Have we gone OTT with lighting levels? What about incorporating shade & darkness into our lighting designs?


I am sure that there is not a single person who will dispute my statement: “The world is a crazy place! Technology is developing at an alarming rate, to such an extent that some of it dominates our lives.  Look at how people are ruled by their smartphones, many cannot put them down for a second.  Many of them are ignorant about the potential harm that they are causing to themselves.  In our lighting world, technologies are about to change the way that we do lighting design, how we will install lighting and how we will use lighting.  The work place will no longer have the same boring lighting throughout, no, the employees will regulate the light levels and the air-conditioning of their respective work areas themselves.  So yes, apart from the conflict and the politics of the world, it is indeed a crazy place!”

A look at life’s basics

Of course, day is divided into two parts viz day and night or stated another way, light and dark.

The daylight gives us energy, we feel good, we feel secure, we can see to perform our tasks or relax.  Our bodies and in fact those of every living creature are structured and adapted to function in certain ways during both day in light and in the dark of night.

It is one of nature’s most precious forms of beauty to be able to look skyward at night and to marvel at the miracle of the universe.  Of course, that is if we live in the country away from the Sky glow of city lights which obliterate the sky and perhaps only make it possible to see a handful of the brightest stars.

A typical example of sky glow in a city

We are inseparable from the universe and the sky above us.  From the earliest of time, the stars have played a significant role in the life of man and every living creature.  Many people look to the stars to foretell their futures, to navigate and to position themselves.  Migrating birds use the stars to travel thousands of kilometres, as do bats and thousands of small creatures.  The eyes of nocturnal predators are adapted to enable them to seek out their prey and to use the element of surprise.  Military forces throughout time have often used the cover of darkness to advance towards enemies or to ambush their enemies.  In modern times such as the two world wars, opposing forces often used their artillery to bombard the opposite force into submission, to break their morale and to achieve victory.

The night sky is a precious natural resource which belongs to every creature on the planet.  Yet, we have lost all respect and perspective judging by the way we treat our planet and the amount of light pollution.  Yes, I am just as guilty as most.  I have designed street lighting and sport field lighting over the years which contributed to light pollution before I first became aware and more sensitive to the environment.  So, I do not stand as the accuser in this publication, but rather as the thought-provoker so that we can go into the future being more sensitive to our surroundings, the people, the fauna and flora and the other creatures around us with our lighting designs.  It is entirely possible!

This is what city dwellers miss out on!

Some of the days of the week are even named after the stars and planets.  All modern European languages express it well.  In Spanish some examples are Lunes which means Moon for Monday (Moonday) and Martes which means Mars is Tuesday.

I have spoken considerably about the “great outdoors”, but what about the interior facilities in which we live and work?

It is without doubt that the where we see most of the poor lighting design and have done for years. I believe that the primary reason is that no institution in Southern Africa teaches illumination engineering.  Of course, that is other than our own BHA School of Lighting.

It has long been the practice to illuminate work places from corner, to corner, to corner, to corner with high uniformity and the same colour light.  If the practise was ever questioned, the answer was always: “the standards prescribe it”.  On careful analysis, the detail of the standards is only read in the places where the illuminance levels are prescribed for each application type. The real important detail which includes drawing attention to the different areas within a single space which require different illuminance levels, contrast and glare are often completely overlooked.  In many cases, the luminaires specified do not perform as the supplier claimed, adding to the problem.

Ok………. I am sure that we now all have the picture.

Here is a question for you: In your office or wherever you work and spend most of your waking hours, how do you enjoy the light?  Do your eyes get tired?  Are you able to look out of a window and give your eyes a rest? How often do you look away from your computer or device screen to rest and exercise your eyes?

If, whilst answering any of the questions in your own mind, did you start thinking differently about the lighting in your space?  If yes, that is brilliant.  Together, we can move forward with fresh ideas whilst still providing the desired task lighting at the appropriate standard levels.

Lighting applications typically used in a Daytime economy

I am sure that I do not need to list every application, however, the most common are:

  • Office lighting
  • Call centre lighting
  • Hotel and restaurant lighting
  • Warehouse lighting
  • Light and heavy industrial lighting
  • Plus – a plethora of less frequent applications such as museums and galleries, and more.

Few, if any, of the lighting designs take natural daylight into account to harvest it effectively.  Few, if any know and understand what daylight autonomy and continuous daylight autonomy mean, let alone how to incorporate these into their lighting design of interiors.

One of the cardinal sins in interior lighting is over-illumination caused by poor understanding or the excuse of not knowing the office layout or the tenant’s requirements at the time of the lighting design.  Perhaps it is also the lack of imagination, and the inability to think about new and innovative ways to deal with such cases.  In our practice, we have overcome this for many years to the excitement and enthusiastic acceptance of our clients.

So how can we change the status quo?

My favourite physicist of all time, Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

And here is another from that great man about innovation:To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

You see………………….

There is no such thing as can’t.  That wonderful actress of the Golden Age of Hollywood said: “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says – ‘I’m possible’!

Now back to our lighting design.  We as lighting professionals, illumination engineers, consulting electrical engineers, architects and lighting designers, owe it to our clients to know as much as possible about the subject of illumination which includes all that there is to know about light, the human eye, vision, the many other subjects about lighting, lighting economics, the art of lighting, physiology, physics, mathematics and now lighting controls and the IT environment.  Why IT you may ask?  Well, the lighting of the future in the office, commercial, industrial space and other will be powered over the ethernet data system.  It will form part of the IT network.  We need to understand the requirements of each system so that the software architects can design the software for use with the multi-faceted controls for a specific installation.

Once these requirements in terms of knowledge, understanding and experience have been digested, we can return to the business of lighting design.

The standards require specific illuminance levels on the primary task area.  Areas adjacent to that area can be around 60% of the task illumination and communication, pause and other areas can be 20% of the task illumination but not less than 100lx. That is all brilliant, but think about the pause areas, what do the people do in a pause area?  Well of course, some sit and converse with the fellow workers, whilst others sit quietly and close their eyes to rest them from the time spent looking at the visual displays.  Lighting in the pause area is not likely required for safety, so this is the ideal area to treat as a shade area, a restful place where lighting or the relative absence of lighting is provided for the health and well-being of our workers.

There are countless other possible uses of shade and even a degree of darkness to create a visual effect, an area of intrigue and an area which attracts attention and possible questions or remarks such as: “I wonder what may be in that space?” or “That’s where I could happily work for the rest of the day”.

Yes, I have found more and more workers prefer less light rather than more light.  I have been into so many offices and call centres where the workers wear dark glasses, wear caps because of glare, remove fluorescent tubes and cover fittings with brown paper.  That last practise can be dangerous because it could cause a fire if the paper burnet after being heated by hot conventional lamps or even from a small stray spark when least expected.  In all cases that I have seen the management have either ignored the opinions of the workers or have asked “experts” to give an opinion and said that there was nothing wrong with the lighting.  In the latter cases where “experts” were asked, they simply confirmed that the lighting met the standards or OHS.  However, when we were asked to give our opinion and to intervene, the intervention was easy.  Luminaires were repositioned, light levels were reduced, all with excellent post intervention results.

Today there are few workers who do not work on computers, often computers their computers have brightness levels that are set too high needed in to see the screen images, all because the lighting illuminance levels are too high.  Yes, I know, the standards require 500lx where computer work is involved, and a regular office requires only 300lx.  But even 300lx is too high to be able to work comfortably on a visual display screen (VDS).  In Europe and many of the new buildings where democratised control (via an application on a smartphone) is available for use by the workers, the average illuminance level preferred by the workers is between 150lx and 200lx.  Makes one think, doesn’t it?

Berghaus Head Office, Sunderland, UK – lighting design by Nulty Lighting Design, London, UK

Oh, and another extremely important thing to remember, especially when using LED light sources or luminaires, is the scotopic/mesopic richness of LED light.  I must emphasise that most light sources have a degree of scotopic/mesopic richness, most to a lesser extent than LED.  There are some that have very little scotopic/mesopic richness at all.

If you have attended any formal lighting courses, the content of this article will no doubt set you thinking and highlight how complex light, vision and lighting area, plus all the other aspects too.

Now back to some thoughts on incorporating shade and darkness into our lighting designs.

Rogier van der Heide, a former director of Arup Lighting, until August 2014 was Vice President and Chief Design Officer for Philips Lighting and is since then has been Chief Design and Marketing Officer for Zumtobel Group in Austria.  He counts the Louis Vuitton worldwide; Het Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Beijing Olympic Stadium; Yas Marina Hotel, Dubai; Sheik Zayed Bridge, Abu Dhabi; Canton Tower, Guangzhou; Black Eyed Peas World Tour; Holland Casino, Rotterdam and the Swarovski Crystal Palace, Milan.  Rogier is a world-renowned speaker throughout the world.

Why am I telling you about Rogier?  The answer is easy.  He has mastered the art of appreciating and incorporating darkness into his lighting designs.  I am familiar with one of his most outstanding presentations as a lighting designer which was titled “Why Light Needs Darkness”.  He quoted a famous architect, Le Corbusier: “Light creates ambience and feel of a place as well as the expression of a structure”.  That is such an inspiring and powerful statement.  To sum up – we need light, less light and darkness too in our designs.

Het Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – lighting design by Rogier van der Heide

Swarovski “Dream Cloud” inspired by nature – lighting by Rogier van der Heide

It is time to ensure that not only provide light in a minimalist way to satisfy budgetary constraints and standards.  It is high time that we now ensure that we use our expert knowledge to guide and influence our clients and developers to budget for quality, healthy, modern using the latest technology and compliant lighting.  LED is well-known for longevity, therefore, that alone makes wise budgeting for the future key to the top dollar returns on investment.

Every person who has even the slightest knowledge about lighting will know about Richard Kelly (1910-1977), an American architect who was known for the terms “focal glow”, “ambient Luminescence” and “Play of Brilliants”.  Some of the work that he did was so ahead of time.  Yes revolutionary!!!

He also said: “Darkness is needed for the imagination and for contemplation”.  So, we need to design for light where it is needed and to leave it out where it is not needed.

Lighting applications which are typical for the night time economy

There are so many outdoor lighting applications, some of which I list below:

  • Street lighting
  • Architectural lighting
  • Landscape lighting
  • Security lighting
  • Sport field lighting
  • To name a few


During my extensive research I tried to establish what the night time economy (NTE) of South Africa could be, but to no avail.  The United Kingdom NTE is worth around £66billion (R1,226 billion) per annum or 6% of GDP.


To keep the tills running, lighting plays and impressive role.

I was recently very privileged to have been commissioned to do a lighting design for what is now known as Eurolux Boland Park Cricket Ground, Paarl, Western Cape, South Africa.  It is lit to ICC, CSA and Super Sport standards and provides what has been said to be the best LED lit cricket ground in South Africa.

It was during and since this project that whilst I understand why such high standards must be met,


There is so much light pollution whilst a game is in progress due to the amount of light produced.  Let me blow your minds – around 39.09 million lumens for 360 x 1000W LED flood lights each requiring 1.6 A current compared to the old technology which had been in use which required about 11 A current per flood light.

That set me thinking and taking drives around our area to form an opinion about the HPS street lights which are still predominantly used in Cape Town, South Africa although there are changes to LED in some small cases.  The amount of sky glow that is generated from what are known as Cobra Head luminaires is quite astounding.  The International Dark Sky Association and the Model Lighting Ordinance which is applicable overseas and hopefully it will also apply in South Africa before long, require street lights to produce no upward light at all and that the upward reflection off the road surface must be kept to low levels.

Street lighting standards are so important because the luminaires must be suitable for the different road categories, the different road surfaces, the speed of vehicles, traffic density and location of the street lights such as urban or residential.  So……. street lighting is not only for the driver to be able to see, but more importantly for safety and security to minimise possible accidents.

The role of the lighting designer of street lighting projects, has a huge responsibility to provide street lighting to meet all criteria and to ensure that the correct correlated colour temperature (CCT) is used.  At all costs lighting designers should refrain from using high CCT luminaires.  It is best to use 4000K on highways and freeways where >90km/h prevail and for all other roads to use 3000K.  In South Africa we need to take note of the initial CCT debates and to note the finding of the City of Montreal, Canada and the International Ophthalmic Conference who highlighted how unsuitable any LED light with high blue light content is for motorists.  Human centric lighting studies have shown that towards the end of our working day before we even head for our homes, the colour of the lighting in the workplace should be toned down to a warm white around 3000K.  So….. to expose motorists to high CCT again on their way home could delay the onset of sleep.  It could in fact cause sleep disruption which can further contribute to heart disease, diabetes and other ailments.

Remember that you cannot simply substitute High Pressure Sodium (HPS) with LED of similar wattages.  The result will be gross over-illumination and light pollution from the high reflectance off the road surface.  Illumination engineers will understand that around 25% to 30% of the wattage for LED is all that is required.  Of course, the LED luminaire design and performance will require careful analysis to be suitable for the different road types and categories.

Clearly the LED is better, however, this clearly shows that the LED wattage is too high and that the high reflectance from the road surface is excessive. (Not in South Africa and only to serve as an example of the incorrect use of LED)

Whilst I have focused on street lighting, the principles apply to all other outdoor applications excluding sport field lighting.

Another of the world’s leading lighting architects is Mark Major of Spiers & Major, United Kingdom.  He did a presentation titled “Dark City”.

The Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi – lighting design by Spiers & Major

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, UK – Lighting design by Spiers & Major

He highlighted the insane over-illumination, light pollution and energy wastage.  Throughout the world since the invention of the humble light bulb by Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan, often not even mentioned.  Swan had already been able to perfect his lamps and to light the first establishments in Britain whilst Edison still had not solved some of the problems with his lamps.  It is significant the both Edison and Swan patented their respective lamps in 1879.  The two companies merged in 1883 to form the Edison and Swan United Electric Light Company or better known as Ediswan.

Mark Major ask the audience to imaging if every human born since 1879 when the light bulb became available, were given a light bulb, imagine how much light there would be now.  The numbers and the imagery showing the effect is shocking.  We are eternally grateful that that was not the case.

He does not suggest no light, but that we should be more careful with the use of light.  Walk down some of the city streets and see how well the pavements are lit by the internal shop lights, where the cases of over-illumination in retail space is extremely high.  Cases where the internal light illuminates the pavements means that the retailer has failed to create the correct lighting in the shop window display to draw the eye of passers-by by using creative, imaginative interesting lighting not simply the same old, the same old spot lights or track lights again.  The retailers fail to make use of light, shade and darkness together with colour light or even colour change light.

When I think back to my twenties, we often used to go window shopping before going to the cinema or before going out for dinner, shop windows were interesting, different and appealing.  They made each shop stand out and be distinctive.  Today, possibly because so many of the shops in our cities and shopping malls are owned by the major groups such as the Truworths, Edcon, Foschini Group and others.  It is simpler to control every shop window to be displayed and lit identically.  It’s a shame.  Being distinctive can increase sales opportunities.  Of course, I also realise that there is often a lock in to those stores who offer credit of some type to their customers.  However, this should be a challenge for a dynamic lighting sales person to exchange ideas with the marketing teams of those and similar groups and not the store design teams who are set in their ways often because “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it”.  It is such exciting lighting where one can use creativity, ingenuity and artistic flare with an understanding of light, shade, darkness and contrast.

Louis Vuitton Worldwide – Lighting design by Rogier van der Heide


If I have only succeeded to stimulate your thought process and imagination during this article, then I will have succeeded considerably.  I have tried to use examples of excellent lighting designs except for the example of a “not so good” street light before and after image, to try to stimulate your artistic flair and imagination.

If you are one of those who sat up and took note of your surroundings and reflected on what I have discussed in this short article, I will have succeeded in my objective.

Until the next time, enjoy lighting design.  It is so rewarding and satisfying to the soul.

Written entirely by Philip Hammond, my own thoughts and musings.


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