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Doing More with Less Light

The Process of Un-Lighting With Rick Utting

"You can achieve a better visual experience if you do things the right way, and the right way may means using less light," says Rick Utting, Brand Ambassador, Clanton & Associates

At the recent 2022 Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) Street and Area Lighting Conference in Dallas, responsible lighting design expert Rick Utting led an eye-opening session entitled Lighting, and UN-lighting, Outdoor Spaces for People. A long-time advocate behind healthier lighting design and planning for people and planet, Utting served as the first Director of Lighting for Landscape Forms before serving in his current position as Brand Ambassador for award-winning lighting design and engineering firm, Clanton & Associates, as well as the Illuminating Engineering Society's Vice Chair of the Outdoor Nighttime Environment Committee. 

Lighting, and UN-lighting, Outdoor Spaces for People illustrates how two new and influential ANSI/IES lighting practice standards, LP-2 and RP-43, can work hand-in-hand to help designers better understand what people need in the nighttime environment, better understand how context can create understanding, reassurance and engagement, and ultimately achieve their goals of creating atmosphere and emotion without wasting light. 

The foundation of Rick Utting's session is the idea that more is better does not apply to lighting design and planning, and in fact less light, when thoughtfully implemented, can result in better experiences for pedestrians and a healthier future for ecosystems. "Our basic idea is that you can achieve a better visual experience if you do things the right way, and the right way may mean using less light," says Utting. "We know that less light helps reduce skyglow, it can help people adapt and see better, it can use less energy, and it's healthier for flora and fauna."

Utting makes it clear, however, that simply dimming or shutting off luminaires is not the way to go about un-lighting. Achieving a better visual experience with less light requires a more holistic view of design and planning, and it requires the understanding and participation of many different elements throughout a community. To begin this process of effectively un-lighting, he recommends a zonal approach, particularly the method referenced in LP-2-20 for creating Lighting Zones 0 - 4 that correspond to a municipality's Land Use Zones to determine consistent lighting criteria. 

"Through standards and zonal planning, we can get cities to plan around using less light," Utting says. "You can't use less light if someone is an offender-the brightest thing in your community, in your field of view, will establish your expectations and nighttime adaptation. We all migrate toward light, and it's natural for businesses or institutional settings to look attractive and welcoming at night. But this can become a vicious cycle of adjacent properties adding light to keep up, resulting in more and more over-illumination," he describes. 

Utting clarifies that committing to un-lighting takes time. He says that helping municipalities understand an appropriate timeframe to make a big change and to achieve a requisite degree of participation is one of the main factors in un-lighting initiative success. 

Beyond establishing a realistic timeframe and consistent lighting criteria though the Lighting Zone approach, Utting says that it is then very important to help residents and representatives understand the seemingly counterintuitive principle that, when implemented correctly, less light can actually help people see and understand better. "I was working with a community who was struggling with a lot of car-deer accidents on a stretch of road by their golf course. And it turned out that the lighting on this roadway was very sporadic-bright, then dark, then bright again, and so on," he recalls. "People's eyes have a very hard time dealing with and adjusting to this type of lighting. So the solution became to reduce the overall light level, but make it more continuous so people's vision was better adjusted and they could actually see the deer on the road more clearly." 

Utting closes with a summary of key takeaways from Lighting, and UN-lighting, Outdoor Spaces for People. "I really want lighting practicioners to understand these two newly published lighting standards, LP-2 and RP-43, and the power they hold when used together," he says. "LP-2-20 introduces a pyramid shaped lighting design hierarchy, the base of which is zonal planning. That establishes a foundation for what light levels users of a space will be adapted to. Then comes RP-43, which is where you go to understand why certain elements of outdoor space are illuminated, and where you'll find illuminance recommendations for different tasks within different lighting zones. The combination of these two resources gives lighting designers the power to confidently and specifically ask the right questions and arrive at the right recommendations to achieve the most without wasting light."