Can you see the night sky? Full Cut-Off lighting might provide us all with a new view.

Can you see the night sky? Full Cut-Off lighting might provide us all with a new view.

No matter where you live in the United States, you probably have not seen a sky without some glow from natural lights. Even in our National Forests here on the east coast we are seeing sky glow from surrounding city lights. This has changed our circadian circuitry, impacted our hormone levels, and could potentially be making us more susceptible to cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

Dark Sky Map

James Madison University Class

I was recently invited to speak to a class of students at James Madison University about how architects use site lighting in their designs. The idea of presenting in a class investigating “dark skies” led by Shanil Virani and Paul Bogard was intimidating to say the least. These two leaders in the country on the topic of dark skies are walking these students through a process of discovery – how can we provide safe, efficient, healthy, lighting while preserving our night sky? I am looking forward to the conclusions they develop.

municipal building

There are many reasons to use artificial lighting at night.

  • Accessibility
  • Advertisement
  • Landscape and Architectural accents
  • Safety

The biggest reason that I have heard that we need more light at night is for safety. However, simply providing more light does not make you safer. You can see in this picture that has a wall pack for lighting, plenty of lighting, that more lighting is not the answer. You cannot see if there is someone standing under the light fixture or not. The light is blinding your approach to the building.

wall pack

Old world fixtures influence modern aesthetics

Many of our modern-day fixtures are designed to look like fixtures that used to be lit by candle. These fixtures, where you see the bulb, allow light to go in all directions instead of just the direction you need the light for safety and accessibility. The idea of directional lighting, light that is directed in a particular direction, is called full cut-off lighting. These lights protect the night sky. More than that, they make accessibility easier by lighting the pathway and increase safety by directing light down out of your eyes. We can design better exterior lighting solutions. The technology available has evolved over the last 15 years and now many choices for aesthetically pleasing fixtures are available in the full cut-off option. The challenge is replacing all the many existing fixtures that don’t meet the standard for full cut-off lighting and of course changing habits of designers that are used to selecting options that are harmful to our night skies and our safety.

timberlake lighting timberlake at night timberlake fixture

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