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The architect, lighting designer and the light

As architecture continually evolves with a distinct shift in trends and new technologies, the task of lighting must adapt too. Lighting design, as we know it, serves to develop well-formed, human-focused concepts in architecture. Fostering understanding between design professionals is the key to a successful and cohesive outcome.

So the question remains: What is creatively possible when a truly transparent and synchronised relationship is built between the two disciplines?

Jaques is a Director at The Flaming Beacon, an international lighting design consultancy located in Melbourne and Berlin. Jaques emphasises the importance of synchronicity between daylight and artificial lighting design, as well as the relationship between architects and lighting designers. As a designer, he believes in investigating all lighting opportunities from the very beginning of every design collaboration.

There are currently various conversations around Human Centric Lighting (HCL) in the industry on how it can be used within buildings to improve working and living conditions. At its core, HCL is aimed at exploring the visual and non-visual (physiological and emotional) benefits that can be derived from lighting.

Jaques believes discussions around HCL, especially in Australia, tend to be limited to indoor lighting; “this is understandable as we are blessed with an abundance of natural light.” He says it is because of this; the design community may be missing a golden opportunity to make spaces better to live and work in by engaging even more with natural light. “Ask any lighting designer who their favourite architects are, and they will invariably mention those who considered natural light essential in their planning and design of spaces.”

An Edwardian house located in Melbourne showcases the collaboration of both disciplines and its ability to define spaces.

In Australian conditions, it is a certain possibility to design houses that rarely require the addition of artificial lighting throughout the day. “Houses can introduce sunlight modulating elements to remind the inhabitants of their connection to the natural world outside, the time of day, the time of year and to imagine the sounds of the outside, or the source of the shadows that infiltrate and render their built environments,” expresses Jaques. He says that by making these direct or indirect references to our natural world, we are further connected biologically to the natural rhythms we seek.

For a more holistic approach to how light can influence the built form and improve well-being, Jaques believes architects require the assistance of lighting experts more than ever. This support would inevitably mean a shift in the traditional role of both the architect and the lighting designer, whereby a more collaborative approach is required. “No longer would the interface between natural light and architecture be solely the domain of the architect, but conversely neither would the artificial light be the sole responsibility of the lighting designer,” Jaques expresses. The joint interest of both disciplines would showcase light and its ability to define spaces and positively affect people’s well-being.

Jaques conveys that for this to happen, two things need to change. Firstly, the lighting designer would need to be involved in the overall design process at an earlier stage to enable a meaningful dialogue on the requirements for good daylight and artificial light. “Often lighting designers are brought into the project after the architectural concept has already been signed off and by this time the opportunity to add creatively to the manipulation of natural light is greatly reduced,” he indicates. Secondly, both the architect, interior designer and the lighting designer need to appreciate what each other brings to a successful project. Jaques further clarifies, “this is so that…

…form and ambience become inseparable in the dialogue.”

This prospect was explored recently by longtime collaborators, Jaques and architect Johannes Hart of Layan Design Group. “The project was a renovation to an Edwardian house located in a built-up inner Melbourne suburb, with neighbouring dwellings abutting the property on three sides,” Jaques explains. The pair decided early on that they could find several exciting ways to bring natural light into the house throughout the day. Jaques says that Johannes skilfully organised the plan around a central courtyard with full height glass on three sides to bring maximum light into the living spaces. Two sets of skylights were then introduced to allow the midday sun to glance the adjacent walls, which revealed the deep horizontal mortar joints that were an important feature of the architectural language.

A playful relationship of light and shadow cascades across the interior facing brick wall.

The renovation featured a low horizontal window which was created to look out to a winter garden, with a horizontal mirror integrated under the external steel facia to redirect the sun back through bamboo clusters to create a play of light on the brick wall. Jaques explains that the leaves of the bamboo were intentionally removed from the lower portion of the stems so that it is through the movement of the shadows on the wall behind, that the scale and density of leaves are understood,
“as is the intensity of the wind.”

Upstairs the main bedroom and ensuite feature full height glazing along the north face which required a privacy screen for local code compliance – to block views into the neighbouring properties. The conclusion was to create a screening device that could interact with both wind and sun, work as a privacy screen and provide evening illumination at night suitable for encouraging sleep.

Jaques and Johannes were inspired by the modular constructivism that informed American-Austrian sculptor, Erwin Hauer’s work from the 1950s and 1960s. The pair created over 900 modular devices that had a curved hollow form and arranged them in alternating planes to create various layering to the interior shadows. “As the sun moves throughout the day the shadows they form are moving in and out of focus, and the translucent nature of the modules helped reduce the contrast to provide a more serene environment,” Jaques explains. The modules self-illuminate at dusk and are programmed to dim down when night falls, transforming the interior space into a softly glowing amber volume.

Jaques admits this ambitious screen was possible because he (the lighting designer) had a deep appreciation for what the architect was trying to achieve and vice versa. “Various screening devices were discussed before settling on the final version,” he confirms. The interior palette was limited to only a few materials to allow the ever-changing play of sunlight to be the feature. Even during cloudy days, the limited materials (primarily cream bricks and oak timber) as well as minimal decoration, allowed for a deeper appreciation of the subtle variations and qualities of the materials.

This positive collaboration continued into the interiors where the lighting was heavily integrated into the bespoke joinery elements, and decorative lights were selected and designed together. Jaques explores the design; “this included a custom six-metre long kitchen shelf seamlessly integrated with a range hood containing six channels of tunable LEDs used for task light, indirect light and a dining table light.” A large reason for the success of the project came from a shared vision by the design team to manipulate, filter and control the light – both natural and artificial for the benefit of the owners.

The role of lighting design, (both in its artificial and natural state) within architecture is a complex one which should be approached with a sense of synergy. Integration of the two disciplines is imperative and for lighting designers and architects alike, a seamless way to ensure the approval of everyone involved in the project. 

With this highly integrated collaboration, both the architecture and lighting design is validated within the build and ensures the project emerges as cohesive.