Ancient lights

When we first moved to our new house 3 years ago, we were delighted to find out that a breathtaking view of paddy fields — all green and serene — was awaiting us from the balcony. After the fields were flooded with water to allow for the paddy to be cultivated, sometimes we were lucky to witness the arrival of storks and herons, dainty and proud. On some days, the farmers would bring their buffaloes to work and graze nearby, bold and taciturn. Fast forward to the next two years, a number of new housing developments have started to take place. Our view was replaced by the sight of rigid concrete and protruding steel structures all over the place. While I have known this would happen when we first moved, I didn’t know that it would also break my heart rather tremendously. Alas.

Today I started The BLDG Blog book as my second read of the year (my first was a book called Africa Uprisings, read with a goal to understand the current Sudan protests and as part of Because We’ve Read radical book club). For those who have never heard of it, BLDG blog started out in 2004 by Geoff Manaugh (who is also the author of yet another incredible book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City) as a blog to cover topics on architecture, “in a way that is not academically dry.” From the book:

I’ve often joked that BLDGBLOG is organised around one thing only: the pleasure principle. It’s not theoretically rigorous or disciplinarily loyal or beholden to one particular style even one historical era but that’s the point. To discuss the buildings of Christopher Wren, for instance, in the context of Restoration politics, the very beginnings of the British Empire, the importance of Christianity, the birth of the private patron, and so on, might be academically appropriate and occasionally interesting, but to discuss the architecture of Christopher Wren in the context of overgrown ruins in the Cambodian rain forest, or 21st century psychogeography or early writings of Rem Koolhass — suddenly sounds like quite an exciting conversation. Or discuss Christopher Wren in the context of video games — or spy thrillers, or the undersea fate awaiting London in 3000 years — and see what happens. Suddenly people with no interest in architecture, and certainly no interest in Christopher Wren, can join the conversation.

The reason I started this post by telling a personal story of our ‘robbed’ window views is that in the book, Manaugh tells of a law dubbed as ‘ancient lights‘. In England, there was a Prescription Act of 1832 together with the Rights of Lights Act of 1959 which stated that windows that have had 20 years’ worth of ‘uninterrupted’ daylight cannot be blocked by construction of new buildings, and legal protection is provided for homeowners who have had their rights stripped. The holder of the right is entitled to “sufficient light according to the ordinary notions of mankind”. In many cases, people still allow adjacent buildings to block their natural light, unaware that they have a legal right to it.


… light blocking can be classified as a ‘nuisance’ alongside noise and air pollution and culprits range from large new commercial developments to a neighbour’s building extension or a new garden shed.

Which I absolutely agree, and must find out if we ever have such rights in this country.

If you must read some delightful, different perspectives within the area of architecture and built environments, I highly recommend this book, and the blog both.

Some extra architectural reads from my Instapaper :

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