Choosing the right light fixtures

ARTEMIDE hanging light

ARTEMIDE Light Fixture

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

For information on how to choose a floor, table or portable lamps, please see our guide on “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 the right light fixtures for your project, it is important to consider the key criteria :

    • Installation
    • Shape, material and finish
    • Space application and regulations.
    • Technical characteristics
    • Trends
  • What type 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 available and the application.

    • Hanging light fixtures are ideal for high ceilings, and general space lighting. Oversized 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 more appropriate for lower ceilings.
    • Wall mounted lights come in a variety of shapes, styles and are used in a number of applications. They can be used for general lighting where ceiling mounted lighting is not possible, path lighting in circulation areas, 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 or wiring installations within the architectural design.
    • Recessed ceiling lights for general lighting are much more subtle than surface mounted or hanging lights, so great for minimalist spaces. Lights designed to fit in modular installations such as ceiling grids are much more economical for professional projects although often less aesthetic than made to measure designs. They can also be more easily repositioned on the grid.
    • Recessed floor lights are great for highlighting vertical architectural elements 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 are usually orientable and used for accent lighting. Common space applications include shops, museums 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 building areas.
    • LED strip lights – Can be used for wall washing, backlighting or highlighting for architectural features, furniture or decoration.
  • What do I need to know about shape, material and finish of light fixtures?

    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, grey metallic, black and grey.

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

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

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

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

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

    One example 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 to perceive colors correctly in a space. Getting these points right can have a big impact on health, wellbeing and productivity of occupants in a workspace.

    • Illuminance (measured in lux) measures the level of light hitting a surface such as a desk, a wall or a ceiling. The illumination recommended for workspaces is 500 lux (lumens/m2) and 300 lux for corridors.
    • UGR Unified Glare rating (UGR) measures 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 being the best and the closest to natural light and descending values being less performing. 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 the lighting

    Color Rending 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 obligatory for many public and multilevel buildings. These lights guide users safely outside a building or to exits in case of power cuts 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, microbes, and are often designed for quick and easy cleaning.
  • What do I need to know about the technical characteristics of the fixtures?

    For certain building uses, 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 for environments prone to hazards such as explosions.

    Lighting and building modelling software can be used to calculate the number of fixtures and specifications required to get the correct illumination in each zone, while taking into account the impact of the fixtures on the architecture. Consider the following:

    • 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 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 in a space appear in comparison to daylight ranging from 0-100.
    • Lumens measure the light output of a fixture. This is used to calculate the surface illumination in a space (measured in lux).
    • The Light Distribution for a fixture can vary according criteria 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 (lux)

    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, health and well being in the workplace. Some of the key trends and technologies include OLED light fixtures made from 85% organic and glass materials. They are produced in thin sheets, flexible and have an evenly diffused light distribution and a high CRI. High-tech light fixtures integrate UVC lighting for disinfecting spaces to combat covid-19 in public buildings, while acoustic light fixtures incorporate the benefits of sound insulation panels for a quieter office environment. Other solutions to keep in mind are lighting with IR occupation sensors or daylight sensors and light fixtures connected to smart building systems for better control and management.

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