A lot of the value of long professional experience is in knowing how to best approach the task at hand. So it is on the artistic side of outdoor lighting. Experience teaches us how to think about the nightscape with a method. To “see” it before the first fixture comes out of the box. It’s analogous to making music. A musician build chords from notes. Notes are arranged in scales. Knowledge of the scales and chords enables a professional musician to “hear” music before he or she performs it. In outdoor lighting design, the project is like a chord. The chord has three basic notes: task, ambient, and accent lighting. A designer structures these three elements of outdoor lighting into a seamless whole.
The trick is resolving the inherent conflicts between them. On the practical side, experience guides a contractor through a project by the most efficient path. Design and installation are a series of branching decisions. A professional discovers any issues sooner, rather than later. Hence, workarounds and solutions come readily. It shows in the technical excellence of the completed project.
THREE ELEMENTS OF OUTDOOR LIGHTING DESIGN
Task lighting is there to perform a practical service. Its values are safety, security, and utility. Examples of task lighting include path, step, security, and outdoor kitchen lighting. Task lighting has a pretty simple job to do. It keeps us from harm and helps us to function. It fulfills its mission when these things are done.
Ambient lighting isn’t technically ambient. That would be starlight and moonlight. In this context it means the illumination that is “there”, the background so to speak. This broad category includes hanging fixtures, wall lights, and post lights. In general, most of a good design is ambient.
Accent lighting is just what it sounds like. That is, it adds the finishing touches to the nightscape. Accents add texture to the ambient light, draw the eye to outstanding architectural features, and away from eyesores like trash bins.
HARMONY OVER CONFLICT
As has been noted, there are built-in conflicts between these three elements of an outdoor lighting design. The toughest one to reconcile is that between task lighting and the other two “notes”. Task lighting is about brightness and coverage. Safety, security, and utility require maximum, uniform illumination of the target area. For example, the playing field of the Astrodome at night. Task lighting tends to wash out any ambient or accent lighting in its field. No homeowner, of course, wants the look of a stadium.
This is where experience undeniably shines. The three-note concept helps an experienced Houston outdoor lighting contractor to visualize a harmonious resolution of this and other conflicts. The result is safety, security, and utility in a nightscape that never fails to Wow any observer.