Light violence at the threshold of acceptability

Dr Casper Ebbensgaard (3S Research Group, UEA)

3S Seminar, 18th November, 16:00-17:00 GMT on MS Teams (please email Mandy Harmer <> if you would like to attend, an invite will be sent the day before the seminar).

In this paper, I investigate how the legal planning system in the UK encourages forms of residential high-rise development in London that not only deteriorate the living conditions for existing and future residents, but actively encourages their ruination. The paper unpacks the contentious decision-making process that in a number of local planning cases across the London Borough of Tower Hamlets led to high-profile public inquiries between 2017 and 2019. In two of these inquiries (the ‘Enterprise House’ and ‘Whitechapel Estate’ cases) special attention was given to the documented harm caused by a loss of sunlight, daylight, and the creation of shade and overlooking, elevating ‘light’ to a legal category for assessing ‘harm’ in the vertical city. Drawing on work by Forensic Architecture and legal urban scholars, the paper interrogates the legal judgements that were made during the Enterprise House inquiry to demonstrate how lighting regulations and guidelines, and the kinds of material, physical harm they intend to prevent, are minimised and, as a consequence how an uneven distribution of harm across local population is naturalised. By shifting the grounds for determining the threshold at which harm resulting from changes in light can be detected, and at which such harm is accepted in the vertical city, the legal judgements diminish the importance and significance of ‘lived experiences’, raising questions about the ‘public’s participation in local planning. The paper concludes by setting out a number of suggestions for how we might ensure more socially and environmentally just futures in the vertical city.