Monday, September 13, 2010

Night Time in the Landscape

Landscape lighting is probably the most over- looked and under- utilized design element in landscape design but one of the most client-appreciated design features that I can think of in landscape design today.

The entire landscape may be designed and displayed beautifully to be enjoyed during the daylight hours but it can really come alive and be completely transformed when the sun goes down. At nighttime, the landscape design just seems to take on a whole new personality that is hard to resist. There are certain plants and design features that are just made for accepting lumens. Any surface with texture, whether it be a plant or a wall face seems to have its surface texture amplified about ten times when it is grazed with a little light at nighttime. When thoughtfully designed, depth, shadows, textures and features are seen and interpreted like they could never be experienced by daylight.

Certain design features can be highlighted with the pin-point accuracy of a narrow spot light while other design elements are best evenly flooded with wide angle lighting. Uplighting, downlighting, moonlighting, path lighting, silhouetting and grazing are some of the many techniques utilized during lighting design. With effective landscape lighting there is a distinct purpose for every lumen used. It could be for effect, to create interest, to beautify or for just plain old function, safety and security - but done in a graceful exciting way. Besides illuminating our landscapes, a significant portion of our lighting gestures go to accentuating the building architectural features as well. Whatever the purpose, it can be done in dramatic fashion that makes me wonder why it is not given greater priority as a design element.

We use numerous types of landscape lighting fixtures that can be constructed of a variety of materials. Bronze, copper and stainless steel are the basic material palette that we normally work with. We select the specific light fixture in a particular material to compliment the architecture and to unify all of the metalworks that are present on the project. In some cases we design things to make the fixture disappear into the planting and be a non-feature except for it's dramatic light effect and at other times we depend on the fixture's style, beauty and elegance to serve as a deliberate design feature in our landscape composition.

Fortunately for us lighting designers, the landscape lighting technology has advanced very nicely over the last few years to a point where now, energy consumption is not as much of a concern because of the introduction of LED fixtures. These LED fixtures use only 10-15% of the power of conventional halogen fixtures. That brings with it a long list of many other uninteresting benefits that we need not discuss now.

The important thing is that with the energy savings produced with LED fixtures, it frees our design and allows us to be more fully concerned with visual priorities rather than be burdened with energy consumption issues. On our projects, the lighting is one of the final elements to be installed. We prefer to implement our lighting design with an exterior lighting contractor specialist who is willing to provide nighttime field demonstrations and fine-tuning in the field. When it comes to lighting, I am always surprised with the benefits that nighttime fine-tuning and focusing provides in the field during the final installation.

I do not know why, but a previously unknown unusual effect seems to always be discovered during this process. Lighting continues to be this unusual irresistible mystery. 

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