The discipline of architectural lighting can be traced back to the Middle Ages and beyond. Builders of churches and cathedrals made use of the sun’s rays to achieve spectacular illumination in houses of worship, and stained glass windows created stunning effects. Of course, the builders of the dark ages didn’t refer to their instinctive skills as architectural lighting. This term only became meaningful in the late 1960’s, when the formation of the International Association of Lighting Designers emphasized the importance of illumination in an architectural context.
Since then, builders have learned that the illumination of a space – be it indoors or outdoors – can have a profound effect on mood, ambience, and the performance of task. Today’s designers primarily focus on three factors when it comes to illumination: beauty, function, and sustainability.
The increasing frequency of government energy code enactments and “green” initiatives have resulted in a heavy emphasis on energy efficiency. Especially in commercial settings (e.g. factories, warehouses, discount stores) where efficiency and operating cost are intricately related. Aesthetic attractiveness is a priority as well in upscale establishments and entertainment venues like those found in Las Vegas. Functionality is highly important in environments where optimal illumination is critical for the performance of tasks in hospitals, for example, or sport stadiums.
Talented designers are learned in the science and art of illumination, with a deep understanding of the physiology and psychology of human light perception, as well as the physics surrounding production and distribution. With the help of computer software, modern designers have the ability to input relevant data such as placement of fixtures, sun penetration, flooring types,and reflective surfaces into a program that subsequently calculates and models ideal illumination levels.