Lighting design series: Find the architectural breaks

commercial outdoor lighting fixture

commercial outdoor lighting fixture

A lot of my customers ask me about how I design outdoor lighting. Next to relationships with customers, it’s my second favorite part of my job. To some extent, I feel I should keep this a secret because I don’t want to work myself out of a job. But, I also know although absolutely critical, lighting design is just part of an outdoor lighting job. Without professional knowledgeable installation, high quality fixtures and expert maintenance, the design would be moot.

So, here is the first in an ongoing lighting design series. Every day I work with prospective business and homeowners to design outdoor lighting for their homes, landscapes, outdoor living areas and buildings. I had an interesting design consult this week with a hotel.

The owner’s primary motivation for outdoor lighting was to gain more visibility from the highway.

Hotel facade picture

View of the hotel from the highway

Here’s a view of the side of the hotel that sits on the highway. You can see that along the top of the building there are commercial outdoor lights that point down onto the parking lot for parking safety. But those down lights don’t illuminate the structure.

One idea that might come to mind is shining commercial grade spot lights at the facade to light it up like the 4th of July. The problem with super bright spot lights is the feeling they create – viewable but “blown out”. A structure looks blown out when the light becomes the focus instead of the structure it’s illuminating.

The other problem with flood lights is they obstruct the vision of the hotel guests. When you shine a generalized and bright light toward a facade, this creates a blinding effect to the guests who are looking out the window at night.

Commercial outdoor lighting on architectural breaks

Commercial outdoor lighting on architectural breaks

So what we want to do is use lights near the base of the building the shine upward but specifically not light under the window columns. These are the architectural breaks. The architectural breaks are the vertical lines, if you will, created by the architecture that lend themselves to illumination. So on this facade, that would be the concrete areas between the windows and of course the left and right edges of the building. I always want to light the far left and far right side of the structure to give the structure breadth.

Here’s a picture of a job we did in Nashville.

I love to look at pictures of commercial and residential applications and give some design ideas. Please feel free to comment on this post or email me pictures for ideas.

Or give a call to the office and ask for me 612-620-2847.

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