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Light as a Narrative Tool

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Technological advent has brought in the aspect of artificial light in our daily lives. The urban centers of the world catering to developed sensibilities demand the use of light in various roles. The planned architectural lightingis an area that addresses one such aspect of lighting design, explains Kapil B. Sinai Surlakar, Director of Design at Light@Work Design Consultants Pvt. Ltd.



The day and night are characterized by the presence or absence of light. The journey of bridging the gap between the two began with the discovery of fire, or more importantly the ability of the humans to control the fire as per their needs. This ability to control fire defined the evolution of mankind from the the lower Paleolithic ages and influenced the cultural development of the human race.

A most common question asked is if we provide lighting calculations. Lighting levels, one must understand, are a guideline and are more critical in a task oriented environment like a factory shop floor, office desks where a lot of paperwork is done or in an Operation Theatre where high degree of visual precision is demanded.

Daylight & Artificial Light

Daylight acts as a melatonin suppressant and governs our sleep cycles and circadian rhythms. This obviously points to the fact that harnessing it in the right manner in the built environment must be a
conscious and informed decision. Integration of daylight design and making maximum use of this natural resource is beneficial economically and in terms of wellbeing. Depending on the geographical coordinates of the planned intervention with daylight in architecture, the design considerations would change and have to be carefully weighed for deriving optimum benefits.

Artificial Lighting kicks in when the daylight ceases. It is a design segment which needs a good knowledge of the lighting technologies, constant professional development, a strong understanding of the building design philosophies and a seamless integration of technology and architecture to deliver the design intent. It also requires an ability to visualize and convey to the end user, how lighting can create the desired perception of the space to deliver the desired functional and aesthetic quality. Architectural lighting should always respond to the architectural language and never forget that the designs should be in sync with the human emotions and comfort desired in any given application.

The architectural lighting design and rendition for an institutional building, a religious building or an entertainment building, a public utility building, an entertainment park would vary. An in sync, architectural lighting designer considers the functional, cultural, inspirational, emotional and spatial criteria of the space under evaluation, to propose an appropriate design response that would wholesomely deliver on all design aspects.

Architectural lighting has the power to influence people and lifestyles and can be exhibited at a micro level in small intimate spaces such as residences or restaurants, and at a macro level such as at urban design level lighting interventions and city lighting master plans.

Lighting a City

Globally, there are cities with lighting master plans to create well lit environments and provide safety. Some cities are lit with an intention to highlight its architectural heritage, with a view on generating revenue with night time tourism. A lighting master plan deals with solutions at a macro level and works in conjunction with other planning faculties like traffic management, urban & landscape design and administration. It responds to the aspirations of the city inhabitants and delivers wholesome solution that highlights important landmarks, facilitates safe pedestrian and vehicular movement and define activity spaces, whilst taking the green approach in power management, light pollution and waste. The Indian cities are far away from such thoughts, and today the largest intervention that all governing councils seem to be taking is to convert and adapt all lighting to LED technology, without any design intent and with a blanket decision to save power, sometimes wrongly so. Therefore architectural lighting design goes beyond the basics of providing light where there is darkness.

A specialized design stream

Architectural lighting design is often misunderstood and generically called lighting design. There are various aspects of lighting design and there are different professionals who specialize in these facets of design. We have lighting designers for theatre and stage, product designers who design luminaires, light artists who design light art, lighting enthusiasts and lighting vendors, who by their association with light can offer lighting solutions. However, more often than not, clients, for lack of understanding what an architectural lighting designer does, expect a one stop solution for all the lighting related issues on a project.

An architectural lighting designer is aware of the effects of light on human physiology and its manifestations on the human psychology resulting in a huge influence on the visual and emotional perception of space. The right amount and quality of light can be a key determinant to how an architectural space is rendered and presented.

Architectural lighting design deals with the quantitative and qualitative aspect of light. Lighting levels are not absolute but relative when one perceives a space. It is important for every designer to start to feel and visually gauge the light levels, the
best desired lighting as well as visual comfort levels without resorting to a Lux meter. It is the sensitivity of the designer depending on the material, colour and texture that define a space. The same amount of lumen output from a light source will provide varied illuminance readings in a room painted white and a room painted in a darker color. Besides this quantitative aspect of lighting, different light sources have different characteristics and spectral compositions which define the color temperature or color of light as well as the ability of the light to render and present the color information of the objects, called the CRI or the color rendering Index of a light source.

Lighting Technologies

Characteristics or parameters of lamp technologies that would influence the appropriate selection would be lamp life, correlated color temperature (CCT), color rendition index (CRI), lumen output, heat, physical size, lamp base , operating temperatures and its ability to perform in conjunction with the optical systems of luminaires. Presently, lighting technology is dominated by the Light Emitting Diode (LED),which has progressed well, but is yet to reach stability in terms of its quality
& quantity of output and life cycle expectancy. Life of an LED system depends on its heat dissipation system. However, one must understand that life cycles do not mean only the lamp burning out but also refers to color shift and lumen depreciation. Color shift and lumen depreciation are very serious anomalies, which must be factored into the design and the client made aware, as these are factors which affect the system costs. Replacements for failures of LEDS are very high as compared to conventional lamp technologies which most of the project managers fail to factor in. This is compounded by the fact that there are various low priced options available in the market and when only the price point is the basis of decisions on the purchase of lamps/ LED integrated luminaires, without asserting the quality of the other important parameters of performance mentioned earlier, the result more often than not reflects the misinformed decision.

Going Forward

India is awakening to lighting as an important aspect of design though, the sector is still mostly unorganized and growing without a proper direction. The lighting manufacturing companies and established vendors largely influence the decisions and provide selective information as befits them. It is important that the design fraternity of architects, interior designers, landscape designers, urban designers etc. educate the clients and end users towards the rightful decision. Architectural lighting goes beyond technology and numbers. It deals with physiological influences on humans and requires educated lighting interventions and human factor to be taken into account before going into numbers and calculations, which are merely guiding factors to achieve the desired end.


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