As architects and designers, we are tasked with creating functional spaces. The primary focus is on the tangible, built form of walls, floors, and enclosures. This is a necessary beginning, but much more can be incorporated into the design of the space. Lighting is an important element in design, not only from a functional point of view, but also from an experiential perspective. The same space can be perceived in many different ways, simply by using lighting to change the perception of the static built environment.
As a stage performer (and an architect), I have the opportunity to witness the affects of various lighting techniques in the theater. The dramatic changes that can be made to a simple stage space using different colors, different focus, and different amounts of light can be a source of inspiration for the way we light our everyday spaces.
The use of “luminous ceilings” and the high level of general lighting that has been prevalent in office design can have a numbing, uninspiring effect on the users of the space. Simply providing some variety, such as the use of lower ambient lighting combined with task lighting at work spaces and accent lighting in the common areas, can help make the space more interesting and keep users energized.
The combination of new energy use codes and new types of light sources has given architects a wider variety of options to use in lighting spaces. Smaller, more efficient luminaires combined with new fixture designs to house them provide a better quality of light in the space, as well as visual interest in the lighting instruments themselves. The ability to precisely control the output of light sources and to change the intensity and color provides the opportunity to create stage-set lighting effects in the everyday world. Putting the right amount of light in the right location also helps to make spaces more functional as a result of bringing focus to the area desired without distraction from surrounding areas. For example, using special highlighting in a museum gallery to accent a particular exhibit helps to make it a destination as visitors are approaching the space through a background lit corridor. Lighting controls can also aid in varying the lighting schemes, as it is possible to create and store different scenes , making it easier to adjust the entire lighting palette, much as it is done in the theater.
James Knost is an Architect at Heath Design Group, Inc. James is also an avid runner and a long time stage performer.