We gathered a group of designers and architects at Deltalight’s state-of-the-art showroom in Belgium to discuss the vital importance of lighting in architecture projects.
Words and Photography by Gareth Gardner
Chairman Johnny Tucker Blueprint
Ian Crockford, Marks Barfield Architects
James Dilley, Jestico + Whiles
Tina Norden, Conran and Partners
Dermot Reynolds, AHMM
Luisa Scardovi, Deltalight UK
Damiaan Vanhoutte, Govaert & Vanhoutte
Ben Watson, Ben Adams Architects
Michelle Wilkie, tp Bennett
Johnny Tucker We want to hear your views on the whole gamut of lighting from natural to artificial. We want to pick up on when you bring lighting into the whole creative process.
Tina Norden We work mostly on hospitality and residential projects. In both of these, lighting brings things alive. It’s not just the icing on the cake, it is fundamental.
Ian Crockford Some of the work we do is moving, such as kinetic structures. The influence of light on these projects is important and offers up different challenges and opportunities.
James Dilley The most important thing about lighting is that it is part of the design, not something that is applied afterwards. It is integrated and often the driver of a scheme. We have done architectural projects like the W London Leicester Square Hotel, which is effectively a light-fitting in itself. For us it’s about lighting as performance, which adds a new dimension to the architecture.
Ben Watson Our approach to lighting ties into our overall approach to design. We take a rational perspective, with analysis underlying each project while also acknowledging that in every scheme there is some kind of more irrational idea that comes from somewhere you can’t always pinpoint. Lighting should be part of that overall picture.
Damiaan Vanhoutte Lighting is very important for us, it’s an extra part of the architecture. At the beginning you look at lighting as a functional thing, but then you have to look at the atmosphere and make compositions, like sculpting. Even in conceptual modelling and drawings we use lighting. This means there is already a base to work from.
Dermot Reynolds From my perspective, every building tells a story and we use light to try and enhance or embellish that story rather than it being the story itself. We have a qualitative approach to lighting rather than technical or science based interest in it. We use it to try and convey the ideas of a building and enhance the detail.
Michelle Wilkie Lighting has a huge role in all our projects. I don’t like working with lighting only at the end of a scheme, but prefer to involve it from the very beginning. I’ve got a particular interest in workplace wellbeing, how lighting can make you feel in a space and how it can improve productivity.
JT How much training have people had working with light? Or is it something acquired down the line?
TN I studied architecture and interiors. To be honest I don’t think lighting was really taught in a technical sense but in a more experiential way. Knowledge really comes from working and experiencing projects, working with lighting consultants and suppliers and getting technical know-how on how things work.
IC We always employ specialist lighting designers for our projects. We rely on them for inspiration and it enables our designs to reach a higher level that we could achieve technically ourselves. At the i360 observation tower in Brighton, we always knew from day one that lighting would be a big part of that scheme. There’s a theatricality to it. A lighting designer was involved from the start, although we were equally influential in the choice of lighting, the mood and the creation of atmosphere.
DR We often don’t have a specialist lighting designer on a project. That doesn’t mean we don’t think about lighting, in fact we consider it at a strategic level from an early stage. Our general projects don’t necessarily need a lighting specialist for that, we like to think that an architect should be able to manage it. Then we have specialist projects where we know we are going to need a lighting designer and that they will contribute something useful.
TN There’s a difference between the lighting concept design and the technical aspects. As a designer and architect you have a good idea of what the lighting design should be and what you want to achieve, what you want people to feel. Making that happen technically is the bit where we look to specialist designers.
BW We quite rarely work with specialist lighting designers. When they do get involved, it is often with regards to the external lighting, and how what we are doing affects other people, as part of the planning process. You get that specialist input on natural and artificial light but it’s often looking outwards from the building.
JT It strikes me that there should be more technical knowledge of lighting taught at architecture and interior design school?
JD This is not possible because lighting systems are now so complex that you need to a professional to be able to wield the tools properly. The lighting effect is decided by the designers but the implementation and the enabling has to be done by specialists.
IC At i360 the lighting design has to enhance but not impede the experience. You need to understand the impact of light, particularly at night and inside a glazed environment. You don’t want light to obscure your view and negatively affect the experience. We wanted very cool, blue light which wouldn’t cause any negative effects on external vision. We knew what the constraints were but we didn’t know what the product would be. There’s only so far the consultant can go, at that level of detail you have to be talking to the supplier.
JT This complexity also involves an increasing degree of responsiveness and flexibility in the design. How do you approach that?
JD Responsiveness is one of the great things that lighting offers us. At the W London Hotel the lighting is the facade, the building responds to its environment in the middle of Soho. For example, it can turn red for Chinese New Year, or can be changed to the key colour of a film for a movie premier. It’s responsive and that is one of the things that is very important in design.
DR I think that buildings are becoming more finely tuned. We do things like daylight assessment studies around the perimeter which we feed to our service engineers and they tailor the lighting around the perimeter differently to that further into the building. That’s partly about energy efficiency but also about health and wellbeing.
MW There has been a huge shift in workplace design, about how lighting can improve wellbeing. At tp bennett we are looking at ways that you can leave work healthier than when you arrive.
Traditionally there were cellular offices around the perimeter with the minions working inboard with no natural daylight.
That has all been flipped on its head and we are maximising the perimeter, leaving it open, and using different artificial lighting styles deeper into the plan to mimic natural daylight. You can potentially change the temperature of that artificial light throughout the day, to follow certain rhythms. So perhaps at 3pm when your energy starts to dip, the lighting can be adjusted to improve your mood. Instead of eating a piece of cake as a pick-meup, the lighting picks you up instead.
BW In the workplace, the biggest illness is stress, which you can’t solve solely through plant pots and smoothie machines. Lighting is fundamental to you feeling comfortable, partly through allowing people to control their own lighting and also in giving a variety of work settings. Traditionally we think of hospitality lighting as being very different to workplaces, but there has been a convergence. At Ben Adams Architects we work on a lot of coworking spaces, creating the atmosphere of a cafe but with the facilities of an office.
TN Lighting is ultimately about how it makes people feel. In hospitality design it is about making people feel relaxed, creating a convivial atmosphere. In workplace design there is a slightly different focus; it is about people being alert. What I also find interesting is that it changes culturally, too. British restaurants are kept very dark and atmospheric. But in other cultures, people don’t really like that, they like it to be brighter. Where does that come from?
JD I think that is to do with how people use restaurants, not how they use lighting. Here in the UK, in particular, there are still lots of people using restaurants for special occasions and dim lighting equates to drama and romance. You want to be intimate and it needs to feel special and not floodlit, which is unforgiving. People want to feel good in spaces. There’s a lot of emotional stuff to lighting, it’s not just technical.
DV When you design a house, if you provide possibilities then people can choose their own lighting. The people living there can then choose different moods. Once the lights are there you should be able to use them in different ways.
Luisa Scardovi There’s more attention now to giving people greater control over their own lighting levels, especially in workplaces. It used to be more about flooding a whole space with a certain amount of light. Now the idea is that lighting is subjective. Each person has a different way of perceiving lighting.
JD This is a symptom of millennial lifestyles where people expect to have more control over their own personal spaces. That’s why in open plan offices, headphones have become the new walls, because people want to be in control. It’s the same with lighting, people need to have perceived or actual control, and that makes them feel more at ease.
BW One of the devices that lighting is used for is for wayfinding, or to highlight or signify something. If we start to allow more controllability of spaces, there are going to be areas where you want to be able to manipulate a space using lighting in a certain way, but then the user might come along and break it by turning the lights off. How do you adapt to that? Do you accept it or are there two levels of lighting? There might be a layer still there in the background giving you general orientation.
TN The way you do it in hospitality, particularly in hotel rooms, is that you allow the guests to play with the lighting as much as they want. But when they leave the room and come back, it reverts to the original settings of how we as the designers would like it.
JT Do you find, working in your various sectors, that your projects get value engineered, affecting your lighting designs?
TN The particularly important fact is that the quality of the fitting is not only about the quality of light that it gives, but also about how it stays true to that over time. There are a number of cheaper fittings where, over time, the quality of light really changes. But it’s difficult to assess that. The only way you can do it is to ask for warranties and for lifetime assessments. But money always talks.
IC The quality of LEDs varies massively. If you buy a £3,000 fitting you could value engineer it down to a £1,500 fitting but you won’t get like-for-like. The quality of the LEDs would be completely different.
TN There are clearly a lot of regulations in regards to using energy-efficient lighting, hence LEDs have become so important. But when you come to the hospitality sector and want to create atmosphere, getting a tight-focused beam on an LED light fitting is still quite difficult. There isn’t a lot on the market yet.
LS LED technology has developed really quickly recently, but there is still a lot to come. Focused lighting is also about the optics which is a very technical development of the product.
TN We are also looking for spotlights that are really slim in depth. We have building-height restrictions and trying to get as many floors in as possible, which means that ceiling voids are very tight. Finding spotlights that still do the job that you want them to do in a small space is very hard. That’s a challenge that’s not going to get any better.
LS It’s all about teamwork and having a pinpointed conversation at an early stage about the needs of the architects and designers and what us as manufacturers and suppliers might already have, or where we can get better and design something that works for a specific project. I find that in the UK architects are looking for solutions to integrate lighting into the architecture, and space is sometimes an issue. Maybe it’s an existing building or perhaps the design is already at a stage where it can’t be changed. Sometimes we are still in time to slightly adjust the design of the building so that we can accommodate the fitting that will work best.