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Shining Light on Space Definition

Published July 23, 2018

When it comes to defining spaces, most people turn to furniture, flooring, or, the most obvious option, walls. A less obvious (but equally as useful) option for creating space definition is lighting.  For years, lighting fixtures have been used to “center” a room, defining the exact point at which the room should be arranged around.  However, a new understanding of light has enabled spaces to be defined by the light itself, rather than a lighting fixture.

This idea of defining light has stemmed largely from the sustainability movement, which has driven the demand for natural lighting to an all-time high. Since these naturally-lit spaces are generally near the perimeter of a room, people are gravitating toward creating spaces around the light near the perimeter, rather than centering items in a room.  This design is being used either consciously or subconsciously in the majority of green construction today.

A great example of the use of defining light is the Sanibel Library Your Library Reimagined project.  When discussing the project during the planning phase, it was decided that an abundance of natural lighting was high on the priority list.  Windows were placed around the perimeter of the library, allowing the light to pour in.  Thanks to this, reading areas with couches, tables, and chairs were placed in select locations along the windows while shelves filled with books were placed farther into the center of the library.  The lighting in the library allows the reading and the browsing areas to feel completely separate, while there is no physical separation between the two.

The idea of defining light does not only pertain to natural lighting. Done correctly, lamps and overhead lighting can be used as defining light as well.  While it may seem that the fixture itself is doing the work of defining a space, the lighting often has a significant impact on the feel of an area.  In an office space, overhead lighting is standard throughout the building.  To define certain areas in the office, lamps can be used.  The contrast of the warm lamp light and the bright overhead fluorescents tend to make the “warm” area feel separate from the rest of the office.

Utilizing defining light when sectioning a space is a simple and natural alternative to sectioning a room with furniture or walls that could break up the flow of the room. Whether a space needs to feel like a compliment to the space around it or an entirely separate area, lighting can assist in the separation efforts.  Next time you redesign a space, keep defining light in mind and you may discover new possibilities for the area.