Ten years ago, a lighting designer just picked the light fittings. Now lighting is seen as a hi-tech team effort between lighting designers, architects, engineers and façade specialists. ‘Lighting has crept up the agenda,’ says Rogier van der Heide, global leader of lighting design at Arup. His 55-strong team, across seven offices, is twice the size it was only a few years ago.

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Much of the focus is now on natural daylight. This is true of Bernard Tschumi’s New Acropolis Museum in Athens, completed this summer. Most of the sculptural delights on show were originally designed to be al fresco, so the Swiss-born, New York-based architect designed solid natural lighting throughout its main spaces using skylights and floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Tschumi says, ‘The concrete I chose is really soft so it absorbs the light. The original sculptures are made of marble, which reflects the light. This combination makes the exhibits stand out.’
The Californian sunshine also lends itself to naturally lit spaces and naturally generated lighting. Renzo Piano’s California Academy of Sciences, which opened in September in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, has got the lot: in the centre of its 2.5 acre ‘living’ roof landscaped with native plants, there’s a large skylight over the piazza, while other smaller porthole skylights wash the exhibit space with natural light and provide natural ventilation. Piano also extended the roof beyond the perimeter walls into a glass canopy. The idea is that it will provide shade, keep the rain off passers-by and generate energy through more than 55,000 photovoltaic cells in the glass.
In a city as dense as Seoul, architects have to really push the boat out if they want to go au naturel. Mass Studies took this on board when it was designing Boutique Monaco. The 27-storey tower comprises commercial, cultural and community spaces with 22 floors of so-called ‘officetels’ above, residences that can double as offices during the day. Mass’s Minsuk Cho carved out 15 spaces to give Boutique Monaco a greater exterior surface and more corners to provide natural lighting and better views. Trees have been planted to delight both the occupants – who started moving in at the end of August – and those outside the building.

But it’s not all about natural light. Come 2010, the 610m Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower in China will have beams of light running its entire length, while a ring of light will be switched on and off to illuminate it horizontally. It’s the creation of Amsterdam’s Information Based Architecture, with help from Arup.
This idea of using façades as a form of display is becoming increasingly popular, according to Van der Heide. And it’s all down to LEDs, which are now so tiny and such low-maintenance that they can be embedded into bricks and the like to give any surface the wow factor.