Leading lighting designer Sanjit Bahra, Design Plus Light, muses on how lighting affects the way we interact with our environment and how this can be exploited in the hospitality market.
“Before I became a lighting designer, I trained to become a doctor. The reason I love lighting so much is that it has a very scientific aspect to it as well as a creative component. It satisfies the science geek and the designer in me.
80% of the information we process about our reality is by means of sight. The visual cortex takes up 30-40% of our brain (compared to 8% for touch and 3% for hearing). Sight is by far the most powerful of our senses.
The right lighting can transform the look and feel of a room or an entire hotel. Lighting can make you feel alert during dark winter months or create a soft intimate setting for relaxation in a spa. It is the only discipline in built environment design that can completely alter the perception of space at the touch of a button. Spaces can feel loftier with carefully positioned uplights, or cosier with concealed floor wash lights. Back-lit panels give the impression of day-lit windows, and lines of light create a sense of movement and flow. There are endless creative options available with modern day LED light sources as they can be integrated almost anywhere.
However, it is not just the level of brightness that’s important. There is a hormonal aspect to light that we often take for granted (or fail to account for) and this is beginning to have a real impact on our health and wellbeing.
We all have an inner time clock, which is intrinsically linked to daylight. Melatonin, the hormone of sleep, is particularly sensitive to the blue spectrum contained in daylight. In the morning, there is a high proportion of blue light in the atmosphere and this switches off melatonin production – so we feel more alert. Blue light peaks at midday and then falls as the day progresses. At sunset, there is virtually no blue light in the atmosphere. We’ve evolved so that our hormonal inner clock is completely aligned with the make-up of daylight throughout the day.
The concern with modern day artificial lighting is that there is a considerable amount of the blue component in LED lighting, much higher than that contained in traditional tungsten light sources. This means, in the modern age, we are getting bombarded with much more blue-rich light. Our poor brains just don’t know what to do anymore. Instead of a steady decline in blue light to allow us to begin to secrete melatonin at the end of the day – every time we check Facebook or Instagram or send a text, we’re sending little boosts of blue light to the back of our retinas and our brains delay the production of melatonin.
As a result, our whole internal clock goes out of whack – we sleep less and feel less refreshed. That leads to elevated stress hormones. We feel tired, run down and over alert. Our immune system becomes compromised. It’s a vicious cycle that can become hard to break and this really impacts on our health. Lighting design must take on board the challenge of health and wellbeing like never before. We are now an integral part of wellness design.
A successful hospitality brand should consider the quality of its lighting design. Get it right and your customer feels comfortable and emotionally aligned with your brand’s ethos. Get it even slightly wrong and immediately your customer may feel a tad unsettled within the space.”
JASON HOLMES, HEAD OF DESIGN – TEXTILES, FORBO FLOORING SYSTEMS ‘Creating the right mood comes down to a large number of sensory factors, with the visual senses often the first engaged and, as a consequence, probably the most important in creating the first impression. Here colour can be key. The psychology of colour is a well-researched topic in the design community. We accept that different shades and hues stimulate different feelings in people, create certain moods or help to tell a story.’
CHRIS LEWIS, LIGHTING DESIGN INTERNATIONAL ‘Lighting can be calming or it can be invigorating. Having layers of light (for example, a number of lighting elements throwing light in different directions in a space and different colour temperatures, as well as a means of dimming the levels of each element) allows a variety of effects and moods to be achieved. An important thing to note is that to create an ambience and mood it is as much about what you don’t light as what you light.’
JOHN MACAULAY, DIRECTOR, MACAULAYSINCLAIR ‘For most of our clients, lighting is one of the key elements of design – when it is done right, it can create a venue’s desired tone. However, it is easy to get this wrong, which will ultimately ruin a consumer’s experience. Although there is currently a wave of new lighting tech, it is crucial to make sure that all the different elements involved in these emerging technologies work in sync to create harmonious lighting. Ultimately, the role of lighting in hospitality design very much depends on the venue and the aims of the operator. Within our portfolio we work with soft, ambient lighting for clients such as Hawksmoor, right through to the very focused and theatrical lighting found in The Alchemist sites around the country.’