How To Guides

Creating a Lighting System for a House of Worship - Part 3

May 06, 2009

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Lighting ChallengesElements 1

It is important to take into consideration some of the challenges that emerge regarding:

» The true representation of color;

» Working within building systems that cannot be altered; and

» Creating a lighting system that is conservative, yet is not sparking of an optimal and workable lighting program.

Controlling glare is another important primary step in creating a viable lighting system in addition to one that uses minimum energy.

Light Spectrum

When light is produced, it can be broken down into a spectrum; however, if a portion of the spectrum is missing, one cannot see certain colors well and other colors cannot be

Spectral distribution

seen at all. Natural light is a full-color spectrum and the viewer would like this full color in the most important worship and gathering areas of a church space. If the light source does not deliver a full-color spectrum, disappointments follow. A good examples is a white bridal gown where incorrect or insufficient lighting would not convey the true brightness but appear to the viewer as bone or khaki.

Elements of Light that Present Challenges

Within some sacred traditions, there is hidden symbolism in the style of dress and the various accoutrements, trappings, and manner of furnishings, such as:

» Altar
» Vestments
» Color schemes
» Stained glass
» Statuary, etc.

Usually, all of these elements are rich Elements 2in detail and color, and it is important that the lighting represents the true colors and fine points; thus, if a vestment is purple, the lighting must clearly portray that color in a subtle manner. The lighting designer is charged with the task of selecting the proper lighting equipment and lamps that will respond to this challenge and concentrate on controlled lighting.

For a system to contain optimum efficiency, a process must be followed that eliminates glare and in which priorities are set and decisions are made to provide the specialized equipment needed to accomplish this task. Various systems are reviewed and their characteristics are examined until, by the process of elimination, the lighting venue is selected that accomplishes the specific needs of a particular space. For example, to determine the correct dimmable lamp, studies are done on, perhaps, a high-efficiency quartz lamp as oppose to a fluorescent. Other studies would involve the search for a low-brightness aperture that may lead to an engineered lighting optic.

A lighting system that is engineered correctly will produce the optimal volume of light for the enlivening of a house of worship so that: (1) when the lights are turned on, the environment is warm and inviting; and (2) the system does not use light when and where it is not needed.

Energy is a precious resource, and the lighting community is constantly working to invent new methods to save energy and to find a balance between careful use and their artistic dedication to enhance the beauty of a space through the use of illumination.

As one begins to review the lighting of the interior of a sacred space, one must be careful that issues of visual comfort and impact are considered as important as that that of lighting efficiency. For example, the most efficient lighting fixture is actually a “raw” light bulb. The challenge is to allow the light bulb to cast and create the shape of the light so that it is not distracting nor does it detract from the environment within which it is placed. These challenges are often overlooked in lighting spaces today.

Elements 1The human eye detects contrasts and the blending of dark and light hues, what the Italians term “chiaroscuro”; however, even though we can see these contrasts, we lack the volume needed to see the light in the correct ratios greater than three-to-one. In a space, light is needed from different angles so that there is “bounce and fill” from many directions to create an environment that is soft and natural. When creating layers of light, one must be careful to obscure the lighting fixtures so that the person entering the space does not see the element producing the light. We meant that smaller sources of light can be woven into the architectural setting. Of course, the viewer understands the origin of the light source; however, he/she should not be blinded by the illumination when entering a space.

Although there are some basic points to follow in lighting an architectural building, a sacred space is unique because of the importance of the actions that occur there. For instance, a daily Mass requires a venue different from a wedding or a funeral. Each event has different light needs.

Edwin P. Rambusch is a project manager at Rambusch Company, New York City, New York, with an emphasis in custom and restoration projects.


Creating a Lighting System for a House of Worship: Part 1 and Part 2

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