The Role of the Lighting Designer

Whether utilizing lighting for security, landscape or dramatic effect, exterior lights can transform how you see and understand a building or pathways and can bring outdoor spaces, facades, and gardens to life.

By understanding the fundamentals of exterior lighting design, landscape architects can use various techniques and tricks to create inspiring and highly functional spaces.

As a landscape architect tasked with creating a lighting plan for an external place, the following factors should be considered and discussed in the planning stages to achieve an exceptional exterior lighting solution.

First, you’ll need to establish the “type” of lighting required for a space, and there are three types to consider. Task Lighting refers to the lighting of areas which needs illumination so that people can perform specific tasks at night, such as walking safely along a path, using a BBQ or provide adequate levels of illumination for CCTV cameras in high-risk areas.

Ambient Lighting, also known as general lighting, this kind of lighting is typically located on the perimeter of buildings and along pathways, providing a basic level of illumination for people to see and walk through a space without falling into a bush or getting lost in the dark!

Accent Lighting focuses on a particular area or object and is used to highlight that area in an outdoor space. This can include highlighting the façade of a building, a beautiful tree or outdoor artwork, which helps create a dramatic and striking effect.

It’s important to note whenever you are tasked with lighting an exterior space in a public area, you must consider the relevant Australian Lighting Standards to ensure that the pathway, carpark or general area has enough light to ensure safe movement and security for people to move around in. There are numerous Australian standards to follow which when lighting these spaces and failing to do so could result in unwanted legal issues if an incident occurs due to lack of lighting or poor design. These standards are not exclusive to public spaces and can be used as a guide for private areas to ensure the lighting is of an adequate and safe level.

More often than not, a project will require all three lighting types to be utilized throughout a space and once the type of lighting required has been determined, you will need to turn your attention to the actual type of light fixtures to use in the space.

For task lighting, the most commonly used luminaires are bollards, post top poles, wall mounted security lighting, step lights and flood lights. LED technology has progressed greatly in the past few years that there are now so many additional options to consider when choosing a luminaire. Rather than having a basic distribution of light coming out of a luminaire, there are many optics you can utilize to have light throwing wide like a bat wing (ideal for pathways), forward and far (ideal for carparks, general areas) or a mixture of both depending on the area. The fixtures used for task lighting can be used in ambient lighting, however lowering outputs and quantities should be considered.

When it comes to providing accent lighting to highlight areas in an external space, up-lighting from a spotlight, wall washing from a linear profile and using various colours from a RGBW luminaire will ensure you are creating a “wow factor” for the area.

Once again, all of these factors can be considered when lighting any space, and often a combination of luminaires and types of lighting can help achieve a stunning yet practical lighting solution.

It is also critical to consider whether or not the luminaires you have nominated are suitable for an exterior space. The IP (Ingress Protection) light fixture declares the level of protection it has against dirt and water. Any fixture that is used in a garden or wet environment should have an IP rating that is sufficient enough to stop the ingress of dust and water. If there is no IP rating, the fittings will fail in that environment, which will not only impact on the project overall, but will add unwanted costs and labour to replace the lighting. The IK Rating or “Impact Protection” indicates the level of resistance an electrical enclosure provides against impact and is another important factor when choosing a luminaire which may be fitted in an area that could be subject to rough environment, attempted vandalism or other impacts.

The final consideration, which has an impact on overall running costs, is how the lighting functions day-to-day. The utilization of motion sensors, which enable the fittings to be turned on and off depending on whether there is activity in the space, will help reduce the running costs and also running time of a fitting. Same goes for the consideration of daylight sensors, so that the fittings are not used during the day when they are not required. Motion detection sensors can also provide invaluable security and safety.

Each project and outdoor space is different, and they all pose various challenges and hurdles to overcome when it comes to lighting, however, careful consideration of the above at the planning stage of a project will ensure you can provide an efficient, safe and aesthetically pleasing lighting solution for your client.