Changing perspective

Light is used as a device of expression in a space. It has the ability to focus or divert the eye. Through a set of illumination principles, there is a certain grammar that emerges when manipulating perception with light. This means that, by making some strategic choices when it comes to lighting, you can make a space appear larger, seem more cohesive, or use it to establish links and draw boundaries.

Germany-based lighting engineers Erco have collaborated on many projects in which light has either transformed or created new ways of seeing. They use light in a way that plays with how we view these spaces and construct the whole condition from an assemblage of illumination details. In these punctuations, they are able to manipulate how you see an object, or define one aspect of it.

Shifting one’s perception of one’s built surrounds has a lot to do with light. However, it is also dependant on the intersection of various other factors. These considerations include the viewing position; the way you throw light across a surface; or how you fill the immediate surround with a base level of illumination. The following is a series of lighting techniques that sit within a larger language you need to consider when composing an aesthetic phenomena:

Drawing boundaries

Volume is perceived with the eye’s innate ability to distinguish subtle tonal gradations. The subtle shifts in shades of white during the day are intensified at night. The role of darkness in architecture serves as a point of contrast in a space. Painting with light, the darker tones serve as a frame for the feature you are drawing the eye towards.

Landscape of Weissenhaus Castle estate hotel

The landscape of Weissenhaus castle is an example of drawing connections and boundaries with light. By selectively illuminating points in a plane of darkness, the viewer is easily drawn across a choreographed walk. Light, in this case does not only stand alone as a feature, it is positioning itself against the existing fabric by washing the trees in upwards brightness.

Making a space appear cohesive

The salt mine museum in Wieliczka uses vertical wash lighting to homogenise the surface variation in the cavernous interior. They use this same illumination technique even when transitioning to walls that are built up with an array of timber. Although the surfaces are treated completely different, they read in the same language as a cohesive passage.

Washing walls with light – Salt Mine Museum, Wieliczka, Poland

Giving hierarchy

Space is articulated with shifts in tonal intensity. There is usually a context of light that you are building upon whether it is a landscape or a façade. Edinburgh Castle, for instance, sits like a beacon floating in the darkness above the city. The surrounding landscape is purposefully not lit to give it this grandeur.

On a different scale, the façade of the Intercontinental Paris Avenue Marceau Hotel is not in complete darkness, but dimly lit by the surrounding atmosphere. A clever use of recessed lights defines the boundary of the window cutaways. This creates a rhythm to the surface, and gives dimension to a seemingly shallow relief on the façade

Seeing windows, Intercontinental Paris Avenue Marceau Hotel

Highlighting the subtle shifts in surface

We all perceive our surrounds in an individual way – based on neural processes, cultural understanding and environmental elements – playing with the optical grammar of light gives one the ability to change the reading of the existing condition. We do this by changing our understanding of what we already see. An optical construct – a language of light.

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