The Importance of Architectural Lighting

We’d like to thank Lisa Wetherell for contributing todays article. For more about Lisa, read her bio below.

The materials and tools we use in today’s architecture are a lot more advanced than what we had a few decades ago. It’s easier to create the project of a building and, the assistance of computerized technology lets you consider a wider range of aspects.

We think this is one of the reasons why more designers and architects present a stronger interest in selecting the right type of lightning. Nowadays, it’s a lot easier to imagine how the presence or absence of light would impact the overall design and feel of a room.

Specialists are also more aware of the three factors that bring lighting into focus: the health of people living in the building/using the room, the effect on the human psyche, and overall energy consumption. Let’s have a look at each of these factors and discuss the impact of architectural lighting in our lives.

Lighting Effect on Occupants’ Well-Being

Given that we build structures with the ultimate purpose of inhabiting them, it’s only natural to want to consider people’s health when designing the project. As it turns out, lighting (natural or artificial) has a huge impact on our everyday life.

For instance, the position of an artificial light source can have an impact on the health of our eyes. Also, they type of artificial light we use can affect our complexion, the way we sleep, and the way our brain processes 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 a lot more attention to this aspect.

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Lighting and the Human Psyche

The intensity, color, and even type of light have a powerful influence on how we think and feel. But our mental health is also influenced by the amount of natural light we get exposed to. This is why we tend to feel sad and blue when it’s less natural light outside (usually during winter).   

As an architect, it’s important to keep these aspects in mind when designing buildings for office or for residential purposes.

Architectural Lighting & Energy Consumption

Energy consumption is another important factor that influences the shape of your final project. While we all enjoy well-lit spaces, the energy costs are on the rise these days. Not to mention that we also have to consider the environmental aspect of creating more energy.

Nowadays we need buildings that have a smaller footprint on the environment, which is why so many architects consider alternative resources (such as solar). However, you can also show care for the environment by integrating smart lighting solutions, dimmers, and reducing 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.

Architectural Lighting & Feelings

Light influences 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 the lighting makes the first visual impact.

Whether it’s artificial or natural, light can be used to direct a viewer’s attention towards certain areas and enlist a wide array of feeling before any other elements do. Thus, we can consider light as the main element that supports architecture.

If you take a look at the grand designs of history, all the architect geniuses we know used architecture and light together.

Let’s 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 masterful use of light!

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How to Effectively Combine Light and Architecture

Richard Kelly, one of the pioneers of architectural lighting design, esteemed architect and Yale University School of Architecture alumnus, identified three elemental kinds of lights.

These are:

  • Focal Glow (nowadays called task lighting) – This is the type of light designers use 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.
  • Ambient luminescence – Mostly used to provide light to the entire space and make the occupants feel safe, this is the ambient light. It should be uniform and it’s best if you don’t see the source.
  • Play of brilliants (or, as designers know it today, accent lighting) – Used to stimulate the body and spirit, this type of lighting is the one to create emotions and drive action.


While Richard Kelly, named these three elements in his lecture in 1952, 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.

How to Influence a Space through Light

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.

Wrap Up

Put in short, architectural lighting is an important element that can make a huge difference for 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!

Author Bio: Lisa Wetherell runs the blog Lighting House – where she writes about her knowledge gained from 10 years of industry experience in the lighting and interior design field. To learn more about how lighting can improve your space, you can follow her blog.


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