Light + Tech

Jill Entwistle takes us through novel ways of using darkness and an ingenious new sun dial installation.

Embrace The Dark

Rather than pure environmentalism, there is also aesthetic beauty to be found in constrasts of light and dark, allowing for a growing appreciation of how shadows can be something to be embraced in lighting design

IT MAY well be driven by greater thoughtfulness about energy use and environmental impact, but there is also a growing appreciation of just how atmospheric, moody, dramatic and visually interesting an environment can be if you allow dark and dim spaces to play a larger role in shaping the lighting design.

The following schemes from the 2023 IALD International Lighting Design Awards (marking their 40th year) and the FX Awards shortlist are exemplary in showing that, in lighting schemes, shadow and dark matter.


Image Credit: Fovea Studio

Designed by Code Arkitektur as part of the Norwegian Scenic Routes initiative, Espenes is a rest stop beside the Sørfjorden, a 38km-long fjord on the road between Kinsarvik and Odda in northern Norway. Housing toilets and seating facilities for hikers and visitors, the simple geometric stainless steel structure measures 64m long and 4m wide, while its 12 roof modules varying in height. It is both inspired by and symathetic to the powerful setting of the fjord and the mountains.

‘The double-curved roof construction has a horizontal roof line [a] reference to the fjord, and an undulating roof line, which is a reference to the mountainsides,’ says Code Arkitektur. ‘When you rest under the vaults, you experience different sections of the landscape space together with the changing reflections of the light in the steel.’

The lighting concept, an IALD Award of Excellence winner by Light Bureau (it also won both Platinum and Green in the Build Back Better Awards 2023), is rooted in the same principles. ‘We set out to create a visible landmark after dark in tune with the local landscape,’ explains Light Bureau’s UK design director Arve Olsen. ‘Our lighting design is inspired by the location and the surrounding nature: the cool moonlight that illuminates the mountain tops and the nearby glacier in contrast to the warm, human light.’

The light levels are dimmed to reduce the impact on the surroundings and local ecology, and also to minimise glare, preserving the stunning view from the rest stop. The remaining architectural lighting is balanced against the dimly lit roof – less than 40W is used to illuminate the entire 50m-long roofline.

The scheme is also not afraid of the dark. The road that leads to the rest stop remains unlit and the lighting of the rest stop area is limited to the structure, with darkness also maintained in the car park and access road.

The use of colour temperature delineates the indoor and outdoor spaces. The steel outer walls and columns – the roof and wall surfaces are shaped by hand and welded together from 6mm thick steel plates – are lit with a cool light framing the view towards the interior, bathed in warm light. ‘As lighting designers, we aimed to accentuate the sculptural shape through an interplay of light, darkness and contrast in the colour temperature,’ says Olsen.

The ceiling surface is lit asymmetrically to create two different visual impressions depending on the direction it is viewed from and allowing the reflections in the steel to produce a play of light. ‘The intensity of the light on the steel wall had to be experienced visually,’ explains Olsen. ‘Therefore tests were crucial to ensure good detailing and to see the actual effects of light.’

The Espenes Rest Stop in Hardanger, Norway, is both inspired by and symathetic to the setting of the fjord and the mountains. Image Credit: Fovea Studio

The steel walls are kept free of equipment and all technical installations are cast into the concrete deck. The light fittings are discreetly moulded into the deck and integrated into the doorframes, made of steel and hardened glass. Each toilet cubicle has a specially made bollard in steel and acrylic, produced by the metal workshop Størksen in collaboration with UK company Stoane Lighting. This acts as a floor lamp, providing a soft light in the room and balancing with the light in the doorframe.

The lighting is controlled by sunrise and sunset times as well as sensors in the lock box on the toilet doors so that the light intensity increases when the toilet is in use. ‘This limits energy consumption and unnecessary lighting when the rest stop is not in active use, and lets the fjord and mountains set the stage,’ says Olsen.

Architecture: Code Arkitektur
Key Suppliers: LightGraphix, Stoane Lighting, Fagerhult, iGuzzini


Shortlisted for an FX Award, Lanzhai is a high-end vegetarian restaurant located in what was originally the Beijing Elementary Industrial School, built in 1907. A quiet oasis in a busy area, the restaurant has three floors, two above ground and the kitchen below ground. Private rooms are mainly on the first floor, while the hall is on the second floor.

Despite a long tradition of vegetarianism, influenced by both Buddhism and Daoism, it has been variously enouraged and discouraged over the centuries in China by various regimes. However, there is a growing trend for vegetarianism and veganism, especially among younger people, linked to health and also ecological awareness. According to Beijing Pro, it is associated with an affinity with nature, a concept which has influenced the thinking behind the lighting scheme.

As with many BPLD schemes, there is a poetry to the concept, designed to evoke an emotional response. Light sources are hidden and illumination seeps out from concealed crevices, nooks and niches.

Small, frameless, black-embedded spotlights were selected for the ceiling to create a perforated effect. ‘We strive to minimise the use of ceiling spotlights – reducing the total number to around 10 in public areas – so that the appearance of the holes appears random,’ says BPLD.

Two different sizes of holes were drilled into the walls of the corridors and bathrooms on the first and second floors, into which custom-made plaster-shaped lamps were installed. Light sources were concealed within the holes, animating the space by producing soft, scattered light on the ceilings and floors.

‘Light is not the subject, but is hidden within space or integrated into objects – linear light sources are hidden in various places, such as wall corners, window curtain boxes, and recessed niches, to create a dynamic and three-dimensional atmosphere,’ says BPLD. ‘The use of warm grey micro-cement also contributes to the organic feel of the space by creating a skin-like texture when lit up. Light is sometimes used as a material, a means, or a reflection to provide a comfortable and unparalleled dining experience.’

The balance of different lighting levels is also crucial to the scheme, precisely calibrated to particular areas. ‘The key to achieving this environment is the precise coordination of brightness levels and rhythms throughout the different spaces, including the relationships between the building, landscape and interior lighting,’ says BPLD. ‘The brightness ratios are set according to the different needs of each space, with the main entrance and the lobby being the brightest and the corridor being the least bright.’


Artec Studio’s IALD Award of Excellence-winning concept for Grupo Perelada’s new winery is based on working with both natural and artificial light with two aims: to reveal the architecture and connect with the essence of the place to tell the story of the wine. The project included new cellars, the building known as ‘the farm’, in addition to the squares and gardens around it.

‘The new winery has been designed harmoniously with the surroundings and the lighting meets the same objective,’ says Maurici Ginés, founder and director of Artec. ‘Artificial light is integrated with and follows the path of any natural light, and linear lighting is integrated into the floor, emphasising the wine’s relationship with the land.’

The use of both natural and artifical light is judicious and delicate. The main challenge was that the new winery is an underground complex. Bringing natural light into the subterranean elements of the scheme involved close collaboration with architect RCR so that modifications could be made to optimise the daylight.

Image Credit: Hisao Suzuki

‘To channel this natural light into spaces, prior to the building stage we made suggestions for designing particular components that would enhance the entry of daylight,’ says Ginés. ‘We also looked at the natural light available so we could tailor our illumination solution to the site’s coordinates and features.’

Adjustments were made to skylights, for instance, with entry points for natural light designed as flared slots to maximise the amount of light allowed in. ‘The project sought excellence in the use of natural light in an underground space, to achieve high comfort and an experience without differences between natural and artificial light,’ says Ginés.

Client: Grupo Perelada
Architect: RCR Arquitectes


Setsu Niseko is a winter resort in a scenic setting, flanked by mountains Yotei and Annupuri, in Japan’s northernmost and second largest main island, Hokkaido. The interior scheme balances traditional Japanese aesthetics with contemporary opulence, its seasonality lending itself well to a warm, hygge ambience.

The lighting scheme for the hotel reception, lobby lounge and wine bar was designed by Japan and Singapore-based Nipek and won an IALD Award of Merit.

The lobby has a collection of notable art pieces and two large fireplaces as focal points. It was fire that inspired the basic concept for the lighting.

‘There is a certain comfort in sitting before a fire, basking in its warm and soft glow,’ says Shigeki Fujii of Nipek. ‘With this in mind, the goal for the project was to elevate this sense of comfort and intimacy by incorporating both real flames and artificial lighting that emulates the qualities of fire. This concept was particularly fitting for a winter resort, where guests seek refuge from the cold.’

Collaborating with the overall design team, the lighting was integrated seamlessly into the interior scheme, using warm (2500K and 2400K) LED sources and custom downlights and strip lights.

Image Credit: Nipek

‘The predominantly dark or black interior finishes presented a challenge,’ says Fujii, ‘but this was overcome by illuminating accent timber and stone finishes, as well as designing custom lanterns with a soft glow.’

As well as creating an intimate ambience, the energy consumption is kept low by turning off most lights during daylight hours and dimming the lights to minimum levels at night. The lighting scenes are pre-set for all periods of day and night, and automated control is based on the seasons.

Creative direction: The Power of Design
Interior design: Koichiro Ikebuchi
Developer: SC Global Developments


Image Credit: Mark Bolton Photography

The winner of the lighting category of the 2023 FX Awards was dpa lighting’s scheme for Woven by Adam Smith, the refurbished Michelin-starred restaurant at the Coworth Park spa hotel, Ascot.

The lighting scheme was designed to complement the new interior design scheme by Martin Hubert Design (MHD). In addition, Studio Umut Yamac was engaged to bring new feature sculptural elements in the form of ceiling ‘loom’ features and screens which follow the design narrative or ‘thread’ of the Woven concept.

‘The beautifully balanced and immaculately integrated lighting creates a perfect ambience,’ commented one judge.

Time To Shine

The Arco del Tiempo in Houston, Texas shows how public installations can not only be stunning, but also serve their communities practically

When the Arco del Tiempo is installed in 2024, it is expected to be a space for social interaction

AN INGENIOUS conjunction of light art, science and multi-purpose monument, the Arco del Tiempo (Arch of Time) has been hailed as setting a new standard of sustainability for public art. Scheduled to be installed in 2024, the striking sculpture is a solar power generator that provides a shaded place to ‘meet, linger, experience and perform’. Located in Houston’s Guadalupe Plaza Park, the 30m-high arch will serve as a landmark and gateway to the Texan city’s East End/Segundo Barrio.

But it is also one of the world’s largest sundials, an interactive time-measuring device that operates by beaming sunlight onto the ground through the solar-shaped holes in the roof of the structure. Each beam of light is uniquely governed throughout the seasons and hours of the day by the geometry of the artwork, responding to the specific latitude and longitude of Houston.

The Arco del Tiempo’s design plans, showing how the artwork takes advantage of the movement of the sun to tell the time and to generate clean, renewable solar energy

This mechanism also creates a playful hourly light display that the public can experience under the curved roof span. At night the same space will be used as a stage for outdoor public events.

Perhaps most remarkably of all, using the solar modules incorporated into the south-facing exterior of the sculpture, the Arco del Tiempo acts as a community solar installation, generating 400,000kWh each year – equivalent to the demand of 40 Texan homes and off seting more than 100 per cent of the power demand of a nearby Latino cultural hub for performing arts. Over its lifetime, the artwork will generate an estimated 12 million kWh of clean, renewable energy – the equivalent of removing 8,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The installation is not only meant to look captivating, but it also serves several practical purposes, including providing a place to socially gather as well as through the generation of solar power

‘This unique artwork is more than a sculpture,’ says Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner. ‘It is a renewable energy power plant. It is a monument to a new era of energy.’

Encouragingly in oil-driven Texas, and under Turner, the city has launched its first ever Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It aims to meet the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and to establish itself as a leader for global energy transition.

The sculpture is the work of Italian-born, Berlin-based artist and architect Riccardo Mariano, previously with the Bjarke Ingels Group in Copenhagen, and since 2012 part of the design department at Studio Olafur Eliasson (Weather Project, Tate Modern, and lighting installations at Bloomberg London HQ and Aarhus art museum). In addition, he independently undertakes public art and architecture projects.

‘The apparent movement of the sun in the sky activates the space with light and colours and engages viewers who participate in the creation of the work by their presence,’ says Mariano. ‘It is a practical example to illustrate the movement of the earth around the sun in a playful way.

‘Arco del Tiempo merges renewable energy generation with public space and into the everyday life of the Second Ward,’ he continues. ‘Inspired by science and powered by renewable energy, the artwork is a bridge between art and technology, and encourages educational purposes while improving public space.’

At night, the Arco del Tiempo can be used as a place to hold gatherings, and even musical concerts

The project has been made possible by the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), a non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing climate solutions through art and design.

LAGI’s vision of the transition to renewable energy is one in which artists and designers play a key role in bringing green technologies into landscapes and cities, using solar modules and other clean tech as media for creative expression and placemaking. Since 2008, they have been holding open call international design competitions for cities around the world and have amassed a portfolio of thousands of ideas ‘to demonstrate how renewable energy can be beautiful’.


The design of the artwork is inspired by the sundial – the oldest known device used to measure time based on the sun’s apparent position in the sky. The artwork deviates from the typical sundial configuration by reversing the role of the gnomon, which traditionally casts shadows. Instead, the time of day is indicated by sunlight projected onto the ground through a series of openings on the surface facing south. This surface is also covered with photovoltaic modules which generate renewable energy.

The sculpture’s shape is defined by the diurnal motion of the sun in the Houston sky throughout the year. The path that the sun traces in the sky has been enlarged around noon and tapered at sunrise and sunset. This configuration optimises the exposure of the photovoltaic cell surface by increasing it during the peak sun hours.

The operating principle of the artwork involves displaying diff erent hours through sunlight cast in the form of abstract symbols representing the face of a clock. Solar noon is depicted by a full circle of sunlight projected on to the ground. The hours before and after solar noon are represented by a growing circular sector within the circle, extending towards sunrise and sunset.

To differentiate between the hours, various shades of colour are used, reminiscent of both the sky and various portrayals of Our Lady of Guadalupe (associated with the story of a series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to a Mexican peasant in 1531). Coloured glass filters, ranging from pink in the morning to blue in the evening, filter the sunlight to create the effect.

In the north/south section, the shape of the openings is defined by the solar declination, covering the angles of the summer and winter solstices. The equinox line is perpendicular to the photovoltaic surface. The openings indicating the time are shorter than the parallel louvres, allowing the sun’s rays to illuminate the hours at all angles of incidence from solstice to solstice.

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