Top Ideas for the Application of Light in Architecture

Whether it is outdoor lighting, landscape lighting, indoor lighting or simply picture lights, light in architecture is a crucial element in every single application.

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In proper lighting design, the role of light in architecture goes beyond just meeting the illuminance requirements of the space. Good lighting introduces aesthetics and enhances the mood of the space while still providing maximum visual comfort. 

Harald Hoyer from Schwerin, Germany, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Light affects how we experience architecture both internally and externally. To elevate any work of architecture, you must show an understanding of the concept of light. Below are some of the top ideas on how to apply light to the architecture of your home:

  1. Function over Form

In architecture, there is a principle that states that, ‘Form follows Function.’ This statement is particularly true when it comes to lighting. In every application of light in architecture, the core function is to provide adequate illuminance to the space to allow it to fulfill its required purpose. Light must first of all be functional. It is for this reason that you must first consider the recommended illuminance levels of the room. For instance, an office or kitchen would generally require higher lighting levels than a lounge or bedroom. Once you understand this, then you can design for the three layers of light.

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Ambient light is the general layer of light that illuminates the room to the required lighting levels. You can then add task lighting to provide light for other specific tasks in the room. For instance, a table lamp would be great for reading, and under-cabinet lighting would safely light up the kitchen worktop for activities such as cutting and chopping. 

Accent lighting, such as picture lights, comprise the final layer of lighting. These fixtures mainly add to the aesthetics of the structure by highlighting any unique architectural features or artwork. 

Therefore, in your lighting design, aim first to provide lighting that meets the required function, then address the other secondary needs. This principle applies whether it’s to the interior or the exterior of your architecture.

  1. Lighting for Aesthetics

You can generously light every room, but it is the creative use of lighting that will transform a bland structure into an outstanding piece of art. All the most famous architects understand the difference made by a light well employed and therefore integrate it as a prime element in their design. In the article on the 100 most famous landmarks in the world, you can see how light largely contributes to the artistic beauty of these popular destinations.  There are various ways to apply light for aesthetics in architecture.

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First, by the proper play of light and shadow to the structure, you can add a whole new dimension to the space. Externally, architects have long since used the technique of casting shadows and patterns onto building structures to make them stand out. The alignment of structures, the positioning of windows and openings, the designs on the grills and pillars, the cutouts on panels, and the designs of the reflective blinds, all cast different shadows on the architecture when exposed to light. By taking advantage of this, you can effortlessly change a rather plain design into a more sophisticated décor. Lights and shadows can create patterns, add depth and even bring out textures.

The other way to add aesthetics is to incorporate decorative light fixtures. Carefully selected light fixtures go a long way in uplifting your architecture. Accent lights, picture lights, ornamental chandeliers, or even sleek fixture designs that are modern and timeless will complement the design of your structure and interiors. 

  1. Create a Focal Point

Lighting is a great way to draw attention to any given point in a room or structure. It creates contrast by highlighting the important architectural features and making them pop from the background. Create a statement by drawing all the attention to your accent walls, the sculptures in your garden, or even your artworks through lighting. For this, it is advisable that the illuminance levels used to highlight these features be at least three times the general illuminance of the space.

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  1. Maximize the use of Natural Daylight

When lighting architecture, maximizing the use of natural daylight is essential. Not only is it free and energy-efficient, but it also stimulates higher productivity and visual comfort. In its article, Architizer outlines some of the cleverly designed projects that employ the creative use of natural daylight. To make the most of natural daylight, architects design buildings with orientation in mind. Buildings with windows positioned in the North/South direction will have adequate natural light in their rooms throughout the day. The provision for larger windows and glazed openings, regulated by curtains, blinds, or screens will allow just the right amount of daylight required for comfortable use of the space. 

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When designing for natural daylight, the total area of the windows should be between 10 to 20% of the total wall area. However, since the amount of daylight tends to vary with the season, location, and time of day, it is important to install artificial lighting with light adjustment controls. Artificial lighting will allow you better control of the lighting levels, provide more flexibility and let you explore more creativity with different designs and color temperatures.  

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  1. Increase the Quality of Lighting 

Have you ever noticed that lighting in some spaces is more flattering than in others? Well, this mostly has to do with the quality of light. Light can be either direct or indirect. Direct lighting refers to lighting that emits directly from the source and onto the intended subject or working area. On the contrary, indirect lighting often reflects onto a surface before illuminating the subject area. As such, the effects of these lights are different.

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While direct light finds a great purpose in lighting outdoor areas and streets, indirect lighting is a better fit for indoor spaces. Indirect lighting emits softer light, which results in softer shadows as well as minimum glare. 

However, it is still possible to increase the quality of direct light sources in various ways. For instance, diffuse panels that come with LEDs generally distribute the light over a larger area, therefore softening it. Alternatively, installation of shields, louvers, screens, grilles, or baffles, symmetrically around the light source, would disperse the light, preventing direct light from hitting the working plane. This is a great way to increase the quality of light as well as the visual comfort it provides.

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  1. Apply Different Light Distribution Modes

Light fixtures distribute light in different ways. It can either be multi-directional, emitting light in all directions, or unidirectional, simply beaming its rays in a single direction.  When it comes to unidirectional lighting, downlighting is the most common, providing uniform lighting to the ambiance of the space. Downlighting fixtures shine their light downwards from the ceiling towards the ground.

On the other hand, uplighting works in the opposite direction, reflecting the light onto the ceiling, therefore providing indirect lighting. In the same way, light can also distribute in a sideward direction.

There are many ways to incorporate different modes of lighting distribution in your architecture. Some may include the use of pattern lighting, cove lighting, recessed lighting, pendant lights, floor lamps, picture lights, strip lights and so much more.

  1. Efficiency

In all its beauty, light can be quite an expense on your budget if not done sustainably. In your lighting design, it is also important to prioritize the efficiency of your lighting at all costs. You can do this by selecting energy-efficient fixtures such as LEDs, or fitting in light-adjustment controls to regulate light levels in your spaces. Technologies such as monitors, automated lighting, and motion sensors allow the efficient use of lighting by automatically switching lighting on and off, or dimming them when not in use.


Light in architecture is crucial, not just aesthetically, but as a functional means of interaction with architecture. It is important to apply a lighting design that is not only efficient but also comfortable. The lighting system should be the best fit for the use of the space or architecture, bringing out its’s best features. For instance, using accent lights and picture lights will highlight architectural features and art pieces. When used right, light makes all the difference to an architectural design. 

Meta Description

Light plays a major role in illuminating spaces, introducing aesthetics, and enhancing the mood of the space. From picture lights to outdoor lighting and indoor lighting, read on to learn how to incorporate light in architecture. 

Author’s Profile

Winny Okoth is a practicing Construction Project Manager and Interior Designer. She is also currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Construction Project Management. Winny Okoth has a great passion for every form of design and has mastery of the principles of design. She also specializes in 3D visualization for architectural and interior design renders.


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