The modernist idea that ‘form follows function’ is a familiar one, but in
lighting design the form of the building often influences the function of
the lighting, with the style and shape of a structure dictating the nature
of the lighting that will best enhance the architecture, and a building’s
location influencing the volume and intensity of the lighting we plan to
use. In some cases that can be very little indeed.
I once showed a client’s team a video I shot on my phone, on-site, of a
single candle in the middle of a dark field to demonstrate how much work
a minute amount of light can do in an environment that is primarily dark.
My aim was to persuade them that they needed far less intensity and
brightness than ‘the rules’ stated.
Of course, had the site been in a more populous urban environment
it would have needed more light because safety is as important as
aesthetics. But what we are always looking for is ways to create a layered
and balanced lit ‘picture’.
This is particularly true when we illuminate buildings surrounded by
interesting hard and soft landscape. Then design becomes a case of
content following context and, of course, contours.
Here, I have looked at a range of projects purely in terms of shape and the
way in which that influenced the lighting design.
The first drawing (below) shows a flat, angular building, a modern home
set in a garden with simple clean lines that responded well to being
lit from the inside out. Emphasis on supports and highlighting of the
surrounding landscape completed the lit picture.
For the larger, flat, angular building shown in the second drawing
(opposite, top), lighting inside the windows emphasised the angularity
How to use light to emphasise form
In the third of her series, Lighting Design House principal Mary Rushon-Beales moves outside to consider how form and
shape often dictate the design of the exterior lighting of a building, whatever its vintage or style