What is Lighting Design?

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

At its core, architectural lighting design is a concept focused on three key ideas:

  1. The right application of lighting can be used to enhance the aesthetic appeal of a building.

  2. Lighting can also increase the function of a building, particularly at night.

  3. By putting thought into architectural lighting design you can also make sure that no light is wasted, thus increasing the energy efficiency of a building as well.

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But in a general sense, lighting design exists at the perfect intersection between art and technology. By making sure that the best practices of architecture and lighting play off and complement one another, you create better environments - and better experiences - for everyone involved. Lighting fixtures are used to improve someone's ability to work, function, relax and even live in the building in question - thus making it more enjoyable as well.

What is Lighting Design? A History

It can be argued that lighting design itself dates all the way back to 4500 B.C., when the first lamps came into use. Flash forward to the 1840s and arc lights made their debut in Paris, primarily used to emphasise theatrical lighting (among other purposes).

What we now refer to as lighting design for architecture really made its debut over the last 50 years, when builders and designers began to deploy various lighting fixtures to not only reinforce natural light in specific spaces, but to also intentionally change the mood or even the purpose of a building at night.

In the 1950s and 1960s, designing spaces for daylight was seen as important by many professionals. But by the 1970s, buildings were often constructed with smaller windows - thus resulting in gloomy interiors and underlining the importance of proper architectural lighting design at the same time.

In the modern era, this lighting effect brings together various lighting elements into a coordinated system that is intended to support the goal the building itself was created to meet. Oftentimes these designs take advantage of natural light and electrical light at strategic points, all in service of the most important goal of all: serving and advancing human action.

The Importance and Impact of Lighting Design

As stated, architectural lighting design is about far more than just simple illumination - practically any light source can do that. By improving or altering a building's aesthetic through lighting design, you enhance its usability in both residential and commercial applications. Mood lighting can be used to create a more inviting and relaxing space in a personal dwelling, while bright lights in a retail store can have the opposite effect and can actually create a more energetic and engaging shopping experience.

But overall, remember that the goal of an architect is always to create the most exceptional space possible. They consider what someone needs to do in the space and make decisions to help meet those needs.

Lighting design is yet another tool in their toolbox towards that end. Lighting can be used to influence everything from mood to texture to spatial awareness. It can exaggerate certain architectural features and provide intimacy when called for.


This is ultimately why lighting design is so important. It performs in collaboration with the architecture, enhancing it whenever possible. It's responsible for a core part of the experience that the building itself cannot create - which is also why it's become such a priority for so many people over the years.