Choosing the Right Light Fixture

This guide will focus on choosing the right light fixture for architectural lighting, both interior and exterior. Lighting within the built environment should enable occupants to see clearly without discomfort. Architectural lighting design can help improve visual comfort and enhance the experience of a space. While architectural lighting can include the use and manipulation of daylight, we will only discuss light fixtures in this guide.

For help choosing a floor, table or portable lamp, please see our guide “choosing the right lamp”.

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  • How to choose the right light fixtures for your project?

    Planning lighting correctly can have a big impact on user comfort, aesthetics, energy consumption and even how colors and objects are perceived. When choosing light fixtures for your project, it is important to consider the following key criteria:

    • Installation
    • Shape, material and finish
    • Space application and regulations
    • Technical characteristics
    • Trends
  • What types of light fixture installations are available?

    ZUMTOBEL Hanging Light Fixture

    ZUMTOBEL Hanging Light Fixture

    There are quite a number of light fixture installations available, and choosing between them will largely depend on the space you have and the application.

    Hanging light fixtures are ideal for high ceilings and general lighting. Large and decorative hanging light fixtures can also make great focal points for reception areas in large buildings.

    Ceiling mounted lights are normally used for general lighting and are more appropriate for lower ceilings.

    Wall mounted lights come in a variety of shapes and styles and are used in a number of applications. They can be used for general lighting and path lighting in circulation areas as well as accent lighting or reading lighting for living areas and bedrooms.

    MARTINELLI LUCE Recessed Ceiling Light

    MARTINELLI LUCE Recessed Ceiling Light

    Recessed light fixtures are ideal for providing subtle uniform lighting, but it is important to plan for cut-out holes and wiring installations within the architectural design.

    Recessed ceiling lights for general lighting are much more subtle than surface mounted or hanging lights, so they are great for minimalist spaces. Light fixtures designed to fit into existing ceiling grids are more economical though less aesthetic than made-to-measure designs.

    Recessed floor or ground lights are great for highlighting vertical surfaces such as columns, walls and trees. It is important to consider how shock and water resistant they need to be if in high traffic areas or outdoors.

    Recessed wall lights can be great for accent, pathway, staircase and corridor lighting.

    DELTA LIGHT Track Light

    DELTA LIGHT Track Light

    Downlights are small ceiling lights with a downward beam. They are normally recessed into the ceiling but are also available in surface mounted versions. They are often installed in multiples for evenly distributed general lighting, but can also be used for accent lighting.

    Spotlights can be orientable and used for accent lighting or fixed and used for general lighting. Common applications include museums and shops for display lighting and product highlighting.

    Track lights are particularly used in retail, museum and display environments because they are easy to install, and individual light fixtures can be changed, orientated or moved along the track. This is ideal for environments where lighting needs to be reconfigured regularly to highlight different products or areas.

    LED strip lights can be used for wall washing, backlighting or highlighting architectural features, furniture or decorations.

  • What do I need to know about light fixture shape, material and color?

    NEMO Round Light Fixture

    NEMO Round Light Fixture

    Light fixtures for large buildings are often installed in regularly spaced multiples for an even light distribution and to enhance the existing architecture without competing for attention.

    • The most common shapes are linear, round and square.
    • The most popular colors are white, black and gray.

    Many light fixtures are available in a wider range of colors as well as unconventional shapes and materials to make a space more interesting or fit with an existing design scheme. In general, standard light fixtures are composed of:

    • a housing (usually metal or plastic)
    • wiring, a junction box (and transformer if necessary), a lamp holder and a lamp or light source
    • a diffuser (usually plastic, glass or metal louvres) to direct / distribute the light
    • a reflector to optimize brightness and distribution of the light

    The design, shape and material of these elements can have an impact on the light distribution, as well as the weight and durability of the fixture.

  • What do I need to know about the application and lighting regulations?

    The building use will have a big impact on the intensity and the uniformity of lighting required for each space. Check local regulations to ensure that surfaces and spaces are illuminated to the correct level according to use.

    One example of regulations for lighting is the EU directive EN12464, which sets out recommendations to ensure that lighting in workspaces is appropriate according to 4 key criteria: illuminance (lux), the glare rating (CIE), the uniformity of lighting(U0) and the color rendering index (CRI). These 4 points help to prevent visual discomfort due to brightness, contrast or difficulty perceiving colors correctly in a space. Getting these points right can have a big impact on the health, wellbeing and productivity of occupants in a workspace.

    • Illuminance (measured in lux) indicates the level of light hitting a surface such as a desk, wall or ceiling. The illumination recommended for workspaces is 500 lux (lumens/m2) and 300 lux for corridors.
    • Unified Glare rating (UGR) indicates the level of visual discomfort from a direct lighting fixture ranging from 10-30 (CIE), 10 being the least discomfort. For offices, the recommended level is 19 or less.
    • Uniformity of lighting is the ratio of the minimum lighting level and the average lighting level in a space. Ideally this should be around 0.6 or above to avoid too much contrast.
    • Color Rendering Index (CRI) is a scale of how well colors are perceived, compared to daylight, with 100 performing the best and the closest to natural light and descending values performing less well. Office environments should have a CRI of at least 80, and corridors at least 40.

    Light Fixture Workspace Criteria:

    Illuminance (lux)

    Unified Glare Rating (UGR)

    Uniformity of lighting

    Color Rendering Index (CRI)

  • What do I need to know about light fixtures for specialized applications?

    SEC Emergency Ceiling Light

    SEC Emergency Ceiling Light

    Some light fixtures have technical characteristics for a specific application, such as emergency lights, industrial lights and lighting for medical use.

    • Emergency lighting is required for many public and multilevel buildings. These lights guide users safely outside a building in case of power outages or fire. They are often fire rated and rated in hours of autonomy (number of hours running in the event of a power failure).
    • Industrial light fixtures are used in environments prone to dust, extreme temperatures, heavy traffic, vandalism or other hazards often requiring a high level of protection.
    • Similarly, light fixtures for cleanrooms and medical use need high levels of protection from contaminants and are often designed for quick and easy cleaning.
  • What do I need to know about the technical characteristics of light fixtures?

    For certain applications, light fixtures will need a specific level of protection:

    • The IP rating classes how dustproof (1st digit) and waterproof (the 2nd digit) a fixture is. The higher the number the higher the protection.
    • The IK rating classes how impact resistant the fixture is.
    • ATEX and IECEX rated fixtures are used in hazardous environments prone to explosions.

    Lighting and building modelling software can be used together to calculate the number of fixtures required to get the correct illumination in a space while giving you an idea of what the installation will look like. It is important to consider:

    • The Correlated Color Temperature (CCT) is measured in Kelvin (K) and classes the color of light produced by a light source. Temperatures can range from a low level, which is yellower and warmer like an incandescent bulb (2700K), to a high level, which is bluer and closer to day lighting (5500K).
    • The Color Rendering Index (CRI) measures how accurately the fixture makes colors appear in a space compared to daylight ranging from 0-100.
    • Lumens measure the light output of a fixture.
    • The Light Distribution for a fixture can vary according to characteristics such as the shape and angle of the light source, the aperture and the diffuser.  The light distribution is often represented graphically with a light distribution curve.

    Light Fixture Technical Characteristics:

    IP Rating

    IK rating

    ATEX / IECEX rating

    Correlated Colour Temperature (CCT) in Kelvin (K)

    Color Rendering Index (CRI)

    Lumens (lm)

    Light Distribution


  • What trends and technologies should I look out for?

    NIMBUS Acoustic Light

    NIMBUS Acoustic Light Fixture

    Light fixture manufacturers are offering solutions to improve energy efficiency as well as health and well-being in the workplace.  For example, integrating UVC lighting into light fixtures disinfects spaces to combat covid-19 in public buildings.  Acoustic light fixtures incorporate sound absorbing materials for a quieter office environment.  Other solutions include lighting with IR occupation sensors and light fixtures connected to smart building systems for better lighting control and energy management.

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