Ode to a Diode – Why Lighting is Important


If architecture and interior design are the forces which give a space its shape, then lighting is that which makes it breathe. Lighting is such a fundamental component in design that its often overlooked. Think about it, were it not for lighting, the Sistine Chapel and the Smithsonian would look exactly the same inside. Sure, on the surface, it seems like a simple concept but in reality, there’s more to lighting than deciding where to place a lamp.

To understand the complexities of architectural lighting, we’ll start with a definition of terms:

Ambient Lighting – generally refers to preexisting lighting conditions (natural light)

Watt/Wattage – Standard unit of measurement – used to measure power

Lumen – Standard unit of measurement of the total quantity of light emitted by a source

Incandescent Bulb – Think of these as Edison’s light bulbs. Incandescents are illuminated when an electric current passes through a wire filament until it produces light.

CFL – Compact Fluorescent Lights, mini versions of the track lights you’ll probably see over your head in the office.Light is produced when an electrical current enters an argon gas-filled tube (with a hint of Mercury). This creates invisible UV light which becomes visible when it strikes the fluorescent coating of the bulb.

LED – Light Emitting Diodes, essentially mini-semiconductors where an amount of voltage stimulates electron activity that releases energy in the form of photons. This phenomenon is called electroluminescence.

So why does this matter? Architectural lighting is a balance of aesthetic and practical choices. Take the incandescent bulb for instance. Typically, each bulb emits light in a 360° direction, while an LED bulb has a more limited direction (a cone of light). Coupled with the relatively lower cost of incandescent bulbs, it would appear that they would be a more cost efficient choice. But lets look at the stats:

Keeping things on an equal playing field, we’ll compare the three at a light production rate of 800 lumens (your standard 60W bulb). Incandescent bulbs take 60 Watts to produce this light and they lifespan of 1200-1500 hours. CFL’s take approximately 14 Watts to produce this light and have a lifespan between 7000-9000 hours. Finally, LED’s take about 10 Watts and can have a lifespan of 50,000 hours.

While the initial cost of each bulb increases as you move from incandescents to LED’s, the cost savings of LED’s and CFL’s relative to incandescents definitely increases over time as well. And this is before you take into consideration the amount of wattage required to produce the same amount of light, as well as the amount of heat generated by that increased wattage.

This isn’t to say that LED’s are the best kind of light though. There is a “new” concept called Daylighting. New is in quotes for a reason. Daylighting refers to the incorporation of ambient, or natural light into a space. Simply put, this involves making the most out of natural light, whether by floor-to-ceiling windows, skylights, etc. Studies are showing that as people spend more time indoors, there is a tendency to become disassociated with diurnal cycles. This can cause a disturbance of Circadian rhythms, resulting in shorter and less restful sleep, mood swings and a whole host of other issues. In short, natural light can make you feel better.

Daylighting by itself is not a panacea, however. For all the natural benefits of sunlight, a poorly designed structure can actually increase energy costs. In short, there isn’t a universal formula for the perfect lighting conditions, but that can be a good thing. Architectural lighting projects can involve a mix of all four elements described here – as long as each is taken into careful consideration. Have any questions about what type of lighting is right for you? Reach out to us in the comments!

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