Lighting Concepts: Mastering the art of illumination

lighting concept

The allure of any architectural space owes significantly to the often unsung hero – lighting. From creating a warm and welcoming ambiance in homes to projecting power and sophistication in commercial structures, lighting plays an indispensable role in shaping our perception of architectural designs.

It’s much more than mere illumination; it’s a profound element that breathes life into spaces, highlighting textures, colors, and forms while influencing mood, performance, and wellbeing.

To comprehend the significance of lighting, we need to appreciate its relationship with space and human perception. Light brings out the volume, proportion, and aesthetics of a space. Its interplay with surfaces and textures can either make a room seem spacious and inviting or small and stifling.

Simultaneously, it affects human perception, experience, and behavior within these spaces. For example, a well-lit office can enhance productivity, while dimmed, warm lights can evoke a sense of calm and relaxation in a residential setting. Therefore, architects employ lighting strategically to manipulate space, direct attention, and create desired atmospheric effects.

This article will delve deeper into lighting concepts, examining its scientific principles, the techniques to maximize natural light, and the technological innovations driving artificial lighting.

What are lighting concepts?

Lighting concepts refer to the different strategies and principles applied in lighting design to create the desired effect in a given space. These concepts help in determining how to effectively illuminate a space while balancing functionality, aesthetics, energy efficiency, and user comfort. Here are several key lighting concepts:

  1. Task Lighting: This concept focuses on providing light for specific tasks, like reading, cooking, or studying. Task lighting should be bright enough to prevent eye strain but carefully positioned to avoid casting shadows on the task area.
  2. Ambient or General Lighting: This is the main source of light in a room, either natural or from a central fixture. It provides uniform illumination throughout the space, ensuring sufficient light for movement and general visibility.
  3. Accent Lighting: Accent or feature lighting is used to highlight specific areas or objects like artwork, architectural features, or display items. It often employs fixtures like spotlights or wall lights.
  4. Mood Lighting: This concept uses lighting to create a certain ambiance or mood in a space. It can involve the use of colored lights, dimmers, or various lighting fixtures.
  5. Direct and Indirect Lighting: Direct lighting illuminates a specific area or object without any diffusion or reflection, whereas indirect lighting reflects off a surface before reaching the eye, providing a more diffused, softer light.
  6. Daylighting: This involves the use of natural light to illuminate interiors. It’s an energy-efficient lighting concept that also has benefits for human health and well-being.
  7. Sustainable or Energy-Efficient Lighting: This concept promotes the use of energy-efficient fixtures and technologies like LED lights, occupancy sensors, or solar-powered lights, aiming to reduce energy consumption and environmental impact.
  8. Layered Lighting: This involves the use of multiple light sources for different purposes within a single space, such as combining ambient, task, and accent lighting. Layering can create a versatile and dynamic lighting environment.
  9. Color Temperature: Light can be warm (yellowish) or cool (bluish), and different color temperatures can impact mood and perception of space. Warmer light tends to be cozy and inviting, while cooler light is energetic and productive.
  10. Controls and Smart Lighting: Advanced lighting concepts incorporate automation and intelligent control systems that adjust lighting based on factors like occupancy, daylight availability, or pre-set schedules.

Understanding terms like LUX and Lumens

Luminous Intensity: Luminous intensity is a metric that quantifies the visible light that is emitted in a specific direction per solid angle. The SI unit for measuring luminous intensity is the candela (cd).

Luminous Flux: Luminous flux quantifies the total output of visible light from a light source, such as a lamp. The SI unit for luminous flux is the lumen (lm).

Lux and Illuminance: The lux is the SI unit for both illuminance and luminous emittance, quantifying the luminous flux per unit area. One lux is defined as one lumen per square meter. Typical residential settings require an illuminance level between 100lx and 500lx. Guidance for lighting level requirements can be found later in this article.

Power: In the context of lighting, power refers to the electrical energy consumption of the light fixtures. The power unit is the watt (W).

Considerations for designing your lighting scheme

Lighting design extends beyond establishing appropriate lux levels and light intensities. It involves catering to both the physiological visual needs and the emotional expectations of the user. There are three main categories of environments, each necessitating distinct approaches to lighting design:

  1. Workspaces and public-serving places prioritize functionality, safety, and effective communication.
  2. Exhibition and sale spaces emphasize the showcased items and the visitor’s experience while observing them.
  3. Residential or tourist environments prioritize creating a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere.

Functionality: The intended use of the space and its functional necessities should guide your design. Consider aspects like glare, visual comfort, and task-specific illumination. For many situations, current regulations and standards provide guidance on specific lighting requirements.

Recommended Light Levels (CIBSE Lighting Guide 2): This guide suggests ideal light levels for commonly encountered environments. Understanding the activities taking place in the space, their frequency, timing, and significance can help define your lighting scheme. Consider whether activities are confined to specific areas.

Behavioural Impact: Lighting can profoundly influence human health and behavior, so it’s crucial to consider the effects of your lighting design on users.

Aesthetic Appeal: Lighting can drastically alter our perception of a space. Exceptional architectural design can fall flat with poor lighting, while thoughtful lighting can enhance an otherwise uninspiring space. Consider how the space will be lit during both daytime and nighttime, from both inside and outside perspectives. What impression should the lighting create? Should it be inviting? Atmospheric?

Budget: Lighting design costs can quickly escalate, so it’s essential to keep the budget in mind. Creative solutions can help achieve the desired effects while staying within budget constraints.

Light and Shadow: Creating texture and depth can transform a room from bland to engaging. Designing varied light levels allows you to create bright areas juxtaposed with soft shadows, leading the viewer’s eyes to well-lit areas. This technique can highlight a room’s main features, such as wall art, a particular ornament, or the dining table.

Light can also make a room appear larger. A single pendant light in the room’s center illuminates the middle but darkens the walls, drawing attention away from them. To create an illusion of a larger room, brightly illuminate the walls. This draws the viewer’s attention to the surrounding walls, making the entire room visible. Reflected light can also provide a general illumination to the room, enhancing its overall ambiance.

Direct and Indirect Lighting: Direct light emanates straight from a lamp into a room. It is intense and directional, enabling you to control the area you wish to illuminate. Direct light can, however, cause glare, potentially leading to headaches and fatigue over time. Implementing anti-glare baffles or louvres can mitigate this issue.

Indirect light, on the other hand, bounces off a fitting or feature, casting a diffused light onto a surface. This lighting type can cultivate a relaxed atmosphere, as it eliminates glare and its even distribution minimizes eye strain. Yet, relying solely on indirect light can render a space monotonous, so it’s important to experiment with a mix of light and shadow for visual interest.

Color of Light: The color of light, which spans a broad spectrum, significantly influences your lighting design. Generally, light colors can be categorized into cool and warm tones. Cool colors lean towards blue, while warm colors have more yellow. Different colors can foster various atmospheres and fulfill different purposes. Daylight is cool, mimicked in offices to recreate a natural daylight effect and to achieve optimal lux levels for tasks.

Warm lighting is frequently found in residential environments. High lighting levels enhance cool colors, while warm colors look more appealing under dim lighting. In homes, cool lights are often used in bathrooms and kitchens where brighter illumination is needed, whereas warm lights are used in bedrooms and living rooms.

Task Lighting: Task lighting is designated for specific tasks performed in a space. Different areas within a room may require different types of light. For instance, a kitchen might need additional lighting over the countertop for food preparation, and a living room might need extra light in a seating area for reading. It is often best to consider your task lighting requirements before determining the overall lighting.

Ambient Lighting: Ambient lighting can be delivered mainly through direct downlighting or uplighting, where pendant fixtures provide light that reflects off the ceiling.

Lighting Control: Advancements in technology have broadened the choices for controlling light, including switching options, dimming, wireless control, remote control, etc. Consider how and where the lights will be controlled and how this will affect the user experience.


The crucial aspect of lighting design is to consider it early in the development phase. Blend the lighting with the architecture to craft a balanced scheme. Developing the lighting scheme involves numerous factors, including regulations and general standards, but the user’s needs and the purpose of the space should never be overlooked.

FAQ’s about lighting concepts

How do you create a lighting concept?

Creating a lighting concept involves a systematic approach that begins with understanding the space and ends with choosing the right fixtures and control systems. Here are some steps to guide you:

  1. Understand the Space: Analyze the purpose of the space and its physical characteristics. What activities will take place here? How will people move around? What are the color schemes and materials involved?
  2. Identify the Needs: Determine the lighting needs for each activity and area within the space. A workspace may need task lighting, while a lounge may need mood or accent lighting.
  3. Create a Layered Lighting Plan: Layering involves combining different types of lighting — ambient, task, accent — to achieve a balanced and versatile lighting environment.
  4. Choose the Right Color Temperature: Consider the impact of different color temperatures. Cool lighting is energizing and suitable for workspaces, while warm lighting creates a relaxing and cozy atmosphere.
  5. Incorporate Natural Light: Whenever possible, maximize natural light as it’s beneficial for health and energy efficiency. Plan for how daylight will interact with artificial lights throughout the day.
  6. Consider Aesthetic Appeal: Think about how lighting can enhance the aesthetic appeal of your space. This might involve creating striking contrasts, highlighting architectural features, or drawing attention to artwork.
  7. Plan for Energy Efficiency: Choose energy-efficient fixtures and technologies, such as LEDs, automated controls, or motion sensors. This not only saves money but also contributes to sustainability.
  8. Select Appropriate Fixtures: The type of fixtures you choose — whether pendants, recessed lights, floor lamps, etc. — will depend on the desired effect and the style of your space.
  9. Control Systems: Think about how you will control the lighting. This could range from simple switches to sophisticated systems that allow you to program lighting levels for different times of day or scenarios.
  10. Draw a Lighting Plan: Once you’ve made your decisions, draw up a lighting plan. This could be a simple sketch or a professional CAD drawing, showing where each light fixture will be located, what type of light it will provide, and how it will be controlled.

Remember, creating a lighting concept is not just about functionality but also about creating a mood and enhancing the beauty of a space. A well-designed lighting concept can transform an ordinary space into something truly extraordinary.


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