All posts filed under “Lighting

Review: Architecture as Crime Control by Neal Katyal


Review: Katyal, N. K. “Architecture as Crime Control”, Yale Law Journal, March 2002, Vol 111, Issue 5.

Professor Neal Kumar Katyal of Georgetown University Law School, best-known for being (successful) lead counsel in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case dealing with Guantanamo Bay detainees, has also done some important work on the use of design as a method of law enforcement in both the digital and built environments.

This article, ‘Architecture as Crime Control’, specifically addresses itself to a legal and social policy-maker audience in terms of the areas of focus and the arguments used, but is also very relevant to architects and designers open to being enlightened about the strategic value of their work. Specifically with regard to ‘architectures of control’ and ‘design for behaviour change’, as one might expect, there are many useful examples and a great deal of interesting analysis. In this review, I will try to concentrate on examples and design techniques given in the article, along with some of the thinking behind them – the most useful aspects from the point of view of my own research – rather than attempting to analyse the legal and sociological framework into which all of this fits.

Katyal starts by acknowledging how the “emerging field of cyberlaw, associated most directly with Lawrence Lessig” has brought the idea of ‘code’ constraining behaviour to a level of greater awareness, but suggests that the greater permanence and endurance of architectural changes in the real world – the built environment – may actually give greater potential for behaviour control, as opposed to the “infinitely malleable” architecture of cyberspace:

It is time to reverse-engineer cyberlaw’s insights, and to assess methodically whether changes to the architecture of our streets and buildings can reduce criminal activity.

A theme to which Katyal returns throughout the article is that the policy response to James Wilson and George Kelling’s influential ‘Broken Windows’ – “an architectural problem in crime control” – has largely been a law enforcement one (“prosecution of minor offenses like vandalism in an attempt to deter these ‘gateway crimes'”) instead of actual architectural responses, which, Katyal argues, could have a significant and useful role in this field.

Design principles

Before tackling specific architectural strategies, Katyal discusses the general area of using “design principles” to “influence, in subtle ways, the paths by which we live and think” – a great summary of many of the techniques we’ve considered on this blog over the last couple of years, though not all have been subtle – and gives some good examples:

McDonald's seating, uncomfortable, Glasgow, from Headphonaught's Flickr stream

Fast food restaurants use hard chairs that quickly grow uncomfortable so that customers rapidly turn over

Image from Headphonaught’s Flickr stream

Elevator (lift) numerals positioned to avoid eye contact

Elevator designers place the numerals and floor indicator lights over people’s heads so that they avoid eye contact and feel less crowded

Supermarkets have narrow aisles so that customers cannot easily talk to each other and must focus on the products instead

(We’ve also seen the opposite effect cited, i.e. using wider aisles to cause customers to spend longer in a particular aisle – clearly, both effects could be employed in different product areas within the same supermarket, to suit whatever strategy the retailer has. There are plenty of other tricks too.)

And, in a footnote, Katyal cites Personal Space by Robert Sommer, which provides:

other examples, such as a café that hired an architect to design a chair that placed “disagreeable pressure on the spine if occupied for over a few minutes” and Conrad Hilton’s decision to move couches out of hotel lobbies to minimise the number of lingering visitors.

(Sommer’s work sounds interesting and relevant, and I look forward to investigating it*)

As Katyal puts it, “with strategies like these, private architects are currently engaging in social control.”

Moving on to architectural strategies for crime control, Katyal expounds four ‘mechanisms’ identified in the field of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED):

Design should:

  • (1) Create opportunities for natrual surveillance by residents, neighbors and bystanders;
  • (2) Instill a sense of territoriality so that residents develop proprietary attitudes and outsiders feel deterred from entering a private space;
  • (3) Build communities and avoid social isolation;
  • (4) Protect targets of crime.
  • Before expanding on the practical and legal application of each of these mechanisms, Katyal makes the point that while they can often “work in synergy… natural surveillance is most effective when social isolation is minimized and when design delays the perpetration of crime,” there can be conflicts and any strategy needs to be developed within the context of the community in which it is going to be applied:

    Security door propped open

    Effective design requires input by the community. Without such input, security features are likely to be resented, taken down or evaded (consider the ‘security’ doors propped open on campuses today.

    (This issue of ‘resentment’ or even ‘inconvenience’ is, I feel, going to be a significant factor in my own studies of environmentally beneficial behaviour-changing products; we shall see.)

    Natural surveillance

    The idea of natural surveillance is to create situations where areas are overlooked by neighbours, other residents and so on, with the effect being both a crime deterrent (if the criminal knows he is being watched, or might be watched, he may decide against the crime) and to improve the effectiveness of solving the crime afterwards (someone will have seen what happened). Katyal cites Jane Jacobs‘ argument that diversity of use can be an important way of bringing about natural surveillance – preferably with different activities occurring throughout the day, to ensure that there is always a population there to keep any eye on things. However, short of this kind of deliberate diversity planning, there are specific techniques that can be used on individual buildings and their surroundings to increase natrual surveillance; Katyal suggests the addition of windows facing onto public spaces, ensuring sight lines down corridors and alleyways, positioning windows so that neighbours can watch each other’s houses, bringing parking areas in front of stores rather than out of sight behind them, and making sure hallways and lobbies are clearly visible to passers-by. He gives the example of redesigning the layout of a school’s grounds to increase the opportunity for natural surveillance:

    School before improvement
    School after improvement
    Images from Katyal, N. K. “Architecture as Crime Control”, Yale Law Journal, March 2002, Vol 111, Issue 5.

    [In the first image] the informal areas are blocked form sight and far from school grounds. Because no central place for congregation exists, students are spread over the grounds, and there is insufficient density for monitoring. The four open entrances and exits facilitate access to the school and escape.

    [In the second image,] through the designation of formal gathering areas, other places become subtly off-limits to students. Indeed, those who are present in such areas are likely to attract suspicion…. the formal gathering areas are naturally surveilled by building users… [and] are long and thin, running alongside the school windows, and two hedges prevent students from going fuarther away. Moreover, the west entrance, which had the least potential for surveillance, has been closed…

    Lighting can also be a major method of increasing natural surveillance:

    First, it helps anyone viewing a situation to see it more clearly and thereby deters some crimes by increasing the powers of perception of those watching. Second, it encourages people to be in the area in the first place because the greater visibility creates a sense of security. The more eyes on the street, the more visibility constrains crime.

    (Incidentally, Katyal comments – having interviewed an architect – that the use of yellow street lighting “can increase the crime rate by making streets (and individuals on them) look menacing”, hence a tendency for some urban developers to move to white lighting instead.)


    Territoriality – also much of the focus of defensible space (which I’ll discuss in a later post) – “both provides an incentive for residents to take care of and monitor an area and subtly deters offenders by warning them that they are about to enter a private space.” Some of Katyal’s examples are wonderfully simple:

  • “An entrance raised by a few inches” is “a successful symbolic barrier… people are aware of minor graduations of elevation and may refrain from entry if they sense a gradual incline”. (Elevation can also lead to reverence/respect, either directly – e.g. steps leading up to a courthouse – or indirectly, causing a visitor to bow his/her head on approach)
  • Monuments and markers can also demarcate the transition from public space into private space… A study of burglaries in Salt Lake City… revealed that houses with nameplates had lower rates of intrusion than those without them.

  • One rather simple way is to place two buildings in an ‘L’ formation with a fence that completes the triangle. Children can play in the open space, and adults can look out of their windows at their children.

  • Katyal also includes these diagrams from “a group of British architects”:

    In the first, a series of buildings lacks a common entrance, and pedestrians cut through the property. The addition of a simple overhead arch, however, creates a sense of private space:

    Addition of archway to discourage use as through-route

    Images originally from Stollard, P. Crime Prevention Through Housing Design and included in Katyal’s article.

  • Building community

    The third main mechanism, building community, is also heavily interlinked with the idea of defensible space. The aim here is to encourage a sense of community, by creating spaces which cause people to interact, or even reducing the number of dwellings in each individual set so that people are more likely to recognise and come to know their neighbours – something many architects have instinctively tried to do anyway over the past 20 years or so, though not always explicitly with crime reduction in mind:

    …even the placement of seats and benches can bring people together or divide them, creating what architects call, respectively, sociopetal and sociofugal spaces. Some architects self-consciously create sociofugal spaces by, for example, designing chairs in airports that make it difficult for people to talk to each other.

    Practically, ‘building community’ would necessarily appear to be slightly more nebulous than some of the other mechanisms, but even techniques such as encouraging people to spend more time in communal areas such as a laundry (and hence potentially interact more) can be important here.

    Strengthening targets

    There are a number of simple examples of target hardening or strengthening given:

  • Placing deadbolts lower on door frames

    (presumably to make kicking them open more difficult)

  • Having doors in vulnerable locations swing outward

  • Raising fire escapes to put them out of easy reach

  • Reducing the size of letter-box openings

  • If a robber can stand on top of a trash bin and reach a second-floor window, the bin should be placed far from the window

  • Prickly shrubs placed outside of windows can also deter crime

  • A duct that spews hot air can be placed near a ground-floor window to deter entry

  • Smells can also be strategically harnessed either to induce people to come outside or keep them away

  • The FBI building is built on stilts to minimize damage in the event of a bomb detonation at street level

  • To decrease the likelihood of presidential assassination, a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was barricaded and closed to car traffic

  • Interestingly, Katyal makes the point that where potential crime targets can be strengthened without making it overly obvious that this has been done, the benefits may be greater:

    Modern technology permits targets to be hardened in ways that are not obvious to the public. Strong plastics, graffiti-resistant paint, and doors with steel cores are a few examples. These allow architects to disguise their efforts at strengthening targets and thus avoid sending a message that crime is rampant.

    Some forms of target hardening are suboptimal in that visibility evinces a fear of crime that can cause damage to the fabric of a community and even increase crime rates.

    He again later returns to this point:

    Subtle architecture that gently reinfoces law-abiding norms and prevents a degree of intrusion is to be preferred to explicit and awkward physical barricades that reflect the feeling that a community is under siege. Cheap wire fences do not express a belief in the power of law or norms; rather, they reflect the opposite. The same can be said for ugly iron bars on windows, which express the terror of crime as powerfully as does any sign or published crime statistic.

    A whole host of architectural strategies – such as the placement of doors and windows, creation of semipublic congregation spaces, street layout alterations, park redesign, and many more – sidestep creating an architecture dominated by the expression of fear. Indeed, cheap barricades often substitute for these subtler measures. Viewed this way, gated communities are a byproduct of public disregard of architecture, not a sustainable solution to crime.[my emphasis]

    (This last point is especially interesting to me – I must admit I am fascinated by the phenomenon of gated communities and what effect they have on their inhabitants as well as on the surrounding area, both in a Ballardian sense (Running Wild, Cocaine Nights, Super-Cannes) and, more prosaically, in terms of what this voluntary separation does to the community outside the gates. See also the quote from architect John Thompson in my forthcoming post reporting what’s happening at the former Brunel Runnymede Campus)

    Other aspects

    One point to which Katyal repeatedly returns is – a corollary of the above – the concept of architectural solutions as entities which subtly reinforce or embody norms (desirable ones, from the point of view of law enforcement) rather than necessarily enforce them in totality:

    Even the best social codes are quite useless if it is impossible to observe whether people comply with them. Architecture, by facilitating interaction and monitoring by members of a community, permits social norms to have greater impact. In this way, the power of architecture to influence social norms can even eclipse that of law, for law faces obvious difficulties when it attempts to regulate social interaction directly.

    Architecture can prevent crimes even when criminals believe the probability of enforcement is low… one feature of social norms strategies is that they are often self-enforcing.

    I think this is a crucial point, and is applicable in other ‘architectures of control’ techniques outside of the built environment and the specific issues of crime. Norms can be extremely powerful influencers of behaviour, and – to take my current research on changing user behaviour to reduce environmental impact – the ability to design a desirable norm into a product or system, without taking away the user’s sense of ownership of, and confidence in, the product, may well turn out to be the crux of the matter.

    As (I hope) will be clear, much of Katyal’s analysis seems applicable to other areas of ‘Design for/against X’ where human factors are involved – not just design against crime. So, for example, here Katyal is touching on something close to the concepts of perceived affordances (and disaffordances) in interaction design:

    Psychological evidence shows that criminals decode environmental ‘cues’ to assess the likelihood of success of a given criminal act… the design of a meeting table influences who will speak and when, and who is perceived to have a positionof authority. It is therefore no great shock that the eight months of negotiation that preceded the 1969 Paris Peace Talks largely centred on what the physical space of the negotiating table would be. It is said that Machiavelli designed a political meeting chamber with a ceiling that looked asif it were about to collapse, reasoning that it would induce politicians to vote quickly and leave.

    Winston Churchill… went so far as to claim that the shape of the House [of Commons] was essential to the two-party system and that its small size was critical for ‘free debate’:

    “The party system is much favoured by the oblong form of chamber… the act of crossing the floor is one which requires serious consideration. I am well informed on this matter, for I have accomplished that difficult process, not only once but twice.”

    Significant points are also made is about displacement (or “geographic substitution”) of crime: do architectual measures (especially target hardening and obvious surveillance, we might assume) not simply move crime elsewhere? (We’ve discussed this before when looking at blue lighting in public toilets.) Katyal argues that, while some displacement will, of course, occur, this is not always direct substitution. Locally-based criminals may not have knowledge of other areas (i.e. the certainty that these will not be hardened or surveilled targets), or indeed, where crime is opportunistic, the “costs” imposed by travelling elsewhere to commit it are too high. Equally:

    Many devices, such as steel-reinforced doors, strong plastics, and the like are not discernible until a criminal has invested some energy and time. These forms of precaution will thus increase expected perpetration cost and deter offenders without risking substantial displacement.

    Also, the fact that increased police presence (for example) in a crime ‘hot-spot’ may also lead to crime displacement, is generally not seen as a reason for not increasing that presence: some targets simply are more desirable to protect than others, and where architectural measures allow police to concentrate elsewhere, this may even be an advantage.

    More specific examples

    Aside from the analysis, there are a great many architectures of control and persuasion examples dotted throughout Katyal’s article, and while they are somewhat disparate in how I present them here, they are all worth noting from my point of view, and I hope interesting. Apart from those I’ve already quoted above, some of the other notable examples and observations are:

  • …the feeling of being crowded correlates with aggression. Architects can alleviate the sensation of crowding by adding windows that allow for natural light, by using rectangular rooms (which are perceived to be larger than square ones), and by employing light-colored paints. When people perceive more space, they tend to become less hostile.

  • While the results should not be overemphasized, psychologists have found results showing that various colors affect behavior and emotions. The most consistent such finding is that red induces a higher level of arousal than do cool colors like green and blue. Another study indicated that people walked faster down a hallway painted red or orange than down one painted in cooler colors. After experimenting with hundreds of shade, Professor Schauss identified a certain shade of pink, Baker-Miller, as the most successful color to mediate aggression… prisoners in Baker-Miller pink cells were found to be les abusive than those in magnolia-colored cells.

    (See also discussion here)

  • Studies show that people who sit at right angles from each other at a table are six times more likely to engage in conversation than those who sit across from each other.

    (referencing Edward T Hall, The Hidden Dimension, 1966).

  • For some existing housing projects, the government could pass regulations requiring retrofitting to prevent crime. Small private or semiprivate lawns near entrances can encourage feelings of territoriality; strong lighting can enhnace visibility; staining and glazing can increase contrast; and buildings refaced with a diversity of pleasing finishes can reflect individuality and territoriality. Large open spaces can be subdivided to encourage natural surveillance.

  • Edward I enacted the Statute of Winchester, a code designed to prevent the concealment of robbers… [which included a] provision [which] directly regulated environmental design to reduce crime… highways had to be enlarged and bushes had to be cleared for 200 feet on either side of the highway.

  • …certain buildings [being strategically placed in an area] such as churches, may reduce the crime rate because they create feelings of guilt or shame in potential perpetrators and because the absence of crime against such structures furthers visible social order.

  • Crimes that directly interfere with natural surveillance should… be singled out for special penalties. Destroying the lighting around a building is one obvious example. Another would be attempts by criminals to bring smoke-belching trucks onto a street before robbing an establishment.

  • Summary

    Ultimately, Katyal’s aim seems to be to encourage policy-makers to see architectural measures as a potentially important aspect of crime reduction, given sensible analysis of each situation, and he suggests the use of Crime Impact Statements – possibly as a requirement for all new development – in a similar vein to Environmental Impact Statements, and leading to similar increases in awareness among architects and developers. Building codes and zoning policies could also be directed towards crime reduction through architectural strategies. Insurance companies, by understanding what measures ‘work’ and which don’t, could use premiums to favour, promote and educate property owners, similarly to the way that widespread adoption of better design for fire protection and prevention was significantly driven by insurance companies.

    In this sense, a public (i.e. governmental) commitment to use of architectural strategies in this way would make the process much more transparent than individual private developers adopting ad hoc measures, and, with sensible analysis of each case, could assist local law enforcement and engage communities in reinforcing ‘desirable’ norms and ‘designing away’ some aspects of their problems – though Katyal makes it very clear that architecture alone cannot do this [my emphasis]:

    None of this should be mistaken for architectural determinism or its derivative belief that good buildings alone will end crime. These hopes of ‘salvation by bricks’ are illusory. But our rejection of this extreme should not lead us to the opposite extreme view, which holds that physical settings are irrelevant to human beliefs and action. Architecture influences behavior; it does not determine it.

    Tower A, Brunel University

    *Katyal also later cites Sommer’s Social Design for the example of airports that “prevent crime by replacing bathroom entrance doors with right-angle entrances that permit the warning sounds of crime to travel more freely and that reduce the sense of isolation”. I’d always assumed that (as with the toilet facilities in many motorway services here in the UK), this was to reduce the number of surfaces that a toilet user would have to touch – a similar strategy to having the entrance doors to public toilet areas pushable/elbowable/nudgable by users leaving the area, rather than forcing recently-washed hands to come into contact with a pull-handle which may not be especially clean. See also Sara Cantor’s thoughts on encouraging handwashing.

    More thoughts on the Eaton MEM BC3, CFLs and Power Factor

    Light bulbs

    UPDATE: See this more recent post for information and photos of how to get a 2-pin bulb to fit in a BC3 fitting.

    BC3 reactions

    The post looking at the Eaton MEM BC3 system, a couple of months ago, has become something of a reference for UK householders and renters trying to work out why they can’t fit a normal 2-pin bayonet compact fluorescent (or other bulb) in the light fittings of their new house or flat – or so I assume from some of the search strings in the server logs.

    Some comments from readers highlight the frustration and inconvenience caused by the 3-pin system – and in these cases it’s people trying to use CFLs in the fittings. They’re trying to be energy-efficient, trying to comply with government advice indeed, yet a combination of ill-thought-out regulations and a razor-blade-style commercial lock-in architecture of control is preventing their success. As an example of ‘reducing the environmental impact of products by using design to change user behaviour‘, the BC3 seems to be a poorly thought-out initiative.

    MEM BC3 compared with standard 2-pin bayonet CFL

    Increasing CFL uptake

    Elsewhere, on the subject of CFLs, Duncan Drennan of The Art of Engineering blog has a very informative post looking at aspects of the CFL argument, such as comparing colour rendering indices, which are less often addressed in media articles on the subject. As Duncan makes clear – even including a spreadsheet to calculate the savings – the monetary arguments in terms of electricity saved are probably a more direct way to persuade many people than using environmental arguments.

    Duncan also mentions the higher-end CFLs such as the Osram Dulux Superstar (which has a quicker start-up time to full brightness than standard CFLs). Along with CFLs which are shaped more like conventional incandescent bulbs (such as the version of the Osram Duluxstar, third from left in the first photo below), or even with more interesting forms, such as the concepts by Dutch designer Jacob de Baan (second image below), these surely have the potential to convert more householders to CFLs: the standard 3 U-tube design is rather ugly.

    Some types of CFL compared with a 150W incandescent
    Bulbs by Jacob de Baan
    Above: Some types of CFL (from left: Tesco Value, GE Elegance and Osram Duluxstar) lined up next to a burned-out incandescent bulb. Note that the Osram Duluxstar – basically a standard 3 U-tube CFL with a bulb-shaped cover – is taller than even the 150W incandescent, due to the space taken up by the ballast, and this extra length can be a problem when using CFLs in existing light fixtures, shades, etc. Some companies, such as Sylvania with its Mini-Lynx Ambience range, have addressed this by making CFLs with shorter tubes and ballast such that the whole thing is the same size as a standard incandescent bulb. Below: Three CFL concepts by Jacob de Baan. Apologies for the scan quality (the images are from The Eco-Design Handbook, 2004 edition, by Alastair Fuad-Luke).

    Power Factor

    A rarely mentioned issue with CFLs which I realised recently (courtesy of a letter by Andrew Porter in The Engineer, a UK journal), is that of power factor. Not having studied electricity generation for some time, this is something I’d shoved to the back of my mind, but essentially it results from the phase shift between voltage and current caused by a reactive (capactive or inductive) load as opposed to a purely reactive one, and means that the actual power supplied by the power station (in volt-amps) will be greater than that indicated by simply looking at the wattage (in watts), where reactive loads are involved.

    A normal incandescent filament bulb is an almost entirely resistive load, and the voltage and current will be in phase (hence a power factor of 1). But a CFL – with a significant proportion of capacitive load due to the ballast – will have a much lower power factor, perhaps only 0.5. This means that a ’15W’ CFL actually requires 30VA from the power station – which the private customer will not pay for directly, since home electricity meters only measure watts, but it is still equivalent to needing to supply double the power. That increase in necessary generation can’t be ignored: the consumer will pay for it one way or another.

    Rod Elliott has a detailed examination of why the power factor should certainly be taken into account when looking at CFLs in a policy context and it’s very much worth reading for a better understanding of the issue. While fluorescent lighting ballasts with high power factors (0.95+) are available (in industrial situations, a large customer will often have to pay for the actual VA drawn by large reactive loads, such as motors), they are unlikely to be incorporated any time soon into mass-produced cheap CFLs. Elliott suggests that because fluorescent lighting is so often left on continuously (partly because of the belief that it will last longer if not switched on-and-off), in conjunction with the power factor issue, mass adoption of CFLs may actually increase the electricity used.

    I don’t know to what extent policy-makers have taken the power factors of cheap CFLs into account when planning mass conversion initiatives, but in the long run, it would seem that LED home lighting (without a power factor issue), perhaps with DC ring-mains to prevent the need for multiple transformer/rectifiers, is a better solution than total adoption of CFLs.

    A bright idea?

    UPDATE: See this more recent post for information and photos of how to get a 2-pin bulb to fit in a BC3 fitting.

    This may well be the example which involves the most different ‘architecture of control’ issues so far – by a long way. It is a complex case with a number of aspects, intentions and effects to consider. My mind isn’t made up on the rights and wrongs of this: it’s certainly an architecture of control, it’s certainly devious and it’s certainly a case of introducing a razor-blade model (product lock-in) into a field where there was previously none; it will also end up costing many consumers more money, yet it’s founded in an attempt to ‘encourage’/force more environmentally friendly behaviour.

    A couple of weeks ago, George Preston let me know about Eaton MEM BC3 light bulbs and fittings. These are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs or ‘energy-saving’ bulbs) which have their own kind of three-pronged bayonet connector (left), as opposed to the standard two-pronged bayonet (right):

    BC3 lamp, photo by George Preston
    BC3 lamp, photo by George Preston
    BC3 fitting - image from MEMLITE brochure
    BC3 CFL and standard bayonet CFL compared, and a BC3 fitting. Upper two photos by George Preston; lower photo from BC3 brochure [PDF].

    Notice those three prongs are irregularly spaced. A normal bayonet bulb won’t fit in a BC3 fitting, and a BC3 bulb won’t fit in a normal bayonet fitting.

    What’s the rationale behind this?

    From Approved Document L1 [PDF], an amendment to the UK Building Regulations, which came into force in April 2002 (applying to new-build houses):

    1.54 Reasonable provision should be made for dwelling occupiers to obtain the benefits of efficient lighting. A way of showing compliance with the requirement would be to provide at a reasonable number of locations, where lighting can be expected to have most use, fixed lighting (comprising either basic lighting outlets or complete luminaires) that only take lamps having a luminous efficacy greater than 40 lumens per circuit-watt. Circuit-watts means the power consumed in lighting circuits by lamps and their associated control gear and power factor correction equipment. Examples of lamps that achieve this efficacy include fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps (not GLS tungsten lamps with bayonet cap or Edison screw bases).

    The idea is, then, that since ‘normal’ bayonet fittings can take normal tungsten incandescent filament bulbs as well as normal CFLs – something which has of course driven the more widespread adoption of CFLs – there is the likelihood/possibility that householders might replace any pre-installed CFLs with filament bulbs, for whatever reason (the usual reasons are the colour of the light, the aesthetic appearance of the bulbs, and the warm-up time). To prevent this possibility, a new type of light fitting and associated CFL cap design were required which were uniquely compatible, so that anyone with this kind of fitting would have to fit bulbs with the new cap design, which would only be available on CFLs.

    (Note that the same objective could have been achieved by fitting these rooms solely with fittings for commonly available standard linear fluorescent tubes, i.e. strip lights.)

    So, Eaton’s MEM 250 division created the BC3 (bayonet-cap-3?) range, being nominated for an Electrical Product Award for Contribution Towards Energy Saving in the process.

    What’s interesting is that as well as complete BC3 CFLs and BC3 fittings, the BC3 range includes BC3 base units (with the ballast and control electronics in them) into which a four-pin CFL tube can be plugged:

    BC3 lamp unit, from BC3 base unit, from
    Left: A tube unit with four pin connector; Right: A BC3 base unit (including ballast) to allow the tube to be attached. Images from Ethical Products Direct.

    This allows the tube to be replaced independently of the electronics – thus saving resources – but does not appear to be the focus of the BC3 system. (Just a thought: if more new houses were pre-fitted with these base units, or simply standard 2-pin bayonet base units, within the light fittings, so that a householder would simply go out and replace the tube rather than the whole lot, similarly to the linear fluorescent tube suggestion above, would it not have made for a more environmentally friendly solution?)

    Some interesting claims are being made for the BC3 system. Somehow the idea of forcing the householder to buy one particular brand of CFL has been transmuted into a misguided suggestion that the BC3 system actually makes the houses more energy efficient – e.g., from a housing association magazine [PDF] in Wiltshire:

    Residents in some of Westlea’s newer homes will know that we now fit special three-way bayonet lamp fittings as one way to make the property more energy efficient. Although the ‘BC3 eco bulbs’ needed for these lamp fittings are more expensive than ordinary lightbulbs, using them in a ‘standard’ house could save the resident around £100 each year because they use less electricity than ordinary lightbulbs. Some residents have told us they have had difficulty buying the three-pin eco bulbs locally, but we’re pleased to report that the following outlets are able to supply them from £6.35 upwards…

    From £6.35 each is a lot of money. Standard ‘Tesco Value’ 2-pin bayonet CFLs started at 88p each (Tesco, Egham, Surrey) the last time I looked – that’s especially cheap, and they were only 11W, but 15W units are commonly available from about £2 – £3. Searching Froogle shows that BC3 bulbs start from around £10. Even Ethical Products Direct, to whom Eaton MEM’s own website directs visitors wanting to buy BC3 bulbs, charges £9.36 for the cheapest complete BC3 unit.

    This is a lot of money for something which provides the householder with exactly the same function as a standard CFL a quarter the price. (It’s not as if the BC3 bulbs last much longer, for example, or are more efficient. They just have a non-standard fitting and are only supplied by one manufacturer.) In fact, one might suggest that standard CFLs offer the householder more benefit, since they can be swapped around, fitted all over the place, even fitted to replace incandescent filament bulbs in standard fittings, should someone – shock – actually want to choose a CFL without being forced into doing so.

    The housing association quote above demonstrates an important point about the use of BC3s. Many householders’ first encounter with them will be when they notice a CFL going dim or actually failing, or want to increase the light levels in a room, and find that they have to spend much more than they were expecting to spend on a CFL anyway. George’s story demonstrates this well:

    We have recently moved into a new flat which is part of a modern development in London. A few lightbulbs needed replacing when we moved in, so I went out and bought some (they’re all energy-efficient ones so I bought the same to replace them with). But oddly, none of them would fit in the fittings. I was under the impression that there were just Bayonet and Screw Cap fittings? These fittings were bayonet, but needed three, irregularly-spaced pins instead of the standard two.

    I’m no stranger to energy efficiency, and it wouldn’t be so annoying were it not for the fact that the bulb I had bought as a
    replacement was an energy-efficient type anyway, but it seems illogical and a shame that properietary fitting sizes have been introduced into something that has always been so simple – choosing a lightbulb.

    (Equally, there is the problem of actually getting hold of BC3 bulbs. I went to the enormous B & Q in Slough on Sunday and couldn’t see any on the shelves. While the 8,000 hour lifetime may mean that there’s not a massive demand for them yet from the public, ordering online and waiting for delivery is not really a great option when a light bulb fails. It often causes inconvenience, and can be dangerous – until Incluminate‘s a production reality (!), the best option is to keep spare bulbs in the cupboard. But if you don’t realise that you need to keep special BC3 bulbs, and that these aren’t available from every corner shop or even every massive DIY store, this is going to be extremely inconvenient. The BC3 brochure does mention a “householder card… which can be left with the homeowner highlighting the ‘energy saving’ aspects of their new home” but how many people will remember to stock up on BC3 bulbs as a result?)

    Anyway, I think the main issues are:

  • Razor-blade model: monopoly on fitting type means higher prices can be charged for same function, consumers locked in
  • Non-standard fitting likely to cause significant inconvenience to householders
  • But:

  • System does force householders to use ‘energy saving’ bulbs*
  • The BC3 range is also made in the UK, which aside from actually supporting local jobs, means that the units are not transported from China as, say, Tesco Value CFLs are. That saves on transportation energy, at least, and while – looking briefly – I couldn’t find a patent for the BC3 system, I presume Eaton have it protected somehow, otherwise there would surely be cheaper BC3-compatible bulbs available.

    (Another thought is what other proprietary systems – if any – have manufacturers evolved to meet the regulations in part L1? Are there lower-profile rival systems with their own fitting and cap designs? What would the implications be if a particular type were no longer available a few years down the line?)


    Overall, this is a clever commercial attempt to respond to a governmental decision made with environmental protection in mind, and as such probably ought to be filed along with optimum lifetime products as something where the intention is to benefit society as well as benefit the manufacturer, at the expense of additionally inconveniencing the user. I feel focusing on a system of built-in base units, with readily available standard replacement tubes (either CFLs or linear fluorescent format) would have been more user-friendly as well as reducing the amount of electronics needlessly thrown away, but it would not have permitted a razor-blade model to the same extent.

    It will be interesting to see how the BC3 story develops in the years ahead: will they become commonly available, and how high will public awareness be? There will probably be many more similar products and systems in the next few years using technology to enforce government policy, particularly in an environmental context, and the Eaton MEM BC3 will be an important case study.

    *Of course, there’s a lot that ought to be said about the real merits of a large-scale shift to ‘energy saving’ bulbs, particularly in relation to Australia’s decision to phase out incandescent filament bulbs entirely, the European Lamp Companies’ Federation’s focus on the same, Gordon Brown’s announcement on this, and campaigns such as Ban The Bulb.

    As a designer and engineer, I would suggest that in cold climates, 100W from an incandescent filament bulb means simply that 100 joules per second of heat is going into my room (probably wasting another 200 joules per second at the power station, but that’s another matter). Light bulbs do heat our homes. If we lose 80W from the light bulb, the heating will probably get turned up by 80W instead. Better insulation, so that that heat isn’t lost, may well turn out to be just as good, or better, than mass-replacement of thousands of millions of light bulbs with CFLs requiring significantly more resources to manufacture (and dispose of). Those electronics in the base don’t come from nowhere, and are likely to outlast the fluorescent tube: hence why the idea of replaceable tubes is much more sensible than throwing away and replacing the base unit each time as well. But the bandwagon’s set off and with heavyweight government and heavyweight manufacturers on board, it’s got a lot of momentum…