Urban Planning Tip: Enhance Available Light


One way to enhance available light in urban areas is the construction of tall buildings with reflective glass. The building and alley pictured here would otherwise be dark most of the day in the winter months with the sun traveling across the southern sky. The tall glass building located on the north side of the alley (Park@201) reflects and doubles the available light.

The design cost, materials, and other considerations may increase the construction cost of the building but this could be offset by some kind of financial incentive to developers. There are many non-measurable environmental and beautification benefits that can be incorporated into architecture and development, but because they don’t offer the developer any specific financial benefit, other incentives may need to be arranged to offset these costs that primarily only benefit the community.

Video Presentation – Part 1

Video Presentation – Part 2

Q & A

Below are questions from our readers with some responses.

Q: Mark M. 

Could you share with us this shot on the north side of the building where people gather in the black hawk mini-park?


Thanks for your interest. We have other similar photos around the Iowa City area where adjacent streets and brick buildings are brightly lit by ambient lighting that would otherwise be unavailable were it not for the tall buildings that utilize glass and other reflective surfaces.

The reflective lighting brightens surroundings while at the same time offering a UV differential diffusion to hopefully reduce the risk of skin cancer, and reduce the intense heat during Iowa summers. Many developers in the Iowa City area are using such designs, including the University of Iowa.

The Black Hawk Mini Park you speak of, like many parks, is partially obscured by trees. So, it doesn’t benefit as much from the reflected light. There’s a tall building to the east that blocks morning light, and offers only minimal reflective gain from noon onward. In the daytime, during the summer months the sun is overhead, but then blocked again in the afternoon by a tall non-reflective building to the west.

For health reasons and comfort, people generally prefer to be in partially shaded areas during the summer months. If it were desired to increase direct sunlight, presumably trees could be cut down, but that’s really not desirable.

More Images

Another photo showing this alley is below.


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