Light violence at the threshold of acceptability

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This paper shows how residential high-rise developments in London deteriorate the living conditions for existing residents and set a legal precedent for distributing harm unevenly across the population. The paper unpacks the contentious decision-making process in one of several local planning applications in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets that ended in a spur of high-profile public planning inquiries between 2017 and 2019. The Enterprise House inquiry shows how, among other things, a loss of daylight, sunlight and outlook, and an increased sense of enclosure, affect already marginalised residents in neighbouring buildings disproportionately, elevating light to a legal category for assessing harm and addressing social injustice in the vertical city. The paper adopts a forensic approach to interrogate four instances during the public inquiry, in which numerical evidence of material harm resulting from a loss in daylight, sunlight and outlook was made to appear and disappear. The translation of scientific evidence into legal evidence is performed through the act of claiming ‘truthful’ representations of ‘real life experiences’ of light in digital visualisations. By revealing how material harm resulting from vertical development is normalised and thus naturalised in the planning inquiry, the paper demonstrates how ‘light’ violence is exercised in vertical development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-686
Number of pages18
JournalUrban Studies
Issue number4
Early online date1 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • forensic architecture
  • light
  • public inquiry
  • verticality
  • violence

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