Dr Tim Shotbolt, Gerard Lighting’s senior lighting designer explains how lighting and lighting technology are important to the design of each and every structure and what role they play in the sustainability of our built environment.

Do architects ackowledge the importance of lighting design and its impact on a structure?

Yes – generally I think architects understand the importance of lighting in design. However, not all projects can afford to provide the freedom of expression and magnificent result that outstanding lighting design can provide.

Lighting is all about attention to detail.  The potential marketing profile of a project will often be an indicator of how much lighting design might influence building design.  The more up-market the potential project, the more likely that lighting, both natural and electric, will be integral aspects of project design from the outset.  A design and construct (D&C) project may produce a different result to a full specification project and different again to a fast-track project.

Incentives can also reduce potential results.  Incentives may include significant bonuses offered to bring contracts in either ahead of schedule, under budget or both.  Electric lighting often is only a tiny percentage of the overall project cost. However, that cost occurs late in the project construction period and may be impacted by other events that have occurred earlier during the construction process.  Government lighting energy incentive schemes and other market certification schemes may also impact the potential future commercial viability of a project and thereby dictate some lighting aspects that are achieved. 

Are lighting and sustainability connected, and how does lighting impact on climate change?

Lighting and sustainability are connected in some ways. 

  1. The obvious response is high-efficiency light sources producing the same quantity of light whilst consuming less energy and thereby reducing power station pollution of the environment and consequent contribution to climate change.  Interestingly, this was thought to be the likely result and therefore a significant factor in the rapid mass conversion of traditional high-pressure sodium and mercury vapour and fluorescent road lighting to LED in America and an action supported by the Department of Energy (DOE).  However, the opposite occurred.  With incentives offered to install any new lighting as LED and convert any existing to LED, power consumption increased instead of decreasing due to the increased amount of lighting.  All too often ‘the cart is put in front of the horse’.  An appropriate appearance and lighting design should be achieved first and then the most energy efficient technology used to produce that result, however, far too often, a project is dictated by the allowable watts/square metre and the lighting is fitted to that energy consumption as best possible – the cart before the horse.
  2. Outstanding projects have lighting that is mostly hidden from direct view, lighting that accentuates the form and texture of the spatial characteristics with only deliberate feature luminaires being directly visible.  The most energy efficient lighting is direct lighting. However, direct lighting is bright and potentially glaring.  Lighting surfaces to reveal form and texture depends on the surface reflectance characteristics and an extreme challenge meeting any watts per square metre (floor area) targets.
  3. Unnecessary light in the outdoor environment at night both pollutes the environment and consumes unnecessary energy.  One of the real benefits of LED is the ability to dim and switch lighting in a manner not previously possible or practical providing the appropriate control system(s) are installed.
  4. Night lighting is for the convenience of the human species, not the natural world on which we rely for our survival.  Controlling unnecessary light at night reduces adverse human impact on the natural environment.  Light at night can interfere with and prevent mating routines, increase predation on species, particularly vulnerable young, entrap insect species and also migrating birds attracted to light, change the natural seasonal change of plant foliage and flowering, prevent the natural pollination of some plant species that normally occurs by insects at night etc.  Interfering with the multitude of interrelated food webs on such a massive scale that can now be seen from photographs taken from space, is shifting the balance of sustainable life at a rapid rate. 

What is one example where lighting has influenced the design of a buildings?

A combination of local climate and naturally available light has influenced building design in every area of the world with traditional buildings in climates such as the United Kingdom, a climate that is quite different to the Mediterranean and different again to the tropics or desert climates.  Where the climate has been reasonably comfortable for human existence, such as in the Mediterranean, Greek architects have designed open structures with classic columns and the columns appear perfectly straight, tapering towards the column capital.  Architects understood visual illusion, that is that straight sides appear to bow inwards, therefore column surfaces are slightly convex so that they appear perfectly straight.

Some modern multistorey high-rise office buildings have stretched floor plates to guarantee a longer facade so that when orientated appropriately, every office is lit with daylight.  Also, horizontal fenestration elements act both as light shelves redirecting sunlight deeper into internal spaces and at the same time as sun shading devices during specific periods of the year and times of day.

Lighting of internal spaces with artificial light sources requires consideration of different aspects such as task functionality, intended ambience, feature element(s), communication and entertainment as well as code compliances. 

Lighting design is an integration of light with specific spectral, intensity and distribution characteristics and interaction with surface reflectance characteristics, colours and textures, arranged in a space to reveal architectural form and shape and enhance the overall human experience. 

Where have building design and lighting provided the best local example of a blend of technology and design?

The best example in Sydney that I know of is Blackmores head office, Warriewood; a sustainable office.  Stretched floor plates and open plan office areas facing large multistorey atrium spaces designed for maximum daylight penetration, minimum sunlight penetration.  All electric lighting is zoned and automatically dimmed in response to available daylight and the whiteness (colour temperature) of the electric light is also programmable and can change from warm in the early morning to cooler white during the daytime and returning to warmer light at night.

What are some of the new lighting technologies and how will they change building design?

More integration of lighting and communication and control into an electronic package rather than being distinct disciplines which will make it both simpler and also far more complex. Voice control and lighting automation based on personal preference is something that may tend to increase in the future.