More than an aesthetic nuisance, light pollution has been linked to numerous health complications. Many functions of the human body are regulated by hormones which depend on the natural cycle of brightness and darkness produced by the alternation of day and night. Light pollution can disrupt this circadian cycle and cause changes in melatonin levels which has been linked to reduced sleep quality. Of course, the connection between artificial light and a lack of sleep is an intuitive one but just how important sleep is to our overall health has only recently been fully understood. Increasingly, a lack of sleep is being linked to issues such as obesity, impaired mental health, and even cancer. According to renowned sleep scientist Matthew Walker, just one night of only four or five hours of sleep leads cancer-killing cells in your body to drop by 70 %, and the World Health Organisation has recently classed any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen.

In addition to humans, light pollution can also affect other living beings, including mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects and even microorganisms. This issue has the potential to cause adverse effects on entire ecosystems.

Complex problems require innovative solutions and GIA have developed advanced tools to quantify and visualize light emissions, through which we offer advice on how to minimize light pollution without detriment to the lighting task and the safety and security of our streets. These have successfully been used for skyscrapers in the City of London, office buildings set within the existing urban fabric or new masterplans, and developments located close to environmental receptors such as lakes, rivers, and woodlands. Through an efficient design of buildings and artificial lighting schemes, we can limit the physiological and ecological damage caused by light pollution, whilst also minimising energy waste, thus reducing carbon emissions and saving money.

Two quite different case studies underscore our capabilities across a highly technical and classified project, plus another example where our consultancy, negotiating skills and the ability to act as an expert witness was crucial.

The American Embassy

After the necessary security checks and interviews, GIA was appointed by the U.S Federal Government to provide classified technical and consulting advice upon the impacts arising from the New American Embassy at Nine Elms close to the River Thames. In this example, over 3,200 fittings had to be individually specified, modeled and located within the building’s geometry. These ranged from rooftop floodlights to street, garden, and internal lighting but the most technically complex were the four luminaires then proposed at each and every junction of the Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) the fluorine-based plastic pillows across three of the facades (circa 1,400 fittings). As part of the study, it was necessary to simulate how light interacts with ETFE and this was further complicated by the desire to include both PVs and a range of fritted patterns across the ETFE pillows.

Farringdon Over-Station Development

In the second example, Farringdon Over Station Development, we were asked to represent our client at a Planning Appeal, where the light spilling from their proposed development threatened (in the eyes of the council) to alter the charm and atmosphere of Charterhouse Square, one of the very few squares where light levels are kept low to mimic its gaslit historic character.

The proposed over station development was designed to minimise the light spillage through the use of exterior fins, micro meshes in the glazing and clever recessed lighting and occupancy sensors. Besides having contributed to the mitigating strategies by design, we created a full measured computer model of the context, including an exact replica of the existing trees (with and without leaves), fencing and gas lighters. (see image x y z of our 3d model) Mapping was produced showing the levels of light given off by the building and how that would fall across the square (fig 3).

We were also appointed to assess the impact of the lights from the station, monitoring illuminance levels (LUX) on a row of residential properties along Long Lane on the other side of the development (fig 4). We follow the ‘Guidance for the Reduction of Obtrusive Light’ by the Institution of Lighting Professionals (ILP).

GIA successfully represented our client at the appeal and were able to convey a complex and sensitive subject like Light Pollution with clarity, thanks to the use of our surveying technology and realistic visual representation.

We can see that if evaluated from the onset of a project, by those with the correct expertise, light pollution can easily be mitigated through well-designed building facades and lighting schemes. With a growing interest in how urban spaces are affecting our physical and mental well-being as well as our planet, light pollution is a problem that increasingly demands our attention. We have a responsibility to work together with developers, architects and Local Authorities to provide a healthier quality of life for citizens, preserve wildlife and save energy. As a result, we may even be able to catch a glimpse of the stars above our cities.

For more information or to discuss this further please contact simone.pagani@gia.uk.com