Feature, Outdoor

Balance aesthetics with sustainability, says designer

The site-wide lighting improvement at London’s Covent Garden district was one of the urban lighting projects undertaken by Kerem Asfuroglu while at leading independent lighting design practice Speirs + Major.

THE VISUAL aesthetic in the public realm projects shouldn’t be the over-riding priority of the lighting design profession, says a top lighting designer.

Kerem Asfuroglu says core values of energy conservation, sustainability, the impact on social life and biodiversity should carry equal weight.

With a CV that includes a master’s in architectural lighting design from acclaimed German college Wismar University and eight years at top practice Speirs + Major, Asfuroglu’s message is one that will resonate.

Kerem Asfuroglu says core values of energy conservation, sustainability, the impact on social life and biodiversity should carry equal weight to the aesthetics of lighting design in the public realm.

Asfuroglu’s passion is urban lighting –  at Speirs + Major he worked on projects such as Covent Garden’s site-wide lighting improvement and Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford Upon Avon – and his fledgling practice, Dark Source, will specialise in the public realm while putting some social and environmental ‘core values’ at the centre of what it does.

‘Dark Source is coming from the lighting design industry but we’ll promote these core values in delivering our design vision,’ says Asfuroglu. ‘So this means considering the human impact at night-time while taking into account other aspects such as energy use and light pollution.

‘Dark Source believes that creating a beautiful atmosphere is still possible within the realm of energy conservation, sustainability and the impact on social life and biodiversity.  So it won’t be about creating an image that simply looks good’.

He agrees that all practices should consider these issues as part of the design process. ‘But unfortunately we know that the visual aesthetic is the driving force in what the lighting design will be’.

He believes lighting design is often disconnected from other disciplines that have to consider night in our cities, and envisages being part of a broader conversation with other stakeholders in the urban nighttime realm, including  politicians, night workers, architects and urban planners.

While Dark Source will focus on outdoor, it will also undertake interior projects in commercial, hospitality and residential.

With the night-time economy and realm moving up the agenda, it’s creating opportunities for lighting designers to influence the direction of travel in our cities and be an informed voice about issues such as light levels, light spectrum and colour temperature.

He’s also concerned at the macro scale impact of lighting. ‘How does it read on the city scale?’

‘Our visual system is quite sensitive to contrasts rather than actual light levels. So what does it mean if a city suddenly becomes much brighter as a whole? Will we be able to tell how light polluted the town is and how much energy we’re wasting? What does the shift to LED mean?’

He believes the latter can lead to dangers in terms of intensity. ‘The sources are getting brighter and the optics are getting more aggressive. More manufacturers are providing cool colour temperatures simply because they’re more efficient than warm ones’.

He believes that the speed of LED adoption has marginalised considerations other than energy saving. ‘It’s crazy,’ says Asfuroglu. ‘The paradigm shift happened so quickly. I don’t think any of us had the chance to adapt to this’.

He worries too that much of it is being specified and designed by many without lighting knowledge.

‘It’s difficult for me to understand why there isn’t a broader conversation about how we can tackle the issues of LED lighting.’ These include light pollution and a perverse proliferation of LEDs as the price of luminaires fall.

Asfuroglu’s remedies include thoughtful masterplanning at city scale, a process he’ll be familiar with from his work with Speirs + Major, a specialist in the art.

He wants Dark Source to have a role in the debate and enhancing it with content. Not to manipulate, he emphasises, but to enrich the conversation and reach out to a broader audience.


  • Asfuroglu will be one of the keynote speakers at The Illuminated City conference taking place at Lightspace London 2019 at ExCeL London. Co-located with LuxLive 2019, it will explore urban lighting with an emphasis on masterplanning and place-making with light. See more at www.lightspace.london.