Shedding some light at Architect@Work

I recently attended Architect@Work at Olympia London, with the particular focus of attending the afternoon seminars on all things workplace; especially, lighting. First up, was “Leading lights in workplace wellness”, chaired by freelance journalist Clare Dowdy and featuring ten-minute instalments delivered by some of the brightest names in the industry from four top lighting and architecture firms operating in the U.K.


Ceri Davies, associate director at AHMM turned the subject of light on its head, speaking about the achieving a balance of light and dark, referring to Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s ‘In Praise of Shadows’ as an inspiration for Google and YouTube’s 350,000 square foot London site. The client brief was to depart from the typical Google style for a space that felt calm and timeless. Ceri covered the merits of designing to embrace natural light but equally supported spaces that celebrate darkness, “there’s certainly a benefit to be found in the occasional respite from light”. This holistic approach considered the surrounding space too, ensuring break-out areas benefit from bright, open views while other spaces seem almost certainly inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Next up was Catherine van der Heide, associate at HASSELL who emphasised providing a choice of working spaces and equipping these with light. The Sky Central office in London, with its 15,000 square foot floorplate and 3,500 staff was a challenge. The brief was to “create a space where people can do the best work of their career”. A key component was to create useful landmarks for wayfinding and in these spaces, the materiality is natural textures enhanced by natural light wherever possible to achieve a more human scale. Catherine said, “It’s most desirable to allow natural light to bounce off materials – we design by considering if we would have it in our own home”.


Lighting for the right task was the focus of the Inessa Demidova’s talk. Representing Arup, Inessa’s team blends artificial and daylight to achieve wellbeing. Inessa admitted, “we don’t yet know enough to be prescriptive” but went on to outline the overarching principals to consider when approaching a project. Our circadian rhythms, how we’re naturally tuned to experience light, play a key role in understanding its biological and psychological effects on us. We’re now exposed to more light, from a multitude of sources for increasing periods of time. For this reason, tuneable sources, using apps and mood settings, are highly important for overall wellness.


Rounding up the talks was Linda Morey-Burrows, director at MoreySmith who recognises that “people are always happier when they’re outside, surrounded by nature and natural daylight”. Linda’s team begins a project by asking ‘how the client wants to work and collaborate’ and then design accordingly. In addition to creating social spaces, Linda’s team has created double volume aspects to allow natural light in where the natural aspect didn’t provide it. Including organic elements add to health and happiness in the workplace, Linda says “if the plants are surviving, there’s good natural daylight and this has a positive effect on the staff”.

L to R: Inessa Demidova, Arup; Ceri Davies, AHMM; Catherine van der Heide HASSELL; Linda Morey-Burrows, MoreySmith; Clare Dowdy

The second seminar I attended, directly entitled “What architects should know about lighting” was chaired by Matt Waring, assistant editor of Arc and featured London based lighting designer Paul Nulty, founder of Nulty+.


Paul delivered a naturally charismatic introduction to everything light-related, and assured us, we are all (at some point) designers too. Paul said “Lighting is the language used to facilitate a conversation and emotional reaction to our spaces and environment. Lighting design is purely about the control of light, which means it’s about selection and application” adding, “we’re constantly engaging with light, incidentally, on all surfaces and by simply walking around we’re seeing its effects”.

Paul recalled the first time his mind was blown by lighting; in the opening scene of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) a blue laser enters the hull of a spaceship and scans the crew in hyper-sleep. The interplay of the laser over textures and silhouettes, building the dramatic tone for this iconic film inspired him to really think about light. Light is such a fundamental factor of our experience of the world that Paul believes lighting should be considered from the inception of any project. Taking his audience back to basics, Paul gave a run-down of lighting design as a subject, using Georges de La Tour’s The Penitent Magdalen (1640) as a haunting example of the power of light and shade.


With sustainability given priority these days, the focus of many projects seems to be driven by efficiency, however Paul stresses the need to focus on user experience and personal engagement; no matter how sustainable it may be, does it ‘work’ for its purpose? Sometimes the lighting designer’s intervention may be as simple as creating a black ceiling without adjusting the lighting itself. This would create a contrast to allow the light to tell a story, Paul explained “the perception of brightness is not equal to the quantity of light within a space”.


Paul also mentioned the power of light rhythm to help explore the landscape of a space, “eyes naturally read rhythm, which leads to permeability. Breaking the space into fore, mid, and background allows light and rhythm to carry the eye through it”, said Paul.


The best dynamic is a two-way, collaborative relationship between the lighting designer and architect. Paul believes, “If you can achieve that, you’ll create something beautiful”, this is an apt analogy for the very design of lighting itself – the key is a balance: achieving the perfect ratio between the luminance of two surfaces.


Thank you to all speakers and Architect@Work, you’ll certainly find me there next time, in a well-lit spot.

By Steve Penney

Ben Keeley

1 thought on “Shedding some light at Architect@Work”

  1. Architects and designers of any restaurants or be it your homes, lights are crucial tools. Proper lighting designs complete the idea of any restaurant or home that would with the designing of the physical space and furniture as well as objects within that space. But most of the people fail to realize the immense value of perfect designs of lights. Lights cannot be built but its perception can be a cultural interpretation and can be designed.

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