Hierarchy and Contrast: Lighting Less to Achieve More


There is a visual hierarchy to the order in which the human eye perceives space and materiality. The importance of lighting is often overlooked as part of this dynamic. Spaces are over lit to maximize uniformity and brightness without considering the context of a space, resulting in conflicting contrast ratios. Too high or too low a contrast ratio will impact the environment being designed – either enhancing or disturbing the user’s experience of the space. Form and finish within a space need to have complementary contrast, hierarchy and texture of lighting treatments.

Lighting should enhance, not impose. How do you light a retail store, a restaurant, a museum or a corporate office space? How do lighting nuances affect user impressions of a space and does this impact the amount of time a person wants to spend there? At the crux of these matters is the ability of light to evoke a physiological response- this is what makes lighting so impactful.

Lighting defines how space is experienced. The notion that space is defined by light leads us to uncover the ways in which light enables us to see, stimulates and excites us and draws out a response. One must take a step back and understand first what requires lighting, and then ask how that can be achieved through varied distribution.

People follow the brightest path. Brightness is akin to a magnetic force that can either attract or repel people from a perceived space. People do not like to sit in brightness, rather they like to see brightness. When the light levels on a surface change intensity and direction, so do the movements of people within.

Light selectively, contrast in key. Colour choices in lighting can provide a narrative for the scenes and actions they illuminate. Coloured lighting suggests or implies, while contrast ultimately gives form and makes the bold statement. It is through contrast that we perceive form.