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How to complement historic neighborhoods with modern LED lighting technology

Lighting design trends have always been driven by available technology and energy sources. In the 18th century, that meant candlepower. In the 19th century, it meant whale oil, kerosene and gas. In the 20th, electricity. 

Today, advancements in LED lighting technology are allowing cities to replace their outdated roadway lighting in exchange for more energy-efficient and smarter lighting. But, what happens when high-tech lighting meets historic design? 

Here’s how modern LED lighting technology can complement homes and buildings in historic neighborhoods. 

Selecting antique street lighting fixtures

Today, it’s common to find high-pressure sodium cobra head fixtures that still light many streets, mounted 25 to 30 feet above the ground and often spaced 150 feet or more apart. 

In comparison, lantern, acorn and teardrop fixtures are common in historic districts and neighborhoods to match old-fashioned gas street lamps, which were typically mounted just 10 to 15 feet above the ground.   

The visual factors related to antique street lighting can help recreate the look and feel of a certain era. But it’s key to understand how to ensure that lighting enhances the aesthetic of the neighborhood while still providing optimal visibility

Adding LED lighting to historic districts and neighborhoods

Because LED lighting is often associated with sleek, modern fixtures and cool white or blue light, some people believe it’s inappropriate for historic districts and neighborhoods. However, integrating LED lighting into these areas is possible — it just takes careful research and thoughtful lighting design.

First, determine whether street lighting existed during the district’s period of historic significance. You can find this period, usually a range of dates, on the National Register nomination form if the location is a National Register-listed historic district. Otherwise, historic photographs may be housed at a local historical society or library. 

Attempting to match new luminaires to historic lighting fixtures can be challenging but will help keep the consistent look and feel that draws people to historic districts and neighborhoods. Potential strategies include repairing existing lighting fixtures, replicating lighting documented in historic photographs or finding modern luminaires that combine the desired historic appearance and an LED light engine. When the luminaire is specifically designed and tested for LED compatibility, it ensures the long-lasting performance expected of an LED solution. 

Understanding these issues and working toward mindful solutions to integrate LED technology with the preservation of historic character will help create more effective, beautiful lighting in historic neighborhoods. 

Source: Historic Streetscape lighting: integration of aesthetic concerns with modern technology