BLOG POST: Lighting historic buildings and structures - key considerations

Two decades ago, Historic England produced guidance on how to light historic buildings and structures. The aim was to protect buildings from damage and limit light pollution. This guidance has newly been updated to include the advances of lighting in the last 20 years.

So what should be considered when lighting heritage properties, listed monuments or protected sites? Historic England’s Senior Building Services Engineer, Geraldine O’Farrell outlined some of the points included in the guidance which we think are particularly important:

Lighting should give an added dimension and greater night time presence which enhances key architectural features as well as any national, local, social or heritage significance.

We agree with this completely. Last year, we illuminated a 16th Century historic property in Burnley, Lancashire. Although Towneley Hall sits at the heart of large parkland used by the general public for walking, running and socialising, it was unlit at night. By adding spotlights, the grounds have become an attraction and a reason for people to visit - even in darkness. Our ‘Explore the Night’ brochure goes into more detail about how lighting changes spaces and creates new atmospheres in towns and cities.

Sufficient protection against vandalism should be provided, for example where light fittings are located on the ground.

This is an important factor regardless of whether the lighting is installed in a vast public space or a quieter rural spot. To provide added security, we use anti-tamper screws on some of our in-ground luminaires and some linear fittings have an optional anti-tamper kit. Other lighting manufacturers have produced lighting made from stainless steel or thick polycarbonate to tackle the issue of vandalism.

The lighting should be relatively easy to operate, adjust and maintain and can be switched off at an appropriate time.

Nowadays, lighting schemes can be dynamic and altered whenever needed. With emerging technologies, end users can control their lighting from a smart phone and change it depending on their needs, for example to mark a special occasion. Likewise, most people are aware of the impact that lighting has on our dark skies and, with technology, can manage the on and off times to conserve energy and reduce light pollution.

External luminaires should be positioned inconspicuously and be respectful of the historic fabric.

This can be achieved by positioning the light fitting on neighbouring street furniture or adjacent buildings, disguising with planting or trees or using the buildings’ own decorative elements. This was the case when we worked on the Iron Bridge in Shropshire last year. Unable to install luminaires on or under the bridge, we mounted our FUSION floodlights on bespoke wooden poles that were positioned in unobtrusive locations nearby.

There are various other considerations when lighting historic buildings. To find out what these are, refer to Historic England’s guidance on external lighting for historic buildings, click here.

To read about some of the heritage structures we’ve illuminated – visit the case study section of the website.

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