Environmental concerns and consumer demand have fast-tracked the creation of energy-efficient lighting design solutions, while technology has enabled the creation of highly-customisable lighting systems. In the hands of creative designers, these tools are helping to inspire new, rich and informative visual experiences.

Lighting professionals are embracing a range of disciplines, such as technology, engineering, photo-biology and science, to redefine our daytime and nightime spaces – and it is transforming our cities and our lives. 

When Nichia Corporation commercialised the first high-intensity blue LED electronic chips in 1994, the age of digitally networked LED electroluminescence had begun. LEDs provide illumination and, beyond that basic function, they have the capacity to provide dynamic enhancements to our world.

These enhancements were truly inconceivable in the past, but today these new technologies are impacting the lighting design process and the spaces we help to design. 

Dynamic light making dreams reality

Natural light is dynamic. It is constantly changing from dawn to dusk and from season to season. Lighting designers have always endeavoured to integrate natural daylight into the design of spaces and to reflect the natural variabililty of light. 

This design dream has become a reality with recent advances in lighting technology, such as individually addressable lighting nodes, subtle colour mixing and smooth dimming capabilities. 

Art in the Spotlight

Light is integral to art. It reveals colour, texture and scale. For cultural institutions, such as galleries and museums, lighting design plays a critical role, both in artistic aspiration and conservation. Lighting works of art to suit the materials also improves the viewer experience by matching specific colours and finishes.

Tuneable lighting is an exciting way to illuminate works of art, but new opportunities are also emerging to dial up specific colours, such as warm white to burnish gold brilliance, or cool blue-white light to enhance concrete steel or water.

The latest flexible digital lighting systems for galleries includes smooth transitions in colour temperature and light colour mixing for visual enhancement. Customisable LED light sources to enhance the colour palette are already available, providing opportunities to amplify vibrancy and colour. 

Add to this that many works of art, based on organic materials, are sensitive to both shortwave ultra violet (UV) and longwave infrared (IR) light, LED light sources are providing a near-perfect solution, with minimal UV and IR radiation reducing the risk of damage over time.

Lighting Up Productivity

Innovations in digital lighting and how we control it may soon allow us to provide lighting to tune our levels of alertness and satisfaction at work – and improve our sleep quality at home. 

In the late 1990s, a new type of photoreceptor cell was discovered in the eye. Known as ipRGCs, these cells are not responsible for visual responses such as vision, but instead control a number of human biological responses, including the circadian rhythm. 

Many physiological processes, such as alertness, sleep and digestion, form part of this daily rhythm. Exposure to all light affects the circadian system, but narrow spectrum blue light particularly suppresses melatonin and affects our wake-sleep cycle. 

Today, tuneable white lighting systems move us far beyond the realm of static white light, simulating the movement and colour temperature of daylight, based on the time of day and the season. 

This is particularly useful in commercial office spaces with deep floor plans and workplaces with no direct access to daylight. Tuneable white light systems can give workers a reassuring link to the outside world, which will improve their productivity and wellbeing.

With their potential to light up productivity, automated light programs that synchronise ambient light levels across a 24-hour day may be commonplace elements in our offices of the future. 

Lighting for Better Health

Dynamic lighting also has huge potential to enhance the health and wellbeing of building occupants, with new guides such as The WELL Building Standard for commercial applications incorporating and providing recommendations for circadian lighting design. This includes a new proposed metric, equivalent melanopic lux (ELM), which enables work areas to keep circadian rhythms in sync with the 24-hour clock.

This is particularly useful when designing lighting for shift workers, who may have little or no interaction with the natural daylight cycle, and for healthcare patients, such as those with Alzheimers, who can suffer from sleep disorders and the adverse effects of circadian drift.

Lighting Up Productivity

As buildings become smarter we can already envision a future where buildings will ‘wake-up’ in the morning and ‘sleep’ at night. The latest smart-building lighting systems have networked sensor controls and fully integrated connectivity, where intelligent luminaires respond to real-time data, improving the user experience and reducing energy consumption.

For the buildings of the future, this makes real sense in both energy and cost savings, and for local residents and wildlife it has the added benefits of reduced light pollution. 

Lighting designers are embracing the latest digital technologies and discovering new ways to apply lighting to architecture and to interact with people, transforming spaces and experiences over time. New dynamic lighting capabilities add to the lighting designer’s toolbox, but ultimately it is the creative combination of light and shadow, colour, contrast and movement which allows us to design healthy, engaging, memorable and atmospheric spaces.

Bringing Our Cities to Life

Until recently, building facades were illuminated by simple floodlights, wash lights and decorative lanterns. In the last decade, our nighttime cityscapes have been transformed by digital and dynamic light. The introduction of LED light sources, which are small, durable and can be individually-controlled, has enabled designers to integrate lighting into the fabric of building façades. When these are combined with digital light control systems, lighting designers can create dynamic, luminous and colour-changing building façades.

By their very nature, buildings are designed to be static, but smart luminous fabrics and projections have given us the freedom to provide new and flexible interpretations of our nighttime cityscapes. From changing fields of colour to 3D video-mapping, the potential opportunities for commercial enterprises to create ‘brand magic’ and for local government and councils to directly engage with their public is just beginning to be realised. 

Luminous storytelling, whether in the form of the abstract or through direct communication, can create mesmerising and lasting impressions. Our team’s recent lighting upgrade at The National Carillon in Canberra provides a perfect example of this, with its successful re-interpretation of the original ‘candle light’ design.

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