The art of lighting design

Lighting design is at once a guiding principle of architecture and an art form. As Le Corbusier once famously stated, “Light is the fundamental basis of architecture”.

It allows us to see and appreciate the beauty in the buildings around us, and plays a vital role in the way we experience and understand space. As it guides our attention towards textures, colours and forms – it has the potential to completely transform a space visually, as well as leaving a lasting emotional impact.

Its usage within architecture cannot be underestimated.

Lighting is an essential design element

According to Andrew Bissell, Lighting Director at Cundall, lighting design should be involved from the very outset of any project. Every detail from where a building site is located, its orientation and the daylight exposure it receives, to window placement, the balance of thermal heating and the use of glazing can influence building comfort.

“It’s about how light enters a space – thinking about all the rooms, not just basing it on digital models and numbers but also lighting patterns and ensuring light is distributed evenly in every space.”

Daylight Needs in Lighting Design Andrew Bissell discusses biological and activity needs for lighting

There is no substitute for daylight

A lot of new lighting technology has been designed to replicate daylight, but it offers no real benefit. As much as circadian lighting and other artificial lighting claims to mimic daylight. It has a very limited spectrum and lacks the naturally occurring colours vital for proper visual performance, and the regulation of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain.

That being said, adequate levels of daylight throughout the day are not always possible due to the ever-changing position of the sun, window orientation and other factors.

Layouts need to be designed to balance artificial and daylight, taking into consideration façade reflection, the sun’s movement, glare, shading, light intensity and automation. This ensures spaces are evenly lit, there is good patternation, and external and internal elements work together.

Focussed lighting
Focussed lighting for main area of bar activity
Outside views
Façade windows to provide a connection to outside
Bulk lighting
Flat roof windows used as an energy-efficient way to provide bulk of lighting
Highlight activity
Pockets of focussed lighting to highlight table activity
Supplementary lighting
Down lights to supplement daylight when needed
Glare
Predominantly white interior to brighten space with no direct light source to cause glare
Focussed lighting
Focussed lighting for main area of bar activity
Outside views
Façade windows to provide a connection to outside
Bulk lighting
Flat roof windows used as an energy-efficient way to provide bulk of lighting
Highlight activity
Pockets of focussed lighting to highlight table activity
Supplementary lighting
Down lights to supplement daylight when needed
Glare
Predominantly white interior to brighten space with no direct light source to cause glare

Understanding the importance of lighting

Architect and pioneer of architectural lighting, William Lam championed the inclusion of lighting at the start of the design process, and the integration of lighting, daylighting, and building systems long before such an approach was the norm.

“Light has always been recognised as one of the most powerful form-givers available to the designer… Great architects have always understood its importance as the principal medium which puts man in touch with his environment.”

He truly understood the value of light in architecture, encouraging architects to take responsibility for lighting design, study its function and create wonderful spaces with daylight.

 

Image: Guggenheim Bilboa Museum

When it comes to museums, lighting is needed to brighten spaces, however, it must be designed in such a way that is does not come in direct contact with and fade artwork. When Frank Gehry and the Lam Partners teamed up to design the Guggenheim Bilboa Museum’s innovative lighting, it combined a unique and inspiring balance of white interiors, high ceilings and indirect daylight.

Activity versus biological needs

William Lam believed lighting design should answer two fundamental sets of needs – activity and biological needs.

“Activity needs” are concerned with providing an optimum visual environment in which to perform a defined activity. They are based on an occupant’s conscious involvement with a space – be it work, learn or simply moving through the space.

“Biological needs” are based on an occupant’s subconscious requirements. They are concerned with providing a comfortable, welcoming and appealing visual environment. Lam believed these to be the most important.

Defining the needs of a space

The lighting requirements in any given space are defined by the biological and activity needs of the occupants of that space. A holistic lighting strategy should take the type of building, immediate space, function, visual appeal and required impact on occupants all into consideration.

For example, activities in classrooms, offices and studios benefit from a good amount of focussed light without too much contrast for visual comfort. At the same time, ensuring adequate daylight is also essential, with several global studies showing it has a positive impact on productivity, learning and overall health.

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