The importance of artificial light in architectural design

By 6 July, 2018 No Comments

Lighting has always been a fundamental element in the conception of architectural spaces, for it is capable of playing with volumes, distorting the perception of space and even dramatizing the shapes and textures of the materials, enhancing their aesthetic features dramatically. But light does not only play a major role at a decorative level. The quality of illumination makes all the difference when it comes to the comfort -even the health- of those who experience living in these spaces.
Although this is common knowledge in the world of architectural design, it is usually only applied to the use of natural light. But, what about artificial light? Whether it is simply to replace natural light as night falls, or to bring light to areas where natural light does not reach, artificial lighting is an absolute necessity. Moreover, it has ceased to be a simple method of basic lighting and has become one of the fundamental pillars of interior and exterior design. We have come a long way since the first lightbulb, and, as Jorge Leirana -CEO of Schréder-, says “[…] light is the element that has gained the most importance during this century. Immaterialism has become more important than the rest of the shapes and materials, as using it can enhance any project, either interior or exterior.” So, given the importance of artificial lighting, why is it rarely included during the design stages of architectural projects?
In most cases, the project includes artificial lighting only after the final architectural design has been completed. This is because, all too often, this aspect is only considered on a technical level; it is reduced to the choice of certain luminaires, without taking into account the added value of well-designed lighting fully integrated in the project. Although this may not be a problem in relation with complying with standards for the level of light required, it often means that the design is far from being completely integrated with the architectural project.

However, there are many interior and exterior project designs that have managed to incorporate the use of artificial lighting from the beginning. In these cases, the planners have taken into account three basic aspects. First of all, the aesthetic quality of the design -its sculptural and chromatic value-, which will depend on the type of project, as well as their design preferences. Second, technical aspects, such as complying with legislation with regards to light levels for interior spaces, pedestrian routes on the exterior and energy efficiency. And finally, the consumers well-being and enjoyment, which entails aspects beyond those required by technical regulations, and which can convert a mediocre space into a more attractive one.

Artificial light has the capacity to create a number of different ambiences in the same space making it a sort of “space shaper”, adapting the atmosphere according to the consumers’ needs. The use of warm lighting can produce cozy and calm atmospheres, whereas cold light stimulates mental and physical activity. So, it is clear that the lighting requirements for a living room, for example, are not the same as those needed for in an operating room. Whereas dim lighting generates a relaxing ambiance in spaces created for this purpose, this same lighting could affect vision and cause health problems if it is used in working environments.
As we have seen, the quality and intensity of light is an important aspect to be considered as it greatly affects the users’ living experience, just as important, in fact, as the overall dimensions, the distribution of the space or the construction materials used. Indeed, it can be considered even more important, as it affects our perception of all of these aspects, to the point where it transforms their appearance.
In the words of Luis Latrás -CEO of Arkoslight-, “Lighting is of vital importance when creating an architectural project. […] It is also an element with the capacity to transform spaces, with an ability to communicate, and the capability to modify the subtle messages a space transmits to those living there.” It is, therefore, no wonder that lighting is considered to be the “fourth dimension” in architecture.
To include the lighting project from the conception of the architectural idea is the best way to avoid later lighting deficiencies, which are usually generated by a lack of planning and the awareness of its importance during the architectural design. The commonly held idea that the design of the artificial lighting project belongs to the executive phase often entails major shortcomings with regards to the final result and may not ensure adequate lighting conditions.
The design of artificial lighting is not just about placing light sources on a floor plan, nor is it about choosing luminaires from a catalogue. It is about understanding that artificial lighting is a valuable design tool with which to create different atmospheres; stimulating, soothing, warm…  It is all about building using light.

Written by: Lola Cuenca Fenton
Architect and Lighting Specialist

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