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Illuminating the sense of home

Wellness By Bettina Easton, Associate, Lighting Design – 12 October 2022

Double Bay House, Sydney, Australia

Dining space illuminated by statement lighting


Bettina Easton in middle of park with blurred grass and small trees in background

Bettina Easton

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Lighting is central to our sense of place and wellbeing and in the residential context, it both guides our footsteps and reassures us we have safely arrived. Too often though, lighting is just a line item in the general electrical package, perhaps with a few dramatic fittings for otherwise standard luminaires.

Sensitivities around construction costs aside, it also shows a lack of understanding of the value lighting designers bring to a residential development. Lighting designers understand how materials, structures, angles and site conditions will interact with light. That enables us to design a strategy that delivers the optimum level of brightness for task areas, safety, security and wayfinding in the most.

More is not always better when it comes to light.

A bright standard streetlight or landscape floodlighting makes a concentrated pool of light and when angled, as most are, produces direct glare. This makes it harder to see anything beyond that brightness. Studies have shown that many conventional lighting approaches actually reduce personal security due to the way the human eye reacts to light. We cannot see what is in the shadow beyond the light.

When considering light for common exterior areas of multi-residential projects, our focus is on creating functional graduations of light, identifying where the contrast between light and dark could be problematic.

Our approach of designing for space and for place focuses on evenly spaced lower brightness illumination. This allows the human eye to adapt to night-time surroundings easily and quickly, while enhancing beautiful details. We also employ small interventions such as ground-level path lighting, wall washing light from LEDs installed at soffit level and lighting within soft landscaping and garden areas. Illumination can be bounced from pale and hard surfaces and will be absorbed by dark or soft materials and surfaces.

We also stress the importance of a dark-sky approach that reduces the amount of upward light spill. This is important to reduce urban light pollution and to protect nocturnal biodiversity. Landscaping, particularly roof or internal atrium landscaping, needs to ensure lighting is not 24/7 for every plant. Just like humans, plants and animals have a circadian rhythm and need some hours of darkness to maintain their normal growth and health.

Smart lighting approaches embedded within lighting design enable us to integrate all these multiple objectives and considerations within one strategy. Smart lighting using sensors and programmable logic controllers, and individually addressable LED luminaires, can vary lighting across time, seasons and spaces to respond to the specific place and the needs of those living and visiting that place.

“Though it is intangible, lighting is fundamental to the identity and individuality of a place”

The other benefit of smart lighting approaches, particularly for long-term residential assets such as Built to Rent (BTR) developments, is they can optimise energy efficiency. Conventional lighting, particularly when it specifies halogen luminaires for public areas, can be a significant contributor to energy costs for common areas. This is part of the reason LED lighting retrofits have been a logical starting place for Strata Owners Corporations of older buildings that are looking to improve energy-efficiency and reduce costs. It is a project that quickly pays for itself.

For BTR, ensuring energy-efficiency for all building systems is good business sense, as it will underpin the business and investment case. In addition to ensuring low lighting operational costs, smart lighting systems can also facilitate timely and efficient maintenance regimes.

This has very practical benefits for a property manager and also benefits for the contentment of residents. A smart lighting system can inform building management there is a problem with a light before a resident has even had time to notice it and potentially complain. When there are less reasons to complain, a tenant is more likely to stay, and this also feeds into the ongoing financial viability of BTR as an investment asset.

The other dimension of lighting that contributes to attraction and retention of tenants is the way a sensitive and aesthetics-informed lighting strategy creates the sense of home. Though it is intangible, lighting is fundamental to the identity and individuality of a place. It enhances colours and textures, generates ambience and brings life to space and form. It brings pleasure, delight and comfort – all emotions we associate with ‘home’.