Light – the main event

A narrow alleyway links Dover Street and Berkley Street, inconspicuously providing a pedestrian shortcut in London’s West End. The dimly lit passage flickers to life as a single pedestrian passes through the connection. The intensified light streams along the wall, like a wave, following the movement of the passerby. As the footfall increases, the alley light intensifies, coming to life the more it is occupied. London based lighting designer Jason Bruges’ project Shortcut is a light installation, part of a larger architectural project by Squire and Partners.

Commissioned by Royal London Asset Management, the project highlights how we use space with responsive and dynamic lighting systems. Evenly spaced white LED uplights are recessed into the pavement, hugging one edge of the walkway, washing up the wall of the alley. Each light fitting increases in intensity, triggered by movement sensors, creating waves of light based on the speed and density of the alley’s occupants. When empty, the LEDs dim to a low level light, providing minimal illumination and saving energy.

Lighting design is often a secondary consideration when ‘making space’ in architecture. How we perceive and use space when the sun goes down is paramount to how we relate to our cities. Darkness in the urban context is usually a detractor. The spaces one avoids in the dead of night. There is a level of comfort in the safety we find in light. Illumination then changes how we move around the streets and affects the choices we make when navigating the dark. Here lies an opportunity to design experiences through the use of light.

Dover Yard passage

Our world is becoming increasingly focussed on interactive design. In the digital realm, our search engine results are filtered in response to our online behaviour. It would follow that design in our built environment is responsive to its user. Shortcut reflects our behaviour and in turn changes our experience in the alley. A conversation between the movement of a user and the components within their environment develops. The changing atmosphere of light not only affects the pedestrian, but the people outside looking in. Illumination then becomes another layer of information.

Orchestrating a display of lights for the onlooker was very successfully done by Alex Haw in his project LightHive: Luminous Architectural Surveillance. It was an installation that occupied the front member’s room of the Architectural Association. A small architectural school inhabiting a warren of buildings once used as Georgian houses. Unlike most university campuses, there is never one point in the building where you are able to get a sense of how many people are occupying the school at one time. Haw’s installation was a cluster of hung lights that corresponded to each room in the school. Whenever occupied, their counterpart light would illuminate. The light-filled room, facing onto the square, became the only reference point for seeing the activity of the school. How we occupy architecture is more than the walls that contain us and the obstacles we move around. It is as much about understanding how we navigate in relation to other people and having access to that information, either through seeing or having information relayed to us through design. Lighting design offers us the opportunity to change how we see these spaces.

(Photos from

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