Overcoming 8 key architectural lighting challenges

Architectural lighting covers a whole host of outdoor lighting projects. Seeking a stylistic lighting display to complement a modern concrete building? Or functional lighting for walkways in residential areas where safety is a top priority?

Regardless of what you’re working on, your lighting design will need to balance practicality with aesthetic value. Add safety and financial considerations into the mix, and things can get a little complicated.

But don’t fret! We’ve put together a handy list of ways to overcome these eight potential challenges so you can ace your next architectural lighting project.

1. Highlighting focal points

When embarking on an architectural lighting project, it’s not enough to simply brighten up the general location site. When the entire area is equally as bright, there’s nothing drawing attention to the things you set out to highlight in the first place — and you could be wasting money lighting things that don’t need to be lit.

So, be sure to place your lights above your chosen focal points and use darkness to your advantage for maximum impact. For instance, we put colour-changing lights with a narrow lens above the bollards at the Mirfield Station underpass, producing an eye-catching feature wall accentuating the path boundaries.

2. Using the right colours

Bright, multi-coloured lights might seem an obvious choice for a high-impact architectural lighting installation. They’re fun, modern and liven up a dull space. But these lights could upset and deter locals if they don’t match your installation’s context.

We recommend adjusting the colour temperature to fit the vibe of your installation site. For high streets that welcome dinner guests after dark, warm CCT (correlated colour temperature) LEDS can create a cosy, inviting ambience and avoid keeping nearby residents awake. You can also use RGBA (red, green, blue, amber) strips for colourful, adjustable lighting outside bars and clubs, which can provide soft, pastel tones or saturated, lively colours that scream ‘party this way!’.

3. Managing light spill

If you’re not careful with the tilt angle of your architectural light installations, you’ll experience light spill, which can be a nuisance to nearby residents and wildlife. For example, light spill can make it hard for birds to identify whether it’s day or night and disturb foraging patterns.

Thankfully, there are a few ways you can minimise light spill. For optimum shielding, we suggest opting for downward lighting with a narrow beam angle and using flush-fitting louvres and snoots to further concentrate light distribution. Otherwise, use shields to control light spills from upward-facing lights. And of course, only install lights where they’re needed.

4. Minimising glare

Glare occurs when there are too many bright lights in one area, causing the pupils to dilate and making the surrounding area appear darker. The high contrast can be uncomfortable to look at — not exactly what you want from a new lighting installation.

To eliminate this problem, you’ll need to ensure the luminous surface is hidden wherever possible. Try reducing the light output with low-lumen lighting solutions and adding extra lights to compensate for this. Or even out the distribution of the lights and position them against a lighter background. It’s all in the lighting design!

5. Combatting the cost-of-living crisis

We don’t need to tell you that inflation is hiking up the cost of lighting towns and cities. But if you choose inefficient products that are expensive to run now because they’re cheaper upfront, you’ll pay the price down the line.

A better way to keep costs down is to invest in high-quality solutions from the outset. For example, LEDs are super low-cost. Plus, they’re known to provide between 50,000 and 100,000 hours of light before they need replacing. And they’re extra efficient!

6. And the climate crisis…

Scrimping on sustainability measures won’t just cost you more now; it could also leave you in hot water later. Our advice? Support a circular economy (durable products and minimal waste only, please), comply with the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) and always check the latest lighting guides.

The 2022 SLL Code for Lighting provides up-to-date advice on ways to implement today’s most popular lighting solutions safely and sustainably. The code considers the impact of the lighting on the environment, encouraging designers to provide the right amount of light, in the right place, at the right time — and with the right equipment!

7. Controlling output

Even the most efficient products won’t be very friendly to the environment or your wallet if you don’t have the right control measures. But if you can’t keep the lights on 24/7, and you can’t risk people’s safety by turning them off altogether, then what do you do?

Use sensors, of course! Able to measure ambient light levels, sensors can detect when it’s dark enough to warrant having the lights on — and when it’s light enough to turn them off. Plus, you can connect sensors to DMX (Digital Multiplexing) or DALI (Digital Accessible Lighting Interface) solutions for handy (and cost-effective) remote dimming capabilities.

8. Anticipating your project’s impact

You’ll need to go back to the drawing board if your architectural lighting project doesn’t meet the local planning authority’s requirements, which can cost valuable time and money. But not with a lighting impact assessment (which is our speciality, by the way).

These evaluations ensure all the social and environmental impacts of your lighting installation are mitigated to the highest possible standard to make sure your project gets approval and goes off without a hitch.

DFL is one of the UK’s largest independent lighting consultancies with several award-winning architectural lighting projects to our name. To work with us on your next project, contact us via info@dfl-uk.com or give us a call at +44 (0)1962 855080.

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