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‘Dark sky’ movement implores architects to limit artificial night light

‘Dark sky’ movement implores architects to limit artificial night light


Following increased research into the impacts of light pollution, ‘dark sky’ advocates from mainly electrical engineering and climate science fields are strongly encouraging architects to limit reliance on artificial night lights when designing spaces. 

The implications of light pollution include the disruption to the breeding and migratory routines of nocturnal animals, the depletion of melatonin levels in humans, and the hindered efforts of First Nations people to maintain connections to the stars and share their stories due to limited night-sky visibility. 

Founder of Pendoley Environmental Doctor Kellie Pendoley has 30 years experience in examining the effects of light pollution, and drafted the federal government’s recent National Light Pollution Guidelines for Wildlife. 

Pendoley says reframing how we classify light is the key to generating awareness into how detrimental light pollution is to wildlife and human health and wellbeing. 

“Technically, light is a form of radiation but it’s never been recognised or managed that way,” says Pendoley. 

First Nations people are regarded as the oldest astronomers globally, and as mentioned, the way they utilise the stars as a vessel in which to share stories and histories is derailed by the restricted visibility of the stars. 

Ashburner Francis electrical engineering manager Toby Murdoch emphasises everyone working in the built environment is responsible for reducing light pollution. 

“Regulators, architects, lighting designers, and contractors should all be working in unison to bring about real change,” says Murdoch. 

According to Murdoch, there are four cost-effective and easy ways to implement measures that architects can follow when minimising light pollution. 

Crucial to choose the appropriate light fittings 

Firstly, architects and designers should opt for ‘flat-tilt’ asymmetric floodlights in the design of large outdoor areas such as sporting arenas. 

“Traditional floodlights only provide symmetrical lighting, so the fitting has to be tilted to target the area you wish to light. A significant portion of that light will go above the horizontal plane and directly into the sky,” says Murdoch. 

Reliance on traditional floodlights produces major energy wastage and carelessly pollutes the night sky. Murdoch encourages architects to remain cognisant of ‘light spill’, which sends light to unnecessary locations, and ‘light glare’, defined as light that inhibits people’s ability to move around a site. 

Reduce blue-spectrum lighting

Even though LED lighting is considered energy-efficient, a bright-white light is still hazardous as it contains an element of blue-spectrum light. Murdoch says LED lights with an amber glow are ideal as they are less reflective and produce smaller quantities of harmful ‘sky glow.’

Reconfigure methods of illumination 

Murdoch says architects would be wise to borrow inspiration from wildlife-friendly innovations such as automatic late-night dimming. 

“Motion sensors are now available that can brighten street lighting as you reverse out of your driveway — then incrementally brighten the next sequence of lights before you approach them,” says Murdoch. 

This form of technology can transform a light from a 20 percent illumination to 100 percent – a hefty 80 percent energy saving.  

Alternative approaches to passive surveillance 

Although Murdoch understands the hesitancy of light designers to pursue alternative lighting methods as it seems counterintuitive to reduce light, he references the willingness of landscape architects to experiment with ‘dark-sky’ methods. 

“We need to be braver and embrace the shadows – landscape architects are receptive to challenging the status quo when it comes to lighting,” says Murdoch. 

Avoidable biological implications 

Doctor Pendoley has collaborated with design teams from all around the world and developed cost-effective and achievable ways to outrun the “biological implications” of ‘light-glare’ and ‘light spill.’

“I encourage every architect and designer to look beyond their building’s footprint,” she says. 

Doctor Pendoley is reassured by the increased proactiveness of designers and architects to limit artificial light in master plans. Muted lighting does mean skimping on aesthetic appeal. 

“I’ve seen exemplars around the globe that prove built structures can be illuminated in subtle ways that still make them look elegant,” says Doctor Pendoley. 

“Big, bright lighting comes at a cost, aesthetically and environmentally.”

Featured Image: Doctor Kellie Pendoley by Bosey Slater. 

Read about JDA Co’s climate responsive design of ‘The House’ on Lizard Island. 


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