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Façade Lighting for Transforming the Appearance of the Cities


Façade lighting alters the appearance of a cityscape, draws attention, and attracts big crowds of tourists. It increases revenue and improves reputation. It also provides an economic incentive for investors to gentrify real estate and increase property utilisation, making it more appealing to them. Façade lighting also adds cultural value to a building. Façade lighting is a modern instrument that may be utilised to improve the appearance of a cityscape or a business building.

Erin Slaviero Senior Lighting Designer, Nulty Lighting
Erin Slaviero Senior Lighting Designer, Nulty Lighting

Façade lighting fulfils both functional and aesthetic needs, generates new urban areas, and gives buildings a distinct appearance at night. Façade lighting attracts attention from afar, making it easier for passers-by to locate themselves. There is a lot more to learn about façade lighting. We interviewed a few façade lighting experts and presented their thoughts in this cover story to know more about effective façade lighting, the benefits, trends, its future, and so on.

Importance of Façade Lighting

Erin Slaviero, Senior Lighting Designer, Nulty Lighting believes that façade lighting is key to any architecture project because it is the first impression of a building. It can be the difference between highlighting a beautiful piece of architecture or it disappearing into the skyline. Façade lighting should be used to highlight but not overpower the architecture; to complement and showcase it at its best at night-time.

Aijaz Nakhawa Principal Lighting Designer (Technical), Light Touch PLD LLC
Aijaz Nakhawa Principal Lighting Designer (Technical), Light Touch PLD LLC

Aijaz Nakhawa, Principal Lighting Designer (Technical), Light Touch PLD LLC says, the nightlife in cities across the world is very vibrant and active as people venture out more often than before. This is encouraged by well-lit outdoor spaces that ensure safety and security. It gives the built environment the opportunity to flaunt its beautiful architecture at night. Façade lighting helps in bring out the character of the surrounding buildings. Façade elements selectively illuminated in the appropriate colour provide a unique outlook to each building’s architecture. This aspect is not fully realised during the daytime.

He adds, well-illuminated façades within a precinct collectively help increase footfall which, in turn, help improve local business. Façade lighting also helps in reinforcing the cultural identity of the place. According to Sanjiv AV, A Lighting Expert, modern architecture includes façade lighting as it helps highlight the building and equally enhance the special features of the same. It also adds to the visual appeal of the building to stand out amongst other buildings in the vicinity or if standing alone, a visual treat and welcome from afar, including security. A well-lit façade of a building attracts visitors and employees equally.

The Checkpoints and Methods of Façade Lighting

Sanjiv AV Lighting Expert
Sanjiv AV Lighting Expert

Erin explains that there are many ways to creatively light a façade however it usually depends on a number of factors and checkpoints such as:

  • What is the shape and form of the structure?
  • What are the materials and colours?
  • Does coloured light give added value?
  • Where are the locations and viewing angles? Is it seen from close up or far away?
  • Are there restrictions in mounting locations, such as, heritage buildings or space within a plot for pole floodlights?
  • What are the architectural details to be considered such as façade glazing systems and mounting details?
  • Are there any standards that need to adhere to?
  • Is advertising a driving factor?

She adds, upon review of this criteria, design methods can be considered singularly or in combination, such as uplighting, downlighting, floodlighting, lines of light, wall lighting or even pixel dots or gobo projections. According to Sanjiv, most popular is the uniform wall wash, however, since it is less attractive various accents can be used by way of using a combination of downlights, up lights and accents to give a 3D effect. Highlighting vertical columns using recessed uplighters, use of linear strips along with the different floors of a fully glazed façade, having the glazed façade as a media wall are various other façade lighting solutions which include the use of lighting controls.

  • Choose a good and reputable manufacturer for façade and outdoor lighting products
  • Ensure that they are with proper IP Rating, IK Rating and can withstand the Middle Eastern summer temperatures
  • Connectors and drivers to be IP Rated
  • Cabling for power and data to be planned in advance
  • Ensure Controls and Programs can be upgraded as and when necessary
  • Since installation is outdoor, same cannot be removed for repairs and replacements frequently as it will be an expensive affair
  • As such the quality of the LED chips and the components used in the LED drivers to be manufactured by a reputed and well-known manufacturer.
  • Most manufacturers offer 5 Year warranty, make sure that the replacement/repairs will be available for a similar luminaire with similar colour temperatures otherwise in case of replacement/repair it may look odd when lit as it will not match the existing luminaires.
  • Ensure good lighting design using the selected luminaires
  • Ensure luminaires are manufactured by the manufacturer and not outsourced and labeled.

Checkpoints of Façade Lighting

• Obtain project brief from client/architect.
• Consider location, orientation, and vantage points for viewing the building.
• Review façade materials.
• Identify the architectural elements to be highlighted.
• Suggest appropriate lighting techniques.
• Minimise glare to pedestrians and residents in and around the building.
• Review access for installation and maintenance of luminaires.
• Minimise light spill into the sky or adjacent property.
• Consider lighting control strategy.
• Optimise budget for supply and installation of luminaires.
Aijaz Nakhawa, Principal Lighting Designer (Technical), Light Touch PLD LLC

Impact of Façade Material on Lighting

Rosewood Hotel, Doha
Rosewood Hotel, Doha

According to Erin, material can completely change how and why a façade may be lit. Textured finishes or solid structures create a great canvas for lighting designers as this allows the light to reflect off the surface to create an evening effect. Elements with reflective properties such as glazing or mirrors make these materials difficult to light, with façade lighting usually relying on the light itself rather than the effect on the surface of the material.

Aijaz says it is well-known fact that we see an object or surface when light, reflected from that object/surface, reaches our eyes. The luminance or brightness and colour of the surface depends on the amount and wavelength of light reflected from the surface. Light coloured surfaces reflect more light than dark surfaces and thus appear brighter. Therefore, illuminating light coloured materials of the façade gives a better impact with comparatively less amount of light than dark surfaces.

Textures also play an important role in the apparent brightness of the façade lighting. Rough/matt surfaces scatter light better than smooth glossy surfaces. Thus, building façade painted in light colour matt finish façade will appear brighter and more consistently illuminated than that façade with glossy finish especially when they are uplit. Hence, the colour and texture of the façade materials affect the selection of power, lumen output, location, aiming angle of luminaires. Sanjiv opines, based on the texture of the material used on the façade, the design should be planned by the architects in order to enhance the same. The smoothness or roughness of the façade, the glaze of the glass, etc. should be considered as each will have a different lighting scheme and solution.

The Latest Trends in Lighting Systems & Lighting Controls

Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi
Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi | Image Courtesy: Nulty Lighting

“We are seeing more projects in big cities requesting dynamic lighting as a way to draw attention to a specific façade. This means that rather than using a basic on/off system powered by a time clock or daylight sensor, more complex lighting control systems are being implemented as well as sophisticated video systems that would map videos to the entire façades or sections of it”, says Erin. Sanjiv explains, these days lighting is recognised as an art and is controlled using various lighting control systems in combination with LED lighting. One can have static or dynamic colour changing schemes as well as media solutions which are mainly used on glass / flat façades.

The lighting controls can be programmed accordingly for the days of the week, weekends, seasons and for special occasions and it will attract the general public by creating an aura of celebration, for example Burj Khalifa, Dubai. The lighting controls can be programmed and uploaded on cloud platforms and can be controlled and monitored at the site or remotely.

Latest Technologies in LED Lighting

QP Carpark, Doha
QP Carpark, Doha | Image Courtesy: Nulty Lighting

Erin believes, LED luminaires are getting more and more efficient and are allowing for better control of the beam itself. This includes the design of the fixtures with an increased amount of in ground fixtures with easy adjustability on site. With spill light being a continuing issue for façade lighting, allowing for adjustability of fixtures and beams reduces the amount of unused light. Increased efficiencies also allow the reduction of the actual luminaires allowing us to use lighting fixtures in areas where it was impossible to mount a couple of years ago. Aijaz says, since the advent of LED as a viable source of illumination, it has evolved in size, efficacy and endurance.

The colour rendering properties are also improving giving CRI of upto 98. Manufacturers are able to provide LED chips of different size, colour and CRI. Similarly, the lens and reflectors are also being developed by various manufacturers. Flexible sheets with various light distribution characteristics are also available. This helps luminaire manufacturer developed luminaires that were not possible with conventional light sources. Aijaz adds, for example, a reduction has been seen in the size of linear luminaires with narrow beam light distribution due to development in the lens technology. The Kalypso luminaire by LED Linear is one such example. This luminaire is only 25mmx25mm cross-section size, yet quiet powerful. It is available with 10deg, 30deg light beam distribution and is suitable for outdoor installation.

The design of luminaires has evolved from multiple single chip+lens units to single multi chip LED with single efficient optics lens has improved the quality of the beam. This has particularly helped the colour changing floodlights which can now provide colour changing effects without any unwanted colour striations. Bluetooth/Wifi control for indoor lighting is an emerging trend which could soon be applied to façade lighting to minimise the control wiring and simplify installation. Sanjiv believes that the LED lighting is evolving with new designs and luminaires with narrow beam angles, longer throw of light and can be used in the tiniest of space which enables better control of light and light spill enhancing the quality of the overall lighting design and visual impact.

In combination of RGB and Tunable White LED’s along with DALI / DMX programable drivers there is a The dynamic shift from the existing lighting solutions and it has become a Lighting Programmer’s dream to create challenging designs using the available software’s, programs and delight their customer.

Like Wi-Fi, Li-Fi (Light Fidelity) is emerging and the smart LED’s will start transmitting data. company office, the media façade can be used to project corporate colours, company logos, and videos of these companies. The owner can charge the companies for the advertisement and thus generate additional revenue from the façade lighting. People occupying these buildings will be happy to identify with a well-lit building. According to Sanjiv, using the façade as a Media Wall is a concept that has been there for a long time (Times Square NY), however with the enhanced smart LED’s, available controls and programs same can be used to incorporate and share messages to the general public just by making the necessary changes through a laptop. This saves valuable time. Real-Time Multimedia messages, images, news broadcast, advertisements, national emergency, etc. can be shared with general public through these façade lighting solutions.

Standards, Local Norms & Regulations for Outdoor/Façade Lighting in The Middle East

Burj Khalifa, UAE
Burj Khalifa, UAE

Erin says, LEED, Mostadam, Estidama and Dark Sky are the main regulations that can be seen in a recurrence of within our façade projects. The main requirement of these is not just power and efficiencies in luminaires, but also the reduction of light pollution. Light pollution reduction, including the elimination of uplighting, creates a completely different aesthetic due to design restrictions. We always clarify at the start of the project this minimal lighting solution is something that the client is after as well as an overall reduction in energy consumption, as this is a driving factor in the current Middle East. Sanjiv agrees with Erin. He says, for façade and outdoor lighting, the architects and consultants take into consideration of the existing norms of various countries in the Middle East and one notable factor is the Dark Sky Regulation which is now being implemented. Nocturnal creatures have equal rights as humans to live on this planet and it is up to us to protect them and their wellbeing.

Aijaz’s opinions are different. He says, there is no dedicated standards or norms developed for the Middle East region only, although it is high time that standards pertaining to this region must be developed through research on the lighting preferences of local people. Until then, illumination criteria recommended under CIBSE SLL and IESNA lighting handbooks are referred for initial guidance. ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1 are followed for façade lighting power density under the Green Building regulation in Dubai. Control of light pollution is also imperative under this new regulation. Further, the developers such as Emaar, Majid Al Futtaim, Nakheel in Dubai, and hotel operators also stipulate façade & outdoor lighting requirements under their corporate brand standards. These are followed while designing hotels, shopping malls, etc.

Future Trends & Technologies in Façade Lighting

“We will see a movement towards more interactive dynamic façade lighting, with lighting reacting to surroundings, occupancies or other elements within a building to create a living piece of architecture rather than a static building” notes Erin. Aijaz notes, a great emphasis is being put on the sustainability of the environment. Steps are being taken to minimise light pollution which affects the surrounding flora and fauna. Façade lighting is one of the main contributors to light pollution. As the regulation to control lighting pollution gets tighter façade lighting design will come under increasing scrutiny.

Therefore, ways of more effectively illuminating the buildings with the minimal light spill and light trespass would be increasingly enforced by local municipal authorities. Accordingly, floodlighting or grazing uplighting which was a normal trend of illuminating building façades is giving way to building integrated lighting. This is supported by the development of miniaturised LED light sources that can easily blend with building architecture.

Sanjiv is very optimistic about the future of façade lighting. He sees a bright future for façade lighting as it is playing an important role in a building. Projects, be it small, big, government, private or public, old or new, modern with glazed glass or as artistically built like the Taj Mahal, adds a feature to the city. Upcoming hotels are competing with each other to attract customers and examples can be seen on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai.

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