Architecture affects us in more ways than we can imagine, in terms of our mood, comfort, behavior, and health. Architects strive to achieve a good balance between building materials, finishes, ventilation, and the use of space. But without lighting, how would a person appreciate the design? The relationship between light, space, and human is what defines an architectural experience. Architectural lighting is not a mere accessory to enhance a space, it is a tool to create a magical spatial experience.

Architectural lighting comprises the building’s aesthetic, its functionality to make the space easier to use, and the efficiency of the lighting. The building’s aesthetic includes its exterior as well as interior, highlighting certain elements while hiding the others. The function of the lighting is an important consideration as well as it improves the productivity of people in the space along with uplifting the mood to enhance the activity performed in the space. 

The lighting layout needs to be efficient as well; it should consume less energy, should be economical, and should ensure proper distribution of light throughout the space. 

As expressed by Le Corbusier, “Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.”

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Architectural Lighting_©

Types of lighting 

Architectural lighting includes three types: ambient lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. Ambient lighting refers to warm, soft light generally used to create a safe environment. It is commonly used in living rooms, in parties and social gathering spaces as ambient lighting complements skin tones and uplifts the tone of the space. 

Ambient lighting is usually called background light as it illuminates the entire space uniformly without casting any shadows. Ambient lighting can be achieved using wall or ceiling mounted lights, chandeliers, and pendant lights.

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Ambient lighting_©

Task lighting is applied when bright and concentrated light is required to perform certain activities or tasks, as the name suggests, for example cutting vegetables in the kitchen, shaving, in classrooms, etc. It focuses on specific elements of the space, at the same time, making it easier to see all around. It can be achieved using track lighting, under cabinet lighting, table and floor lamps, and other wall and ceiling-mounted lights.

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Task lighting_©

Accent lighting is a play of light. It is used to highlight certain wall or ceiling textures or valuable items like paintings and sculptures. Accent lighting is mostly achieved through the use of wall-mounted picture lights. It can make a space lively through the play of light and shadow. Dynamic spaces can be created with the use of colored light. This type of lighting is used to stimulate emotions.

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Accent lighting_©

Types of spaces and their lighting requirements

Different buildings require different types and layouts of lighting. The experience of each type of space is also different. Public buildings like libraries, sports arenas, and hospitals require appropriate task lighting with dimming options according to the time of the day. Sporting facilities require task lighting in the form of floodlights so that players and spectators can see. Libraries need to have enough light for readers to read, while hospitals require proper lighting for surgeries and other activities.

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Lighting requirements in a hospital_©

On a different note, office buildings and warehouses have a different outlook. They are more concerned with efficiency and cost, along with energy-saving sustainable lighting. Other spaces such as museums and theatres rely on ambient and accent lighting. They require light to accentuate the appearance of the architectural elements and lavish spaces.

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Lighting in a warehouse_©
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Museum lighting_©

Effect of light on human mood and productivity

The relationship between light, space, and humans is often perceived as complicated. However, it is as simple as it can be. Good, natural light flowing into a well-ventilated space boosts human productivity. Those large glass panes and wide windows are not just pretty installations in a design; they are an inlet of natural light to elevate the room and to create a warm, comfortable environment that enhances creativity and improves mood. A well-lit space affects our psychology as well.

If we habitually stay in a dark, dingy place, we tend to feel depressed and dull. But the moment we step out and face the sun, all our weariness vanishes. Similarly, walking out from a movie theatre into a bright space makes us feel exhilarated and happy. Students love to spend time outside their classrooms, especially in the school grounds, due to the lighting of the space. Being exposed to good lighting also helps us sleep better at night! 

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Dingy office space_©
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Lively space_©

Lighting also makes spaces inviting. Imagine a library with big and heavy wooden bookshelves. You enter one lane to choose a book and soon find yourself suffocated with the weight of the bookcases on your shoulders. This situation can be avoided with the use of appropriate light. Light can enliven spaces and make them feel light and inviting. 

Navigating through space

Humans adapt and react to their surroundings. How does the architecture or design of a space help adapt to space? The answer is simple, through architectural lighting! Lighting serves as a tool to navigate through a space. The intensity of lighting also highlights the priority of elements in a space to view or experience.

Visual experiences

The use of light helps create certain visual experiences. Since vision is the most used sense in architecture, light is used as a medium to appease that sense. Lighting unravels the form, texture, and color of a space to our eyes and mind. Good use of light enhances these elements, whereas bad use of light makes the space look crammed, disorganized, and even shabby.

Lighting can be used to illuminate spatial borders as well. Wall washing draws visual attention to the wall surface making it appear as an architectural element. This technique is used to direct the viewer’s eyes to wall displays and wall textures. 

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wall washing_©

The floor and ceiling can also be illuminated to highlight horizontal lines in the space. This technique is particularly adopted by movie theatres to illuminate objects and pedestrian surfaces. 

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Illuminating objects_©

Architectural examples showcasing the relationship between light, space, and human 

Inspired by a ‘flower of light’, the Bahá’í House of Worship, located in Santiago, Chile, is composed of nine cast-glass petals which utilize the visual impact of glass and light. The petals are interspersed with glass skylights allowing entry of daylight onto translucent white marble surfaces, to illuminate the interiors. The project won the Architectural Lighting Magazine’s Design Award for Outstanding Achievement, Whole Building in 2017. 

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Bahai House of Worship_©
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Bahai House of Worship_©

Another prominent example of utilizing light is the Saks Fifth Avenue at Brookfield Place, New York City. The use of light in this retail space creates a light, airy and sophisticated appearance. The soft light makes the space look very clean and elegant while highlighting the luxury products on display.

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Saks Fifth Avenue_©
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Saks Fifth Avenue_©



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