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Lighting – 3 Fundamental Aspects of Light and How to Layer Light

Light is a useful and powerful tool to alter our emotions and perception of the world surrounding us.

  • If we want to change the mood of the space – change the Lighting!
  • To change the scale of space – change Lighting!
  • Change the color of the space – change the Lighting!

Three basic properties of light are

  • Intensity
  • Color
  • Texture

1. Light Intensity


Low light levels tend to be more calm, relaxed, intimate, and create personal environments, whereas high light levels tend to be more public, active, and kinetic.

2. Light Color


Lighting sources exhibit various color temperatures, warm or cool, or neutral.

  • Warm lighting colors – Yellows, reds, oranges
    • These tend to exhibit calm, relaxation, and a slower pace of action.
  • Cool colors – Blues and Greens
    • Tend to exhibit activity and alertness.

3. Light Texture


Textures are one of the important factors in designing/making lighting decisions. Textures have a dramatic effect on the spaces we create.

  • Diffuse Light
  • Directional Light
Diffuse and Directional Light 1 Diffuse light left reduces shadows and encourages 1
Diffuse and Directional Light (1) Diffuse light (left) reduces shadows and encourages long-term visual comfort. (2) Directional light (right) creates visual interest due to the creation of contrast in the space. (Russell, 2012, p. 24)

Diffuse Light:

Diffuse Light leaves a source equally at all angles, and, as such, reflects off that leaves a source equally at all angles and, as such, reflects off of the surfaces of an environment at all angles.

The light tends to be even light, leaving no sharp shadows. We use soft, diffuse light to create comfortable and intimate environments.

  • Examples of diffused lighting fixtures:
    • Incandescent globes and florescent tubes,decorative pendants and scones.

Directional Light:

Directional light is light from a source that pushes it in a single direction. It is delivered in a shape with a distinct direction. It creates distinct shadows between light and dark, and also a strong contrast to show the material texture.

  • Examples of directional lighting fixtures:
    • Lamps and luminaries

Directional light adds visual interest to the object placed below, brightening the objects and darkening the surrounding surfaces. Directional light sources are used to highlight any artwork, an object, or any architectural feature in the design.

Materials like metal and glass glow and shine with sparkles under these light sources.

Thus to create relaxed calm and soothing environments – Implement low light levels, Warmer light colors, and more diffuse sources.

To design more active and productive spaces, apply higher light levels, cooler light, and more directional sources.

  • The most important factor for effective lighting design is the focus on where light is delivered.
  • Relationship between human color and vision:
    • Adaptation : Adapting to bright or dark situations.
    • Brightness : Contrast between surfaces and their surroundings.
    • Phototropism : Attraction to lighted surfaces and objects.
    • Vertical Vision : Tendency to look around us rather than above or below.

Adding Light in Layers

Lighting can make or break the functionality of a space. A good understanding of how to layer the light is necessary for the design to create a functional and aesthetic lighting design. We have to visualize how lighting can change the effect of space and the mood of the user.

1. Lighting to direct movement and experience

Using light to create goals, paths, and destinations to encourage flow and movement.Encouraging users to flow through space and interact in a specific order.

To use a simple method that humans are instinctively drawn to bright surfaces and objects.By using a single lighted source to attract the attention of the viewers.

  • For example :
    • Placing light directly on an object or in an area.
    • Light the coffee table at a gathering space

Wall surfaces, furniture, partitions, and art features are the most effective surfaces to draw attention toward them.

2. Lighting to Define Mood and Ambience

Application of light to alter the mood and emotional state of the user. This can be achieved by putting together the fundamental properties of light – Intensity, Color, and Texture.

3. Lighting to Accent Objects

Applying light to interesting objects and surfaces like art, artifacts, etc., to get even more noticeable. Using proper intensities, colors, textures, and materials and combining them to create appropriate light for articulating any surface.

  • For example :
    • By creating different shapes of light on the objects.
    • Using directional light at steeper angles to highlight textures and diffuse light to conceal textures.
    • Adding decorative light sources such as pendants, and wall sconces to create focal points.
    • Placement of lights at proper heights and angles.

4. Lighting to Reveal Architecture

To accentuate and articulate various architectural forms and details.

  • Defining spatial character – how the space should be felt – tall and expansive/confining and intimate/wide and sweeping, etc.
    • Using light sources to enhance that effect.
    • wash light onto ceilings to define the height of a space.
    • Light the walls to reveal boundaries and use different shapes of light.
  • Lighting architectural features such as columns and soffits help to identify the structure.
  • It adds depth and dimension to a space.

5. Lighting for Tasks

Applying light for various specific performing tasks such as reading.

Two Unique Properties of Light

  • Color Rendering Index
  • Color Temperature

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