Many architects, engineers, and material manufacturers have already recognized the benefits of introducing illumination to roads and pathways. I've written in ARCHITECT on NighTec Leuchtsteine illuminated pavers, Studio Roosegaarde's Smart Highway, and BIG's Digital Interactive Roadway, but these examples are in the preliminary stages of development or are relatively expensive to widely implement.
U.K.-based manufacturer Pro-Teq Surfacing, however, has developed a low-cost spray-based surfacing product called Starpath that can be applied to a variety of existing pathway base materials such as concrete, asphalt, or timber. The elastomeric material contains phosphorescent aggregates that absorb ultraviolet radiation during the day and release low-level lighting in the evening. According to Pro-Teq, the application improves degraded pathways with a smooth, anti-slip coating, but can also result in energy savings since fewer streetlights are needed for nighttime visibility.
"There is nothing like Starpath in the world," said Pro-Teq owner Hamish Scott in a company press release, "this product adjusts to the natural light, so if it is pitch black outside the luminous natural earth enhances, and if the sky is lighter, it won’t release as much luminosity—it adjusts accordingly, its almost like it has a mind of its own...You need to physically see it to believe it, this is pure nature doing its work."
Although Starpath represents a noteworthy improvement in self-illuminated surfacing applications, the low intensity and diffuse quality of illumination is not adequate for ensuring pedestrian safety, which requires street lighting that clearly reveals the features and behavior of other pedestrians. However, the technology may allow for a reduction in the number and frequency of streetlights, as well as a complete elimination of pedestrian lighting in safe areas. Such a change would not only reduce energy consumption, but also enhance the visibility of the nighttime sky, revealing stars in the firmament as well as on the ground.
Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.