ECOLOGIC : Let’s play with lights sensibly

03-Aug-2019 : Pavitra Sriprakash, Director and Chief Designer at Shilpa Architects Planners Designers writes a weekly column on Sustainability for The New Indian Express titled “ECOLOGIC”. This week she writes about facade lighting – sensible light play.

Full article below: (Also available at The New Indian Express Website)

Let’s play with lights sensibly

To light up your building or not, that is the question? If yes, what would the environmentally sensitive approach to it be? Façade lighting is an essential element of accentuating the façade elements that form a part of the architecture of the building. It used to be only monuments with a lot of ornamentation like historic buildings and palaces that enjoyed grand lighting schemes.

Today, however, a lot more contemporary architectural forms enjoy dramatic lighting details that almost play with the light and shade to create visual impressions that are not merely ‘illuminating’ the façade — but are actually becoming a part of the architectural interplay between form and light. Light filters though trellises and transparent surfaces, colour changing facades for different moods, accent lights that form narrow beams and patterns on the surface — all of these are possibilities for architects and designers today.

Any building with a well-lit façade makes an impression on the city skyline. The taller and more iconic the tower, the more vital the role of the façade lighting is. Lighting features and crowning elements also add to the character of a building creating an identity for it — who can ever forget the lit spire of the Empire state building in NY or the Smurfit Stone building in Chicago with its iconic lit elements that are indubitably the most memorable aspects of a city skyline.

In my opinion, the number one issue to consider while detailing a façade lighting is its interference — as a designer I am cautious of the effect of the lighting on the environment as well as the inhabitants of the building. Light pollution is a major issue and in today’s age, the sustainability factor needs to be balanced with the ‘wow factor’ that we are trying to achieve as architects. Disrupting sleeping patterns of nocturnal animals is an absolute no go, and architects need to be sensitive to this aspect and the angles of illumination they choose to adopt.

It is absolutely important to ensure that we reduce and minimise the impact of outdoor lighting and lit facades on the night sky. This has to be done by minimising glare and carefully angling fixtures. The selection of the fixture and directing the beam of light so it does not travel straight into the sky confusing birds and other nocturnal animals is very important. Some lights tend to be obtrusive and create an artificial sky glow. These are to be avoided at any cost and should never be part of the design. The balance of creating a visual effect cannot come at the cost of the biodiversity.

The other aspect of course
is the energy usage. Too much of a lighting load for façade lighting will increase the running costs of the building. Optimising the lighting and selecting energy-efficient fixtures will help keep this aspect in check as well. In short, keep it sustainable and limit façade lighting so that it is never misdirected, excessive or unnecessary.

So there we have it — go ahead and light up your building, but keep in mind the need to be environmentally sensitive while still trying to create that indelible impact in the memories of city dwellers and skylines alike.