Light and Tech: Restaurant Lighting Schemes


Lighting expert Jill Entwistle looks at four restaurant lighting schemes that have been shortlisted for the latest Lighting Design Awards


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There are few places where mood and atmosphere are more essential than in a restaurant, and few spaces where lighting is so indispensable an ingredient in creating the right ambience. Necessarily the lighting approaches and techniques are as diverse as the design themes but nevertheless obey the same basic principles beyond the functional: to create a sense of occasion and an appropriate emotional and sensual experience, to flatter the appearance of diners, and to respond to the time of day when diners are present. The following examples have all been shortlisted for this year’s Lighting Design Awards and reflect the extraordinarily disparate ways that lighting can contribute to the feeling and flavour of a restaurant – from highly technical projection mapping to the simplicity of a source seamlessly integrated into the interior structure.


A cloud of white balloons further mute soft diffuse lighting at the Aranya Kids’ Restaurant, in Qinhuangdo, China. Lighting design is by Gradient.

Normal restaurant, Kiev, Ukraine
Lighting Design: Expolight

Normal is located in a key business area of Kiev, attracting both a business lunch crowd but also a healthy after-hours clientele when it becomes a bar and then later a nightclub. Dominating the interior are the graffiti portraits on the walls. Nine times out of 10 these would have been simply and effectively highlighted by the lighting, but Expolight has taken the process a stage further by using projection mapping. ‘Augmented reality is getting deeper and broader in our lives, so we introduced it into the interior of Normal – painted graffiti on the walls is complemented by digital patterns, created using 3D-mapping technology,’ says Expolight.

The brief was to be able to radically adjust the atmosphere according to the time of day or night. This is primarily achieved by use of colour. The daytime scene is static and uses neutral tones; in the evening, when the venue is in bar mode, a dynamic element is introduced together with a more active use of colour. As it moves into nightclub mode, more red is introduced. The graffiti, which is painted on two perpendicular walls, is brought to life with the mapping to become an even more arresting focal point. There are more than 30 variations of projections that change according to the preprogrammed sequence, complementing the preset lighting scenes.

Specially made structures that cover the back part of the wall are formed from individually made mushroom-like lighting devices. Each of these devices is a separately controlled pixel, which enables different dynamic lighting patterns. The backlight of the bar counter is also capable of dynamic, colour-changing light. All the lighting is controlled by a complex, specially designed system that creates a new colour scene every day and for each hour.



Aranya Kids’ Restaurant, Qinhuangdo, Hebei Province, China
Lighting Design: Gradient
Lighting Design Architect: Wutopia Lab

Aranya, a coastal residential development north east of Tianjin, includes a clubhouse, a 1,000 sq m part of which has been turned into a children’s restaurant.

Starting with the exterior appearance, the decision was taken with the architect to use polycarbonate panels to wrap the original building, ‘a mixture of prairie-villa and contemporary art deco styles’, creating a new translucent facade. By gently washing the panels with light, the facade turns into a gently glowing structure at night. ‘This also brightens up the whole area and improves safety in the neighbourhood without being overlit,’ says Gradient.

Sitting on top of the roof and reached by an exterior yellow staircase is a red house-like structure built with double-perforated aluminium panels. Internally illuminated, it acts as a beacon for the surrounding area.

Inside, light elements are used to fascinate and entertain, playing with sensory effects. Entering directly from the yellow staircase, visitors encounter a bubble tree on the second floor, where luminous spheres form the ‘fruits’ on a tree structure, partly exposed to the exterior and partly reflected in a mirrored ceiling.

In the predominantly white dining area, a large circular backlit element on the ceiling provides a soft diffuse light, further muted through a cloud of white balloons beneath. The circular dining hall and two private dining rooms are surrounded by polycarbonate panels. The circular shape, diffuse lighting and white tones are designed to pleasantly disorientate its occupants, ‘making them lose their sense of texture, scale and direction’.

The ground floor features a fibre-optic starry sky beneath which is a children’s playground with PVC hollow balls, glass-fibre cloth, marine plastic balls, artificial stone and floor glue. Mirrored material borders the space, ‘to distort the realism of the place, as if time is not passing’. Rechargeable white light balls are softly lit, so they can be safely played with. ‘We hope to create a place that loses material texture and spatial orientation,’ says Gradient.


Portsoken Pavilion, Aldgate, London
Lighting Design: Aecom
Architect: Make Architects

Sitting within the newly created Aldgate Square (part of the City of London Corporation’s Aldgate highway changes and public realm improvements project) is the Portsoken Pavilion. The pavilion provides a social enterprise cafe and space for events.

Formed by an asymmetrical steel structure with sliding glass walls set between three triangular support points, the pavilion’s walls can be opened up to connect with the surrounding redeveloped garden. This gives it the potential to host meetings, exhibitions and activities such as yoga classes, as well as serving as a gathering place for the local community and the city at large.

Within the structure, the bands of the cladding are mimicked by the soffit with layered, geometric, white-laminate timber panels. These have punched slots to help the acoustics and, when uplit by ceiling-concealed continuous LED strips, provide a glowing effect to the whole building at night.

The ambient illumination and lit effect rely purely on indirect light. ‘The high output and efficacy of the light fittings are key to providing sufficient ambient light to the space with indirect lighting only where the reflected surfaces are limited due to the acoustic perforation,’ says Aecom.

The lighting is fully integrated, responding to the form, geometry and material nature of the cladding. ‘The ethereality of the structure is accentuated at dusk by the concealed lighting,’ adds Aecom. ‘The LED strips wash the feature perforated ceiling with soft light, creating a delicate stepped glowing layer.’

Two large asymmetrical rooflights are located over the central counter to draw natural light into the building. Mini spotlights are placed at the perimeter of the rooflights to create a supplementary focal glow on the counter so that daylight and artificial light are completely blended. ‘As daylight fades, the effect of the interaction between faceted geometry and uplighting element becomes more pronounced, giving the sensation that the entire volume is floating,’ says Aecom. The internal light spill also subtly reveals the shape and form of the entrance overhang, gradually transiting into the well-illuminated and inviting interior, attracting the attention of passers-by. The various lighting elements are divided into groups so that they can be individually controlled to offer different lighting scenes.


NAM Vietnamese restaurant, Kiev, Ukraine
Lighting Design: Expolight

Climbing plants, rattan and fishing motifs form the vernacular interior theme of Vietnamese restaurant NAM. Different colour scales, brightness and light intensity create a range of scenes according to time of day, with a particularly dramatic, high contrast approach for the night-time setting.

Although an entirely different proposition to Expolight’s Normal restaurant (see previous page), the lighting designer has taken a similar approach in keeping the daytime mode neutral, warming the colour/colour temperature in the evening, and at night introducing more red. Spotlighting individual tables is a time-honoured and highly effective technique but particularly appropriate for the Vietnamese tradition where great attention is paid to the serving of dishes. Narrow-beam accent lighting above the centre of the tables forms a light spot three times brighter than the background lighting. The special light fittings were designed in the form of Vietnamese fishing cells. Bi-directional, white light shines down, while a warmer source shines upwards, turning red by evening to create a sensual atmosphere. They also create a textural effect: as they move, the shadows of the rattan nets play on the ceiling. The painted panels on the walls are illuminated by RGB and white spotlights, in constant motion and changing colours. ‘Due to this, the paintings come to life, revealing their depth and dynamism,’ says Expolight.


Jill Entwistle: Editor, writer and author, Jill is the executive editor of Lighting (Illumination in Architecture) and the author of three books on lighting, including Detail in Contemporary Lighting Design (Laurence King)





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