The Essentials for Architectural Lighting


When planning your architectural lighting, the best place to start is determining your goal! 

To do this, we ask the 3 W's:

  • Why? Why am I lighting this space?
  • What?  What am I trying to achieve? Is it functional? Is it to enhance or reveal a detail? Is it to attract attention?
  • Where? Where can we position fittings?

After defining your goal, selecting the products and strategies that you need to use for the lighting project will be a much simpler task.


Lighting can be used to enhance the aesthetics of a building, however, it can be used creatively to help people navigate a place. Lighting can be installed to create pathways. You can make use of recessed wall lighting, bollards, or illuminated handrails. Consider outlining the points of a pathway, like the lighting used in airport runways, or installing wall grazers on boundary walls.

Clever designers use light and dark to define where people can or cannot go.


Some people think that the more you have of something, the better it is. But in the case of architectural lighting, less is more. Attempting to light everything does not lead to the best results.

For example, flooding a space with light requires a lot of light and wide beam optics to provide even illumination. However, this can increase glare and the lack of shadow may cause it to appear formless and dull. Flooding a space with light also has other unpleasant side effects like expensive energy bills.

Try finding other ways to implement lighting, such as repeating narrow lines of light which create a feature of an otherwise flat facade.


Don’t be afraid of the dark! In all forms of visual art, shadows add to the beauty. To make the most of architectural lighting, it is important to learn how to make use of the contrasting between light and dark.

Try accentuating the 3D features of a building or a facade by making use of focused light (from narrow or medium beam distributions). This is known as modelling. The contrast of light and dark helps guide our eyes to places of interest.

Remember: what is NOT lit is equally as important what IS.


The colour characteristics of light are also important. These are the Colour Temperature and Colour Rendering Index (CRI).

Colour Temperature refers to the warmness (yellow) or coolness (blue) of a light source, while CRI refers to how accurately the light source allows the colour of an object to shine. For example, a colour temperature that is warm with a high CRI can be used to enhance and complement natural materials (like stone and foliage).

You can also create a contrast by combining colour temperatures. In areas where ambient light is 3000k warm white, try using a cooler colour temperate ie 4000k to 6000K cool white to highlight architectural features.


Horizontal lighting and uniformity are important considerations when it comes to lighting. For example, horizontal lighting allows drivers to see where they are going whilst driving. Vertical lighting, on the other hand, is important for pedestrians to navigate a space safely. Vertical lighting would be applied to buildings, monuments, and trees.


When seeking help with creative architectural lighting techniques, give our team a call!

We would be happy to share our knowledge and skill with you