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The wonder of light
Daniela Viloria
3rd January 2018

Nearly 150 years after the invention of the incandescent light bulb, architects, urban planners and placemakers are increasingly embracing the opportunities light offers their projects.

They value its capacity to fill spaces with spirit, enhance architecture and display magical effects that work as the emotional link between the user and the space.

However, due to its intangible nature, light can still be a mysterious and complex design element. Its mastery requires a very high level of abstraction, a basic understanding of the physical principles described by Newton, Maxwell and Faraday, an ongoing awareness of the most innovative technological topics, but above all, a meaningful approach to make its role relevant.

Light as a design element is elusive and capricious - the less you see its source, the more powerful its presence becomes. It impregnates surfaces, enhances textures, unfolds volumes, displays perspectives, and even announces the passing of time (but without the unfriendly ticking of the clock). The light, when manipulated with respect and reverence, overwhelms the soul and induces states of awe because its message is driven to the most primitive part of our brains, so no one can escape from its effects.

Chelsea Creek bridge, designed by Broadway Malyan

Fortunately, every day more and more colleagues around the world are integrating a lighting specialist into their projects from the preliminary stages, in order to bring the desired je ne sais quoi to a project that can often be lost as lighting becomes a complex variable too far in the design process.

However, the exponential evolution that the lighting industry is going through suggests that in the next 10 years we will see more changes than in the last 60, and for us lighting designers, the transformational potential for every project we undertake is immeasurable.

Lighting design is much more than typologies of luminaries and watts. It is an exciting world that is just beginning to unfold its full potential, but requires critical thinking and continuous specialized training. The enhancement of this complementary discipline will be at the forefront of architecture in the coming years and a fundamental aspect of the projects that stand out from the crowd.

Thinking Differently About Light

Night Identity

We spend many hours designing buildings that we visualize in our minds by day but often overlook how they will appear at night - even though it is perceived from a much greater distance, regardless of whether the lighting is good or bad. Reflecting on the night-time identity of a project should never be an after-thought - our cities are already saturated with unpleasant glares and invasive luminous advertising so it is not just about being seen, but about transmitting the right message that tells the desired story when the sun goes down. It is a concept that is already fundamental to many operators in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors, whose volume of night business operations are growing in cities that no longer sleep.

Human Centric Lighting

It may be a mystery to most but the concept of the circadian rhythm, or the biological clock as it is more commonly known, is a big part of the lighting designer’s approach to a project.

Medical research around this issue is going at full speed and there is no doubt that it will change our relationship with light as we discover more about how the amount and type of light we receive every hour has a direct impact on the triggers for a series of vital physiological processes such as sleep regulation, hormone release, eating behavior and even blood pressure and body temperature. It is such an important topic that this year the Nobel Prize of Medicine 2017 has been awarded to the American scientists Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young for their discovery of this biological process. Once the effects have been quantified, the reassessment of artificial lighting will be rapid and mandatory and all architects must be prepared!

Media Environments

The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, augmented reality... Millennials are driving us to a future that we can barely imagine! All these developments present real challenges in terms of integrating technology into our environments without diminishing architectural values and it is close collaboration that will deliver a project that meets the brief, retains its architectural integrity and embraces all the opportunities offered by this burgeoning technology. Not everything that emits light is lighting, with fixtures being promoted to channel a wide range of digital functions that do not necessarily benefit the space experience. Designers must approach with caution as we integrate these new toys but the results could be spectacular.

Exterior façade of large retail unit at Fan Mallorca in Spain, part of a major extension project by Broadway Malyan.