The Speed of Light

the image shows a section through a railway bridge with apertures cut through it and a responsive floor condition

The Speed of Light


West Canal Wharf, Newtown, Butetown, Cardiff, Wales, CF, United Kingdom

Project Description

Exploring the Importance of Daylight in an Urban Environment

The project seeks to demonstrate how the close readings of environmental factors on a site can be used to inform a project that is highly suited to its context. In this instance, natural diffuse daylight in a dark and enclosed underpass has been studied to inform a proposal that aims to inject additional daylight into the undercroft and create a set of lighting conditions. These conditions aspire to prompt an extended stay in the underpass. A unique and dynamic lighting experience is created by the passing trains overhead, providing users with a heightened connection to their immediate context.

As we densify our urban environments, we have a duty to ensure issues such as right to light, noise pollution, the urban heat island effect and the maintenance of key views are all addressed. In studying environmental factors in detail, these issues can be more easily catered to. The Local Adaptation unit aspires to look more and impose less; what is the smallest change we can make to existing structures to improve conditions?

The proposal uses thinking developed in a primer project whereby the unit set out to perceive and represent sunlight and daylight volumetrically. It underlined that light is not just a 2D projection on a surface, although that is usually how we perceive it. Light is a volume that we can enter and occupy.

In this project, digital tools such as Grasshopper and Velux Daylight Visualiser are used to understand how daylight occupies the site. A 3D form can be produced by using a series of analysis planes stacked on top of one another.

It is proposed that holes are punctured in the railway in order to introduce light into the underpass. The location of these holes was determined after the close reading of the existing structure and track placement. The apertures fall in the "peak" of the profiled steel deck and between the sleepers in the tracks to minimise the impact on the structure and to ensure the dynamic lighting condition is met.

The rest of the scheme is "responsive" to the light introduced by these apertures. These responsive elements include the underpass approaches and an undulating floor level.

The value of the project lies less in its final outcome and more in the approach used for its design development which could be implemented across future urban interventions. It’s wider aim is to exemplify how close readings of site and environmental factors can result in a project highly suited to its context.

Phoebe Harris



I've recently completed my 5th year at the WSA. This year I chose the Local Adaptation unit in order to better my understanding of computational methods in architecture and to explore a new approach for carrying out site analysis.

Other work by Phoebe