Lighting Focus: Understated lighting

A pair of minimal schemes show the powerful impact of understated lighting – the Grupo Arca showroom in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the Alila Anji resort, Hangzhou, China

Words by Jill Entwistle

The final part of this lighting focus covers two minimal schemes that show the powerful impact of understated lighting – the Grupo Arca showroom in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the Alila Anji resort, Hangzhou, China.


Grupo Arca showroom, Guadalajara, Mexico
Lighting design: Luz en Arquitectura

Although essentially a showroom, the complex for natural stone supplier Arca is designed not only for sales and business, but also to promote culture and education, with a focus on Mexican architecture, design and fine arts. Arts and learning spaces are housed in the main, street-facing building in front of a large warehouse storing Grupo Arca’s collections.

Visitors access the building through a small opening in the monolithic facade and are led down a narrow corridor to the central internal courtyard. Irregularly angled walls allude to the ‘manufactured landscape’ of quarries. The lighting scheme reflects the unorthodoxy and aids the visitor’s discovery of the spaces with a careful orchestration of both natural and artificial light.

‘The project isn’t a conventional retail design – it takes the formal inspiration of the visually powerful, sculpted landscapes of the quarries,’ says Gonzalo Hernandez Arango, senior lighting designer at Luz en Arquitectura and project manager. ‘The visitor enters and discovers the space through a path of lighting expressions of natural and artificial atmospheres which connect the different display spaces that unfold around a central patio.’

Daylight adds an element of drama as it is allowed to flood through horizontal and vertical openings, and when daylight dims, artificial light seems to seep from openings and cracks in the rock.

‘Daylight and artificial lighting delicately interact creating an experience of varied emotions, at times more peaceful but other times more dramatic,’ says Arango. ‘But this is up to nature.’

Where the stone samples are showcased, the lighting remains atmospheric but plays to the materials. ‘When visitors are there specifically to choose a material ... the light interacts with the architectural space and with the displayed materials, using technology to give the visitor a customised experience,’ says Arango.

Alila Anji resort, Hangzhou, China
Lighting design: Beijing PRO Lighting Design 

Anji, a county near Hangzhou in eastern China, was the location for the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Renowned for its outstanding natural beauty, it has more than 60,000 hectares of bamboo groves, and was a pilot county for ecological and green building construction, which Alila Anji reflects.

The resort is designed to resemble a traditional Chinese village with white exteriors and sweeping dark-tiled roofs that blend into their hillside setting. Clean, contemporary lines avoid pastiche, and interiors offer guests panoramic views of the surroundings.

Beijing PRO Lighting Design (BPLD) has created a hallmark (also see Muh Shoou Xixi Resort Hotel, FX June 2019), minimal and sensitive scheme attuned to nature and the scenic surroundings. ‘Natural moonlight is considered as our design keynote,’ says BPLD, also citing the ideologies of Tao philosophers Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, ‘which convey understanding, respect and closeness to nature’.

There are two aspects to the design approach, according to BPLD: ‘The first is to show the existing natural features of the hotel through light, and enable the guests to feel its natural wild interest clearly. The second is to make the illumination simple and natural by using traditional but effective methods. Light is set as background.’

There is only one floor lamp on the balcony, for instance, and no outdoor lighting of the villa, only borrowed light from the interior: ‘Seen from a distance, the shimmery roof looms in the mountains as if it is floating. Looking up from the bottom of the mountain, villas, dense forests and light are interwoven with each other.’

Traditional wicker lanterns cast shadow patterns on interior walls or a subtle reflection in the pool. The landscape illumination is generally kept very low in deference to the natural surroundings. ‘We always believe that the building and the natural landscape will be in greater harmony together when more darkness is allowed,’ says BPLD.

Progressive Media International Limited. Registered Office: 40-42 Hatton Garden, London, EC1N 8EB, UK.Copyright 2021, All rights reserved.