city.

Light fittings that add value regardless of light

Sometimes the light fittings, and not the light they make, become part of the added value. Hosting the Olympic games is an incredibly proud moment for any country, so when Sutton Vane Associates were given the honour of lighting the public realm areas of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for the 2012 games, plain and boring light fittings would just not cut it. The Memory Masts were designed by SVA; lamp posts unlike any other, that have since become an icon of the games in their own right. They of course also provide the right illumination but even during the daytime, when not in use, add excitement and value to the Olympic Park.

Photo courtesy of Jason Hawkes

Equally in Bridlington, a seaside town that needed a lighting scheme to reimagine a prominent area of their seafront, custom totems were designed that look as great during the day as they do at night. The totems formed the centrepiece of the scheme and featured colour-changing functionality allowing the lighting to be adapted for different occasions and seasonal events.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Hatfield

Turning the unremarkable into icons

Breathing new life into public areas through exciting lighting can help completely reenergize a space or turn it into a brand-new icon entirely. Bruce Grove bridge in the London borough of Haringey was previously a normal uninspiring railway bridge in the heart of Tottenham. But Sutton Vane Associates were able to completely elevate the structure into an icon of the area through bright blue light that creates a cool arch on the route into town. Whilst not overly complicated in design, the finished effect and the value added to the area is priceless.

Occasionally, in historic areas, original lamp posts and fittings are still in use. These are usually in grander areas and often provide lighting that is not uniform and offers quite low levels of illumination. But the people in these areas love this lighting as the character it adds to the environment out ways the benefits of dull uniformity. Why should anyone want boring uniform lighting anyway?