The Importance of Architectural Lighting

What Is Architectural Lighting Design?

Architectural lighting design is the process of determining how light, in its various forms, will affect the overall look and feel of an indoor or outdoor space. Whether working with natural light (the sun), electric lighting or both, specialists have proven that lighting and/or a lack of it can impact people in unexpected ways.

It’s likely that designers and architects are showing more interest in the affects of lighting because they now have access to advanced technology. This technology better allows them to imagine how the presence or absence of light will impact the overall design and feel of a room. For example, if the design calls for a light, airy feel, using computer programs, architects can test the use of skylights or larger windows and actually see which gives the results they want.

This is a fantastic development because we’ve become aware that light is important to our well-being. There are 3 specific areas of focus to consider.

How Artificial and Natural Lighting Affect Mood, Perception & Environment

  • Use of Artificial Light in Architectural Design

    When incorporating artificial light into a design, the intensity, color, placement and even type of light have a powerful influence on how we think and feel. That’s why it is important to carefully consider each of these aspects in the home or office design process.

    Poorly placed artificial light can cause eye strain and poor eye health. And, you might be surprised to know that some types of artificial light can affect our complexion, the way we sleep and even the way our brains process new information.

    Even more, there are studies that prove that offices with good lighting help employees stay productive for longer periods of time. Also, well-lit spaces are more attractive, which is why commercial spaces pay particular attention to this aspect.

  • Use of Natural Light in Architectural Design

    When it comes to natural light, our mental health is influenced by the amount of natural light we are exposed to. This is why many people tend to feel sad and blue when there is less natural light outside (usually during winter).

    Forethought in the placement of windows, skylights and other sources of natural light can help provide that essential dose of sunlight, even in less sunny seasons.

  • Lighting and Perception

    Both artificial and natural light influence the way we perceive volume and depth, which is why a well-lit room may seem more spacious than it actually is. Of course, other factors play a hand in creating the illusion (such as interior design and furniture arrangements), but lighting makes the first visual impact.

    Light can be used to direct a viewer’s attention towards certain areas of a room and evoke a wide array of feelings, playing off other elements to stimulate or calm. Thus, we can consider light as the main element that supports architecture.


    While we all enjoy well-lit spaces, energy costs are on the rise and environmental concerns are driving a move toward energy conservation. So, when incorporating lighting into residential home design or corporate or industrial buildings, energy is an important factor to consider.

    Many architects consider alternative energy resources (such as solar) to help reduce a building’s footprint on the environment. However, you can also show care for the environment by integrating smart lighting solutions, like dimmers, to reduce the amount of wasted light.

    A good way to create a breathtaking lighting layout that is also energy efficient is to use LED bulbs instead of fluorescent light. The LED technology is more environmentally friendly and energy effective due to the directional nature of the lighting technology.

3 Main Types of Lighting an Architect or Designer Should Know

  1. Focal Glow or Task Lighting is the type of light used to draw attention and direct the viewer, making certain objects/areas easier to see. It is bright and focused, and it’s used in both commercial and residential structures.
  2. Ambient Luminescence is mostly used to provide light to an entire space and make the occupants feel safe. It should be uniform and it’s best if you don’t see the source.
  3. Play of Brilliants or Accent Lighting is used to stimulate the body and spirit. The purpose of accent lighting is to create emotions and drive action.

Richard Kelly, one of the pioneers of architectural lighting design, esteemed architect and Yale University School of Architecture alumnus, identified these three elements back in 1952. Today, architects and designers still base their projects on them. His discovery marked a monumental change in the way we perceive lighting, which is why he is still one of the most influential people in the niche.

But he didn’t stop here! His work allowed him to observe the way light affects human behavior and feelings, showing that architecture and lighting have a strong impact on each other.

Even before Richard Kelly’s time, though, architect geniuses used light in breathtaking ways in their works. Take Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia as an example. While the structure is impressive in its size and shape, the moment you step inside you are mesmerized by the way light plays with the materials and colors on the walls and columns. The grandeur of this architectural monument is blown out of proportions by a masterful use of light!

HOW TO Incorporate Light in Architecture

Architects have a bunch of tricks up their sleeves when it comes to delimiting spaces or creating emotions. For instance, when used cleverly, glass can have a huge influence on how light enters a building.

Let’s go back to our previous example (Sagrada Familia) – that building has huge painted windows that allow the light to enter in a wide range of colors. Each window is designed to direct light towards a certain architectural element, thus highlighting its beauty and creating a wonderful game of colors.

Another way to use light is by combining it with reflective surfaces (walls or floors). For instance, light that goes through walls and reflects on the floor can add depth and space to a room that’s not that big or bright.

Furthermore, light can be directed through a building using an array of reflective surfaces positioned in different angles. Something similar to the way you see actors using mirrors to direct light through a dark tomb in movies. Architects and designers use sliding panels and angled skylights to achieve a similar effect using natural light.

In short, architectural lighting is an important element that can make a huge difference in the way a building is perceived. Whether you’re designing a commercial gallery or a home, light plays a crucial role in the way people will feel the moment they step inside! At Stillwater Architecture, we take every detail into account, lighting included, to bring your home design vision to life. Contact us when you’re ready to build your dream home.

Author Bio: Lisa Wetherell has 10 years of industry experience in the lighting and interior design field. She also ran the blog, Lighting House, where she shared her knowledge on the topic of incorporating lighting into design.