Architectural lighting

The global movement to curb energy consumption and increase eco-awareness is finding support in the GCC's lighting industry.

Lights defining space at Dubai?'s Fairmont Hotel.
Lights defining space at Dubai?'s Fairmont Hotel.

There was a time, not so long ago, when harsh white floods lights were the only options architects had to illuminate structures. In the early 1990s, when lighting was first being considered as something more than a simple means of showcasing a building or development during evening hours, a vast majority of architects were using a kind of engineered uniformity to light their structures. The strategy was effective but it left architects and viewers with buildings that were aesthetically washed-out, emotionally vacant and insipidly similar.

Fast-forward to the present, where architectural lighting is a bona fide discipline within the field, and client coffers, societal demands, technological innovation and increasingly brazen architects are all seeking an unparalleled identity and unforgetable imagery for every building. Raman Krishnan, regional director of Lighting Design Alliance, illustrates the importance of making lighting a priority during the both design and development stage. "Architectural lighting design, much like architecture itself, qualifies as being neither an art nor a science, but rather a heady mixture of both. While a creative spirit is a prerequisite, a qualified architectural lighting designer will generally have a good understanding of the properties of light from a scientific standpoint and of the functioning of a light fixture," says Krishnan. Lighting offers functionality in terms of visibility and safety, but there is a third component that architects are starting to hold up as the primary benefit-and justification for-a well-planned and executed lighting strategy: emotional reaction.

Riad Saraiji, associate professor of Architectural Engineering at UAE University, explains the importance of architectural lighting in Dubai. "Because of cultural and climatic reasons, night activities in the Middle East are very common. Architectural lighting will not only add to the vibrancy of the culture but will also influence people's mood, satisfaction, accomplishments, and productivity as well as increase product sales."

Gary Turner, general manager of Fagerhult Lighting in Dubai and Henrik Clausen, director of Fagerhult's Lighting Academy in Copenhagen, consider architectural lighting fascinating. "People from similar backgrounds can walk into a space and perceive totally different visuals and feel very different emotions, all because of the impact of light," says Turner. While Raman Krishnan thinks, "an understanding of light, its qualities, its physical and psychological effects on people and its continually evolving technologies, improves the quality of architecture and permits creation of spaces with greater emotional value."

Whether architectural lighting has gained a higher priority because of evolving technology, improved function or emotional reaction-or some combination of all of these-one thing is for certain, architects are using lighting more frequently, at earlier stages and in increasingly innovative ways.

Current trends

The sheer scope and size of projects in the GCC and the increasing role lighting is playing to enhance these large structures, illustrates the significance of lighting within architecture. And although the projects are growing, recent trends suggest that Las Vegas-style lighting-pole-mounted flood lights and thousands of watts of neon-is being replaced by softer, subtler options and a growing commitment to energy efficiency.

The invention of coloured LEDs prompted a wave of creative showmanship, with projects vying for attention by battling it out in the colour stakes. But while scores of lighting experts agree that LEDs are definitely here to stay, the bright hues are destined to be muted in the future.

While Krishnan agrees that subtle, functional tones are a key component in architectural lighting, he's convinced that those earlier, glitzier lighting styles are still valuable. "There is enough real architecture [in Las Vegas] where every architect worth his name would like to have his footprint there," says Krishnan. "All the developments there challenge a lighting designer to prove his worth in both the architectural lighting as well as the theatrics." While it may be true that there is a place for lighting that dazzles the eye, Turner & Clausen remain unconvinced. "Far too many [buildings] still mix up good lighting design with 'way too much' lighting design," says Turner. "The lighting has to be created in close cooperation with the architect who designs the building. Essentially, the lighting design should build upon the architect's vision of the look, form and function of the building."

Paul Davies, director of LitePros, agrees that we might be coming to the end of building lightshows that are larger than life. "Recent specifications show there is a move away from 'Festival Lighting' schemes and the rapid colour changing wash or column scenarios borne of the Burj Al Arab-type light shows. The tendency is for more mood effects such as enclosed edge lighting and corner feature enhancements creating halo and backlight effects."

Although the technology is available for lighting that shocks and inspires awe, many uses of the new colour-changing LEDs have actually moved in the opposite direction. The LEDs are increasingly being used to create subtler, more neutral spaces that are bathed in soft whites and beiges instead of the more dazzling hues of the past. Mohan Chandra from Osram agrees that architectural lighting 'enhances' three-dimensional rooms and emphasises architectural details in a building.

However, Latitude restaurant in the Jumeirah Beach Hotel is one example of a project where the lighting concept required a bit of drama. "KCA's concept demanded a lot of dynamic elements to the lighting, including colour-changing LEDs, moving heads colour projection, fibre-optics, LED strips and fluorescent lighting," says Barry Hannaford of DPA.

The lighting division of Al Aqili Furnishings Group is currently working with Al Aqili Future Technology to develop Intelligent Lights-a full range of lighting solutions controlled by computerised devices and software. According to Rudi Hoess, general manager of Belight, end users of this new technology will have full facilities of controlling and switching the lighted areas and the light volume and colour to suit the desired mood and ambience.

Today's rapidly advancing developments in LED technology allow architects and designers to create lighting effects that had been previously unthinkable. Miniaturised light sources, multiple lighting effects, reliability, saturated colours and dynamic effects are all proven and utilised advantages of LED lighting.

"In the past, white light was a difficult source to work with due to its inherent inefficiency, lack of controllability, or colour variation," says Andy Davies of GE. This trend has accelerated in recent years as lamps, which are specifically designed for this application, have entered the market, and electronic ballasts-or, a computerised, remote-controlled dimmer switch-designed for outdoor use have also emerged, allowing for additional colour control through precise power regulation. "I see the white light trend as complementary to the popular high-pressure sodium technology, rather than a replacement," says Davies.

Davies notes that there is still a growing trend for dynamic lighting, which is possible by the emergence of several technologies. "Dynamic colour changing can be achieved using LED technology, RGB colour mixing and moving lights. The Allianz Arena in Munich, which changes colour depending on which team is playing, is a well-known example," he says. "Moreover, the emergence of dimmable HID sources that can be interfaced with wireless remote control and monitoring systems will have a dramatic effect in future."

Metal halide ceramic lamps and electronic transformer PTUs used in Dubai Airport's Terminal 3, and a lighting system in Bahrain Airport that includes warm white LEDs, are examples of the new technology being used.

The type of effects that can be created with the latest equipment is vast. "A new trend in architectural lighting is the Light Space, where light plays the role of changing the internal dynamics of a room by projecting light to create virtual space," explains Hoess. This offers an explanation of how fusing architecture and lighting science can create space where none previously existed.

Trends toward
Environmentally-friendly lighting

Economic and environmental concerns have driven industry researchers to develop alternatives to traditional incandescent light. They've responded-and continue to respond-with evermore innovative forms of LED lighting and intensive white light products that are energy efficient and fully compatible with the new design strategies.

Lighting can comprise up to 30% of the overall cost during the life of a building, and apart from employees themselves, lighting is the most expensive aspect of a building's operating costs. In response to global energy concerns, architects and developers are turning to ever-greener forms of lighting that will ultimately provide the same amount of light for a fraction of the cost. Turner & Clausen believe that the global, "drive toward leaner sources of light" has reached obsession levels and that in response, major international players are challenged with using ultra efficient lighting schemes while still preserving the 'magical effects' that we expect to adorn any major development.

While sustainable energy reduces maintenance costs, as more efficient light sources require less-frequent attention, the real challenge lies in promoting sustainability to clients who may find the initial costs discouraging. Legislation on energy consumption that is affecting the lighting industry in Europe and the US has yet to be considered in the GCC, and thus consumers are loathe to pay extra for what they consider unnecessary technology. But it seems that this legislation will hit Middle Eastern shores sooner rather than later, and while the GCC is just beginning to implement Kyoto Protocol regulations and other eco-legislation, it is conceivable that current rates of consumption will soon draw the ire of eco-friendly nations around the world and lead to increasing energy bills, over-use fines and brown-outs domestically.

"Environmental issues such as global warming are starting to dominate the way we use our resources. Traditional concepts of how we illuminate our living/work space are changing. Not gradually, but by legislation, with state and federal governments endorsing policies and laws to reduce waste and abuse of diminishing resources. As a consequence, and with the emergence of new methods, and new materials, there will be significant changes in architectural style, materials...per geography and culture," says Rudie Hoess.

As Paul Davies explains, the trend toward ecologically-sound lighting will inevitably make its mark on the types of products being used by consumers. "With the forthcoming Carbon Footprint requirements dictated by international corporations for world compliance, especially in the hospitality sectors, architectural lighting will become Reflector Fluorescent and LED-based. The conventional Halogen MR 16 types lamps will be replaced by Ingenium 9w GU 10 fluorescent technology or multiple 3w LED lamps which are now available in varying beamwidths and colour temperatures with near equivalent luminous efficiency to halogen. Many advantages of these replacements are reducing costs by around 70%, lamp life 80% and heat dissipation above 90%. This is the future, and it is green."

While Krishnan believes "sustainable lighting is good for building users, an organisation's 'bottom line,' and the environment," he is quick to point out that regardless of country of origin or governmental regulations, there is also a moral obligation that needs to be followed. More than just a buzzword, trend or industry fad sustainable development is the way of the future and it is simply, "the right thing to do."

The future

Turner & Clausen consider the Middle East an environment where designers, architects and developers work interdependently to create structures that are aesthetically, as well as functionally, unique. "In many ways we have been lucky in the Middle East in that we have witnessed a substantial number of iconic buildings being built where the enhancement of the external structure by light has been seen as a non-negotiable part of the design."

Certainly, the benefits of using light to create and define space, alter moods and add evening visibility to architectural projects are well-documented. Turner & Clausen hope, however, that innovations in exterior lighting will eventually be just as desirable indoors and companies and consumers will begin prioritising interior lighting. "In comparison with 15 years ago we can now light the inside and outside of any structure or building with only a fraction of the energy we used to use. However the quest continues, and to achieve such breakthroughs, we need innovators, not copiers, to lead the way."

Raman Krishnan is optimistic about the development of architectural lighting in the Middle East and he seems convinced of its staying power. "Hopefully the way forward [for architectural lighting] is for creative lighting designers to be included in all types of projects so that a combination of efficient and elegant solutions can be achieved," says Krishnan. "Until recently lighting was always the last item on the agenda in a project and a lot of compromise was made regarding selection and procurement. All this is changing now... Questions about how light penetrates space, shapes it and alters it by means of shadows interests architects; light [has become] an instrument for designing a space."

RGB colour mixing: Red, green, blue colour variation. A perfect mixture creates pure, white light.

Incandescent light: Artificial light that works by sending electricity through a filament.

White (Intensive) light: Light created by mixing appropriate intensities of red, green and blue. Varying mixtures produce neutral and subtle lighting.

LED lamps: Much cooler than fluorescent lamps, but quality and colour temperature varies. Because of their tendency toward blues in the colour spectrum, some LED lamps create more natural looking light.

Ceramic metal halide: A lamp that contains a ceramic tube and creates a bluish light that is close to daylight. Has been found to be five times brighter than comparable incandescent light bulbs.

High-pressure sodium (HPS) light: Very efficient, highly-pressured lamp commonly used for outdoor lighting and places where good colour rendering is important.

Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL): Designed to replace incandescent lamps. Cost more than incandescent lamps but they use less energy and last longer. Environmental impact of mercury contained within is of some debate.

Halogen MR 16 lamps: Often used in place of CFLs or incandescent light bulbs. Usually compact for smaller or more discreet fixtures.

Backlight effect: The strategy of illuminating a subject from the back, causing a glow or 'halo' effect.

Electronic ballast: An electronic, remote-controlled dimmer switch.

Most popular


CW Oman Awards 2020: Meet the winners
A round of the thirteen winning names at the Construction Week Oman Awards 2020 that


Leaders UAE 2020: Building a sustainable, 'resilient' infra
AESG’s Phillipa Grant, Burohappold’s Farah Naz, and Samana's Imran Farooq on a sustainable built environment
CW In Focus | Inside the Leaders in KSA Awards 2019 in Riyadh
Meet the winners in all 10 categories and learn more about Vision 2030 in this

Latest Issue

Construction Week - Issue 767
Sep 01, 2020