Text: Chris Lowe, PLDA, Philip Rafael, PLDA
Photos: David Barbour/BDP
Painting: Chiaroscuro

05. Nov 2011

Light design – The Dark Art

An understanding of darkness is essential for truly inspirational light design. So, why is good use of darkness within architectural light design so rare? Is darkness absent from the light designer’s palette?

Many designers wish to utilise darkness in their light designs –whether that is by creating darker spaces, or by simply using higher levels of contrast in a scheme, there is an aspiration for darkness to be an intrinsic part of design. However, there seems to be uneasiness towards darkness within the light design profession. This is due to both internal and external influences with biology, evolution, beliefs, culture, and regulations playing a part. As professional designers we have an obligation to comply with existing standards and regulations. Even in situations where guidance is not legally mandatory, it is often enforced on the designer by the wider design community. Despite the worthy intention, regulations often act to limit and impose rules on our creativity. It is not that the industry wishes to be of detriment to the light designer’s creativity, it is simply that many times the existing guidance or legislation is the only frame of reference it has to lighting. Clients find comfort within the parameters set by official documentation. As a generalisation, Architectural Light Design uses light with the intent of eliminating darkness to create a functional space allowing the user to perform certain visual tasks. ‘Feature lighting’ may play its part in this but usually this consists of adding another layer of light to the already lit scheme; rarer is subtracting light to create feature or spectacle.

This article will explore the importance of darkness in light design, identifying obstacles which may limit our freedom to create exceptional designs with the use of darkness. By looking into what the origins of the current mindset are and presenting alternative views on the topic we enable ourselves to influence the future of our profession. […]


The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 79.

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