Helping a Community Stuck 'In the Shade' with the Tubelite
As the UK and Ireland’s largest lighting association, the ILP Summit is the “must-attend” event for any lighting professional entrepreneur. Comprised of prominent individuals, exhibitors and speakers from all facets of the lighting industry, the ILP Summit’s prestigious reputation is well-deserved. Their recent 2015 event, held in the historic town of Rugby, continued it’s trend of having notable and well-known speakers presenting the fruits of their research throughout the event.
Tom Jarvis, Industrial Designer and Co-Founder of Original Breed, spoke at the event on his ‘In the Shade’ research, conducted in 2012. ‘In the Shade’ explores the massive effect that lighting and lighting design can have on our perception of community, as well as what an abundance or lack of light can change about sustainability and integration in cities all around the world.
From the lack of stars in the night skies, it is clear that cities throughout the UK are awash with man-made light. Despite virtually every street having some form of illumination, the distribution of this light is not evenly spread. What is less obvious, is the change this can trigger in our perception of an area or community. Imagine walking from a shopping centre in the heart of a capital city, to a poorly-lit residential area, and consider the un-ease and preconception this awakens within yourself as you pass through numerous dark and unfamiliar paths. This is the key notion behind ‘In the Shade’.
Long before his research began, Tom carried these ideas somewhere in the back of his mind as he walked through the streets of London and observed the variation in light distribution. His daily trek would take him to the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, where he worked as a Research Associate. Whilst at the Centre, Tom was fortunate enough to be assigned to a project with Megan Charley, an architect, with the aim of exploring new ways to provide a better solution for lighting in urban communities and defeat the fear of the dark. Like so many innovations, reality hits hard and pushes back with costs and energy concerns. Therefore, whatever ideas Tom would come up with had to be sustainable, practical and cost-effective
Although Tom was faced with the very real possibility that his future innovations may be shot down despite his efforts, he went forward with his research by investigating East London’s historic Boundary Estate. As London’s first social housing estate, built on the foundations of a slum, the area had a bustling economy and an active community. Despite this some tension existed between certain groups, which was exacerbated by poor or entirely absent lighting when dusk fell. It was the perfect venue to explore options for lighting improvement.
Tom approached the community directly by hosting workshops and asking residents to illustrate the area as they perceived it during the day, then as they perceived it after nightfall. From this, a map of problem areas was provided. Furthermore, Tom was surprised to see that divisions in the community were clearly drawn out on the “day” maps and accentuated on the “night” ones.
Another point became clear: “Quantity of light” was not the issue. It was a matter of quality. Where lighting was abundant, problems still persisted. Many stated that the over-powering lampposts were “too bright” and covered huge areas in stark shadows, bringing back that perception of fear and un-ease that was utterly gone during the day.
Pictured: One of the maps from the illustration workshop
Spurred on by the swathe of information, Tom proposed a lighting strategy named “The Night-Time Neighbourhood Network”: in which the chains of streetlamps would be dimmed and re-arranged to better the lighting conditions on travel paths. Secondly, spots deemed to be ‘social nodes’ (bus stops, benches, playgrounds etc) would have brighter lighting to create a “skeleton” of alternating light, accentuating areas where the community may gather.
The strategy was tested in a large night time event which had a huge turnout from the community and had great feedback from all who took part. Numerous residents came together and discovered that their home did not have to be the scary place they had come to accept. Even intimidating-looking teenagers mingled amongst elderly strangers, two groups whose usual contact was to avoid each other or clash over the volume of an Xbox.
Instilled with the thrill of a successful event and the passion that vindication brings, Tom was now determined to make a real and permanent change with the second stage of the project. That meant finding funding and a supplier and creating a microcosm of the Network to prove, without any semblance of doubt, that his lighting network was the answer. But first, Tom had to consolidate how he could change his theory into a reality. He knew that he would have to adjust the strategy in order to create something real and lasting. A hard fact of life for many who look to the stars.
Poetically, the solution came to Tom as he mused on the project. “I cycled over to the Boundary Estate to have a look at the area in more detail and try to think of something practical. When I arrived, I tied my bike up and sat on a bench, in a garden overlooking a playground. Suddenly I thought…
“Why build a light next to a bench, when you can build one into it?”
“Hmm. Not a bad idea.” Tom thought. Then as he looked at the area and thought back on the night-time event, he went further. “I noticed that most of the ‘social nodes’ in our Network, including the benches, bus stops, playground fixtures and bike rack, were all made of steel tubes.” He also took note that the tubes were joined with a system of clamps, which made for easy assembly without the need to weld or bend the tubes.
How simple an answer it was. Local councils had been using steel tubes and clamps to build community fixtures for decades. To have these fixtures illuminate their surroundings without compromising the structure or ease-of-assembly seemed like the perfect practical tool for the Night-Time Neighbourhood Network.
Pictured: Design concepts for what would eventually become the Tubelite system.
Tom developed the Tubelite system prototype: A scaffolding tube with an LED light strip inserted, just as useable as any other scaffold tube. Presenting this prototype and research, they approached the local council, who agreed to commission a lighting installation for a disused concrete sports pitch on the estate, previously only a ‘social node’ for street drinks, prostitutes and drug dealers.
Pictured: The disused pitch during the day, and near-pitch dark at night.
Pictured: The Tubelite in place of the normal scaffolds
Reaction to the installation has been incredible. Games now frequently take place on the pitch, with parents coming down from their flats to watch their kids play. Outside of the immediate area, residents are thankful for lighting that illuminates the darkness without overpowering their senses as with the usual streetlamps.
With the resounding success of the Tubelite system, the next stage is turning it into a commercial product. Thankfully, Tom wasn’t alone in his efforts to bring awareness to these issues and bring about a real and measurable change, as he has now found both funding to grow development and a lighting supplier who shares his vision. Tom comments; “I am grateful to the Megaman Charity Trust Fund in Hong Kong and to our lighting suppliers; Paviom in the UK for their support in enabling us to explore the challenges of making cities more sustainable.” The partnership between Tom, Megaman and Paviom proved to be a powerful combination of tools, with Megaman set on bringing awareness and raising money for the cause and Paviom bringing their award-winning architectural lighting technology to the table. “Recently I’ve been working very closely with Paviom and I’m pleased to say that we are now ready to take orders.”
Tom’s findings and successes are detailed in greater depth in his book, but his ‘In the Shade’ presentation at the ILP Summit gave him the chance to deliver everything directly to the industry leaders.
Tom states: “The ILP presentation was a great opportunity for us to present the ‘In the Shade’ research and tubular lighting concept to an experienced group of lighting professionals. It was an important moment in the project where our methodology, which up until now has been mainly academic, was put forward to industry experts and acknowledged as a genuine solution to public realm lighting. I hope that the research and product become useful additions to the lighting designer’s toolkit when lighting urban areas.”
Reaction to the presentation was highly positive and incited a great deal of discussion on Tom’s Tubelite system. Iain Ruxton, Design Associate of Speirs + Major commented; “I very much like the simplicity of the product he has created – versatile, resilient, cost-effective and absolutely usable.”
Perhaps in a future presentation, the ILP attendees will be lucky enough to hear from Tom once more, as it looks like the combined might of his research, Megaman’s funding and Paviom’s world-class technology may yield even more advances for the Tubelite system.
+44 (0)1293 804689