London: the city that’s never dark

I’ve just got my hands on Jason Hawkes’ London at Night,
a beautiful, glossy coffee-table book with stunning photographs of the capital in darkness. It is also a sad illustration of the light pollution lack in the UK’s biggest city. Because when I say “darkness’ I refer only to a lack of sunlight. Every image on every page is flooded with light. Some are street or car lights, or lights from bars and restaurants – all probably necessary to some degree. But the majority of brightness comes from office buildings.

And those where the reader is close enough to see individual chairs and desks appear to be completely deserted. The majority of the floors of the Willis Building at 51 Lime Street are lit and devoid of people; and this eerie emptiness can be found throughout the City, in the American-style office blocks in the Docklands and the More London complex near London Bridge which houses big names such as Ernst and Young and Norton Rose. The Gherkin is one of the few buildings which appears to be selective about its lighting requirements: a beacon of darkness in a city of shining lights.

Yes, cleaners would no doubt be accessing the floors of some of these buildings, and there would be some people working late in distant, unseen, corners. But the vast majority of the energy used is unnecessary, and costly to both the bottom line and the environment. When are designers, facilities professionals and building users going to wake up to the need to switch the lights off: either manually or through movement or time sensitive controls. It’s not as if the technology doesn’t exist. In theory we’re willing, but in practice it seems, we’re weak.


Cathy Hayward