The Architectural Lighting Process

The profession of lighting design is a relatively young discipline among the building design and construction fields. Although lighting has certainly been an integral component of the built environment for centuries, it’s only emerged as a true design specialty in the high-end constructions the last years.

The increased sophistication of the lighting arena ( both in equipment technology and application technique ), coupled with heightened expectations of clients and end-users for the role of lighting in their projects, has done much to foster this growth.Once considered an obscure consulting niche or high-budget luxury, lighting design has become an accepted discipline in the project process in many parts of North America and Europe.

Initially, lighting designers were sought to assist in high-profile, aesthetically challenging projects, where a union between technical and artistic goals was of paramount importance to the job’s success. Later, lighting professionals were engaged to tackle particularly complex lighting problems-where greater in-depth knowledge of illuminating engineering was required. Then gradually they began to be included as members of the project design team from the outset, taking fuller advantage of their expertise during the early phases of development.

TIP: The lighting designer’s responsibility on the project, like that of the architect, engineer, and other specialty design, should never end with the delivery of the final construction documents. For one their job is not done yet, there are more lighting calculations and adjustments to be done from now and on and second their active in the construction administration phase can help to ensure the full realization of the lighting design intent while providing the contractor with a useful resource in navigating the vagaries of the challenging application.

Laying the groundwork. The lighting designer’s role in the construction administration process begins well before the contractor arrives on the scene. As with most disciplines, a lighting design’s success will be determined, to a large extent, by the quality of drawings and specifications. Realization of the design’s full potential will rely on the ability of its construction documentation to coherently and concisely communicate the intent to the contracting team. Failure to adequately convey the concept is often the weakest link in the entire process.

The are many things a lighting design professional can do to help ensure the quality of this documentation, including the following but not limited to :

Drawings: Lighting layouts should be clear, unambiguous declarations of luminaire placement and application intent. The layouts with circuiting, panelboard assignments, and control methodologies should appear on the electrical engineer’s drawings. Exact lighting fixture positions should be included in architectural reflected ceiling plans, site plans, or elevations to assist in interdisciplinary coordination. They should indicate key and mounting information, related to reference points, to inform the contractor of the specifics of location.

Details: Luminaire installation details can be vital in communicating mounting intent and should be included documentation whenever there is any doubt as to desired or proper integration.Typically, rough detail sketches showing the preferred lighting installation geometry are generated by the lighting designer and then passed on to both the architect and electrical engineer for further refinements.The architect would provide appropriate detailing that clearly defines how fixtures are supported or how surrounding materials are affected, while the engineer may add notes or clarification regarding the routing of conduit/circuiting. In the design-build scenario, the contractor may perform some of these tasks. This can help avoid confusion over desired techniques.

Luminaire schedules and specification: Equipment selection is the backbone of a quality lighting design. Lighting fixture specifications, whether presented in written or schedule format, should provide all information necessary to accurately bid, procure, and install the recommended products. That documentation includes luminaire type or key, acceptable manufacturers with specific catalog numbers, luminaire description and construction, voltage, lamping, wattage consumption, CCT measurements, CRI lamp specifications, light loss and reflectance measurements, and any special installation notes.

Provide complete photometric test report for review and analysis.

If required to demonstrate compliance with design intent, provide computer-assisted, point-by-point analysis showing illuminance levels in all affected areas.

One of the lighting designer’s most important duties is to serve as a reviewer for the lighting equipment shop drawings. Let’s take a look at what’s involved on this front.

Shop drawings. More than anyone else on the project team, the lighting designer, as the prime specifier is the best suited to supply the required detail review and assessment of shop drawings. If the original lighting specifications are complete, and the contractor chooses to supply one of the recommended products, then this effort can be relatively straightforward. Often, however, issues arise that demand more attention, including the following scenarios.

Custom luminaires: Specially prepared, project-specific drawings may be necessary and could involve several rounds of review and analysis prior to final approval. The lighting designer should communicate as clearly as possible, making notes and markups to identify needed refinements in drawings. It is not unusual to request finished samples for custom luminaires to determine if the intended material will meet the designer’s expectations.

Substitutions: If permitted in the specifications, the contractor may choose to submit a substitution to a specified product. This substitution may demand more detailed by the lighting designer in order to render a professional opinion as it’s acceptability.

Mock-ups: It is not unusual for a full-scale lighting mock-up requirement to be included by a lighting designer in the project’s specification. Complex or sensitive design solutions may include variables that can only be resolved after review and analysis of an operational mock-up. Due to the compression in design schedules, and the increased popularity of design-build construction contracts, the incorporation of such a mock-up early on in the construction phase (rather than during the design phase) is not uncommon. The lighting designer will normally outline the intent of the mock-up and define the requirements for the contractor’s execution of the work. Once again, open collaboration between the lighting designer and contractor is key to the full realization of the mock-up’s intent. Once the shop drawings are solidified, the issue of “value engineering” may require the lighting designer to revisit design decisions in an effort to reduce project costs.

Value engineering. The term “value engineering” can have many very different meanings, depending on one’s role in the process. To lighting design professionals, it can mean an erosion in the original application intent or visual environment. To a contractor, who might even be involved in a design-build capacity, it can mean an opportunity to demonstrate to his client that he can save money on the project with creative packaging or suggested compromises. Regardless, if this process takes place during the construction phase, it can be If value engineering is deemed necessary (or desired) after the bidding process, then the lighting designer should be prepared, and positioned, to assist in the process. Often, the client is left adrift to make decisions based solely on the numbers without a full understanding of the merits (or compromises) inherent in the changes. Although agendas are often at odds during this process, a joint working relationship is the best way to sort out all the ramifications of value engineering decisions for the client.


Final project commissioning. The lighting designer and contractor must work together closely on the final focusing/targeting of the project’s adjustable lighting. Dramatic, high-impact lighting designs often involve the precise choreography of accent lighting to provide the desired visual result. Retail boutiques, museum galleries, restaurants, and hotel lobbies are just a few examples of where final equipment adjustment and aiming can be pivotal to realizing the lighting potential.This work often requires significant forethought and planning in order to avoid a costly or time-consuming effort. The lighting designer should provide a comprehensive outline for the contractor, describing anticipated work expectations and the contractor’s responsibilities. This information should be provided in the construction documents so that it can be anticipated and bid appropriately.

Looking ahead. As lighting installations continue to evolve into even greater levels of application complexity — and client expectations grow ever higher — the role of the professional lighting designer will become more vital, even inevitable, during the construction process. Opportunities exist, on many projects, for lighting designers and contractors to forge lines of communication early in construction that will permit a timely and thoughtful exchange of information.The common goal of a satisfied client should be sufficient reason to take advantage of the growing presence of lighting professionals in the building construction field. Those who recognize the importance of such relationships will ultimately reap the benefits of more rewarding work.

​Lighting Design Creation Credits: The only one ​NICHOLAS WEINSTEIN