The importance of beautiful lighting

Several individuals standing in a spacious room with wooden floors

Lighting design is a relatively new profession that needs to be more understood. Its impact on the built environment and landscape can be huge, with high-level effects on the economy, sociology, ecology, and biology. 

It is often overlooked versus other long-established disciplines like architecture, MEP engineering, landscaping, and interiors, and not always thought of as a separate entity on projects, until it is too late. 

In light of this, it is the role of a specialist lighting designer to demonstrate to and educate the client and broader design team about the positive and negative effects of lighting design. This involves amalgamating years of design experience with knowledge of the latest building techniques, materials, design processes from various fields, and lighting technologies, all within the constraints of mandatory regulations and best practice guides. 

Perceived 'good' lighting design 

Lighting design has always existed; architects design minimalist lighting not to interfere with their purest architecture; electricians implement lighting to meet guidance, installation, and budget requirements; and product manufacturers design their own select range of products.

To achieve 'good' lighting design there cannot be any one pre-requisite, but a perfect balance of all the requirements presented for each project. There is no formulaic solution for good lighting design. Various regulations and guidance might promote a one-size-fits-all design, but they are just a starting point and are there to be challenged. A clear understanding of the project's brief, aspirations, users, and constraints, in a hierarchical order is required to form a uniquely tailored design. 

Once the technical fundamentals have been established and the functionality of "good lighting design" is understood for the particular project, the challenge is then to design beautiful lighting that can engage and trigger an emotional spark. 

Every living organism is affected by natural or artificial lighting differently: flora is drawn towards sunlight and harnesses the energy to photosynthesize; fauna can be negatively impacted by artificial lighting; while people experience both positive and negative aspects of natural and artificial lighting.  

In some instances, the absence of light or the creation of contrast and shadows can be considered good lighting design. 

Fundamentally, good lighting design achieves what is required by the end user, or, to use a common phrase, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder".

Large orange star shaped art installation in a high ceiling building

One of Henry's projects, Wonderlab at the National Railway Museum

© Drew Forsyth, National Railway Museum

So why is lighting important? 

  • Beautifully designed architecture without lighting cannot be seen. 

  • Beautifully designed architecture with bad lighting can be seen, but with negative influence.  

  • Beautifully designed architecture with designed lighting can be seen, but purely in function and form. 

  • Beautifully designed architecture with beautifully designed lighting can create an emotional connection. The curated lit effects enhance the users' experience and understanding of their built environment, orchestrating more than just a visual link.