Illumination design companies see the light

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 October, 2013, 1:35pm

At Nabana No Sato park on Japan's Nagashima island, the four seasons change nightly to reveal flowers, fireflies, rain, and snow. This happens not by magic, but by means of seven million LED lights.

At a residential project in Singapore, a swimming pool twinkles like a starry sky, thanks to the wonders of fibre optics. Moonlight dapples a driveway, courtesy of concealed spotlights in the trees.

Advancements in outdoor lighting have made such surreal scenes possible. It might not be magic, but technology certainly has endowed lighting designers with a handy bag of tricks.

In fact, says Simon Berry, partner at Singapore company Illuminate Lighting Design, which was behind the starlight pool, external lighting plans are the most fun, because of the layers and texture at the designer's disposal.

"We think of the outdoors as a stage - all sorts of things can be done. Exterior lighting isn't just functional; it can add many elements to the space."

But just because the technology's there, doesn't mean you have to use it. In fact, says lighting designer Andrew Jaques, a partner at Australian firm The Flaming Beacon, "Using technology for technology's sake? That's when design falls apart."

He says technology has to fit in with the design concept - the key being to find the most appropriate lighting source to suit the environment and the application.

The Flaming Beacon is the creative force behind lighting schemes in high-end hotels and luxury homes around the world. A recent project in Shanghai is a case in point.

The driveway of the Puli Hotel in Jingan district is lit by custom-made street poles with warm, white, ceramic metal halide lamps, giving a continuous and rhythmical entry sequence to guide the way.

(This technology is also widely used in landscaping to create sharp shadows and reflections - it's particularly useful in uplighting large trees). After that, the lighting design approach becomes increasingly intimate. "Once the guests leave their car and begin the journey on foot, the source of light becomes more comfortable and subtle - we used low-voltage halogen uplights between the bamboo to give the illusion that the canopy floats," Jaques says.

The scheme incorporates the original lighting source, fire, in front of the main lobby, with candles floating in custom holders in a reflection pool.

Even their nightly lighting has become something of a ritual. "We do not try to put all the [available] lighting tricks in one environment - it's primarily about anticipating and responding to how people will use the space," says Jaques.

The Park Hyatt Sanya, in Hainan, shows how this design intent can work effectively. In the master plan, some narrow alleyways open up to courtyards, in a traditional Chinese manner.

The lighting designer's brief was to help guests navigate the spaces. "To create a more social space where people would want to stay longer, we illuminated the courtyard seating and its immediate surroundings, inviting the guest to sit and relax," says Jaques.

Anyone can achieve such ambience at home, even in a city flat, Jaques says.

"Any vertical surface can be helpful," he explains, so consider uplighting an external wall, especially if it is seen across a body of water, backlighting a feature tree, or spotlighting a beautiful sculpture.

Jaques' advice is to use only as much lighting as you actually need. "As designers, we think about all the interesting things we want to light - we never start with general light.

"And if we can get away with it, we use no additional general light at all," Jaques says.