LED technology gives us the possibility to rethink the lighting fixtures development and consequently to promote an innovative approach towards lighting design. If within the indoor lighting design steps forward towards a human centred approach have already been done, in the outdoor lighting the ‘functional’ concept is still dominating the scenario.
But we should consider that the people are living outdoor spaces more intensively, especially looking to 24 hours cities, and a lot of different human activities are taking place when the darkness falls. That is why we should scale down the outdoor lighting to a human level, considering the psychological aspects, which include safety and orientation factors, but focus on people’s emotions, social interactions and quality of wellbeing.

It is established that urban planners and architects are working with scales (urban scale, architectural scale, human scale). The scale that is used now to plan new or renovated urban environments is close to a human level. Special key areas for pedestrians and social interactions are needed within 24 hour cities, creating places to raise the wellbeing of the people that live the outdoor spaces.

At night we are often faced with bright situations influenced by technological elements or economic considerations. Sometimes theories such as ‘the more the better’ (often associated with ideas of safety) dominate the scene, whilst other approaches focus on the ever-increasing problem of light pollution, leading to the illumination of urban areas using distorted lighting solutions and abnormal lighting effects. These often bear little or no relation to how people interact with the urban context and take little account of considerations such as history, character and, perhaps most importantly, the natural night-time condition: darkness. Perhaps it was better when torches lit up the streets and, as buildings sprang up all around, light truly responded to the needs of the city’s inhabitants.

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Rhodes old town

Certainly, now, our perception of spaces (and their liveability) has evolved sufficiently for us to question how the light (considered as a ‘filter’ that enables people to perceive the reality of the night) should really work. We now think much more about just how we experience an environment, taking into account the myriad of factors that coexist and interact with humans in the nocturnal ecosystem – and which vary depending on factors such as geographical position and the level of human settlement.

The pictures on next page shows an example of how the same urban environment can play host to different human activities or be associated with requirements that characterise the various periods of the night.

As we look to the future, a Human Scale Lighting is needed to take a step forward, especially when we reflect on the gradual change that is shaping cities, society and human behaviour. The challenge is to adapt something that could well be considered an element of the built environment – artificial light – to reflect human dynamics and the morphological characteristics of the space around us.

Later evening hours: Soft light along traffic routes offers orientation and safety and trees lit vertically improve spatial perception. The station can be seen from all around thanks to its well-illuminated façade. Other softly accentuated buildings complete the nocturnal cityscape.

Middle of the night: Only a few people are still crossing the park, accompanied by adaptive light. Vertical illumination of the trees along the main paths provides orientation and a feeling of safety. The station square and station façade are still softly illuminated for late-night travellers.

Just before sunrise: The first commuters use the park. Trees are vertically illuminated to show the way and gentle light on the pavements further enhances orientation. High illuminance levels highlight the station square as the focal point, while dynamic lighting scenarios brighten up part of the square to stimulate interaction.

The activities associated with an urban space play a key role in defining the level of wellbeing. We will be able to illuminate spaces more to a human scale by adapting the light to meet various needs and by using it in a bespoke way in terms of timing and design. The general absence of seamless solutions over the course of 24 hours, leads us to analyse night-time in a completely new way. The identification of human actions in specific night periods can help us to intelligently and effectively design the light around the people needs, playing with and overlapping the right layers of light.

The concept of Human Scale Lighting can be seen in many ways and can help us clearly understand the strength of the bond between the lighting of the space and the people that actually use the space. We can almost view light like a changing organism that is closely related to man and his emotional sphere, capable of filtering the reality that surrounds us and thereby influencing the way we experience and perceive our immediate environment.
Concretely this means that public spaces can be turned into places with a specific identity, raising the quality of life in urban environments that have been designed by people – and thereby transforming them into urban environments that are designed for people.

If you want to share thoughts or feedback on this article then please leave a comment below.

Dario Maccheroni, Lighting Application Manager, Zumtobel Lighting GmbH also explains his insights on Outdoor Lighting with the help of few questions below:

  1. What role does LED technology play concerning the planning and development of lighting solutions for outdoor applications? Does LED technology have a direct influence on the planning or is the influence (still) limited to the exchange of the illuminant?

LED brought an extreme change within the lighting industry and the lighting design discipline. Especially in the indoor lighting the way to develop a luminaire or a lighting scheme has got a big transformation.

I believe that we should rethink now the lighting approach towards the urban spaces. LED gives us the possibility to follow with light the human behaviors and activities that nowadays are taking place increasingly during the night. As miniaturised light source it enables the fixture designers to go for smaller dimensions as in the past and to separate different lighting functionalities within a single luminaires.

I think that barely we will stay with luminaires shape as the past ones, I believe this is the moment we should rethink the luminaire design instead, starting from this innovative light source, building the fixture around it, enhancing its features in order to serve the human needs and preserving the natural ecosystem.

  1. In which way should outdoor lighting throughout the day and especially the night change or adapt in your opinion? (Note: here I am referring to the layers of Light, which are mentioned in your article.)

Due to the considerations above, we can then rethink also the lighting approach towards the outdoors. As I said, the people are having different activities within different times of the night. So we should consider to change the lighting scenario in order to adapt to the people needs within a specific time. Planning with the ‘layers of light’ concept in mind can help to get closer to the human needs. Each layer has a specific goal and the interplay of different layers can give a specific light solution based on the specific human needs and behaviors in that specific moment. This can only be realised if we use multifunctional and flexible luminaires and an advanced control system.

  1. Especially in city centres there are numerous aspects, which have to be taken into account when it comes to lighting.

‘The human scale’ sounds like a very simple and logical principle. But how is it possible to connect all aspects: the well-being and security of people, road safety and architectural lighting?

The Human Scale Lighting concept is mainly focused on urban areas lived by people, or at least that should be used by them. The first aspect of this concept is to work with both horizontal and (mainly) vertical illumination. The reason is that the 60-70% of the human visual field is focused on vertical surfaces and we can achieve a better level of space perception and comfort only if we work with vertical planes. That is why architectural lighting is an important part of this concept to enhance safety and comfort.

A lit vertical surface reflects the light and became a lighting source itself. This improves vertical illumination that contribute to face recognition (safety) and helps objects to become focal points / landmarks (orientation).

But the concept follows also other topics, in line with the miniaturisation and the multifunctional aspects of the luminaires and the layers of light design concept. Thanks to this we are able to adapt light to the variety of architectural situations we have in outdoor and to the human needs. Light has to be tailored around the people, every project has to be different to another, every urban situation has to be studied before approaching with the lighting design.