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Sat 17 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Arabian lights

As architectural lighting has become the medium by which the built environment takes on a new persona and can be experienced during evening hours, Liz Moody reflects on the buildings that are instrumental in creating the scenic skylines that shape the Middle East.

As architectural lighting has become the medium by which the built environment takes on a new persona and can be experienced during evening hours, Liz Moody reflects on the buildings that are instrumental in creating the scenic skylines that shape the Middle East.

Externally, a building during the day is uncompromised, the shape and the profile of the building is as the human eye views it. But come nightfall buildings are reliant on artificial light to define their external form.

While recreating daylight remains virtually impossible, architectural lighting offers numerous interpretations of how a building should be viewed come dusk.

Everyone in the area recognised [The Address] after just a few weeks of its illumination, which only underscores the ability of lighting to cement landmarks. - Sergio Padula, light planning manager, iGuzzini Middle East.

So how are owners and designers shaping the skylines of the Gulf once the sun sets?

Times have certainly changed. Just a few years ago architectural lighting in the region was considered a means to showcase a building come nightfall through simple flood lighting which more often than not achieved a uniform light across the façade.

Though this had the desired effect of illuminating a structure, it frequently washed out the architectural design components and, aesthetically speaking, created a sense of aloofness or spatial void in the building envelope.Nowadays, however, architectural lighting is being recognised as a legitimate discipline in its own right, with lighting design professionals bringing a new dimension to a building which ultimately adds personality and emotional attachment.

Paul Miles, head of lighting design at WSP Middle East, illustrates the importance of good architectural lighting when illuminating a building at night: "Without lighting directed onto or from a building it would be barely visible at night; important architectural influences and designs would be lost to the eye and above all, if not illuminated correctly, a whole building can appear lifeless."

By its very nature, daylight - with the interplay of shadows and reflection/refraction and so on - plays the most crucial role in highlighting the architectural design of a building, but, by night, if that effect is not replicated, a building can disappear or appear flat.

Designers can’t physically place a luminaire in the sky to replace the sun so what becomes interesting in a project, come night, is when the intricacies are illuminated either within or projected at to make an appearance by night. - Paul Miles, head of lighting design at WSP Middle East.

According to Miles, there are two ways an architect or lighting designer approaches the task of night illumination and that is by creating a focal element of the building, through emphasising the architectural elements in a different way, or by creating similar illumination to daylight.

"Designers can't physically place a luminaire in the sky to replace the sun so what becomes interesting in a project, come night, is when the intricacies are illuminated either within or projected at to make an appearance by night."

With no direct financial benefit or legal requirements to illuminate buildings at night, it would seem owners are utilising lighting to embed their developments, like pictures, onto the skyline.Lighting is no longer a method of allowing a building to be seen but a form of promotion. In a region where climate and culture encourages nightlife, this would seem to be even more significant.

For how a building is illuminated at night often determines the retention of the building in one's memory, and for hotels or commercial buildings - those buildings trying to distinguish themselves and remain clear in the memories of visitors - it is even more important as they compete for landmark recognition.

Sergio Padula, light planning manager of iGuzzini Middle East, explains that through clever lighting one can build another shape or perception to a building, which, with intelligent design can give the occupier opportunities to change the dynamics of its visual form.

As a very modern structure in a historical district of Doha, the façade lighting [on the Museum of Islamic Art] creates impact but is still thoughtful of its surroundings. - Sergio Padula.

"The Grand Hyatt was one of the largest projects to change the evening landscape in Dubai; it incorporates a colour changing programme which can be operated as and when required by the owners," says Padula.

Nathan Savage, associate at DPA Lighting Consultants, agrees: "It, (Grand Hyatt) is a simple lighting approach and though completed a while ago it still has great presence within its surrounding environment. The design washes light onto the main solid facades with the added interest of dichroic lighting that lines the very top edge of the building; the fluorescent luminaires glow through the glazed sides of the façade to create additional lines of light on the guestrooms floors."

Savage believes that the idea ‘the brighter the better' continues to be a theory that dominates the lighting of buildings, with owners of commercial developments frequently striving for the most prominent building on the skyline.This is a challenge we face everyday and that is why it is so important for a specialist lighting designer to be involved in a project from concept stage, however, it ultimately will always come down to the client.

Skylines in the Middle East have seen a continual trend toward illuminating the crescent of a building - be it a dome, viewing room or oculus - which, incorporates a widely used technique called "linear lighting".

Using this technique, the viewer's eyes are drawn to coloured lines of light, which spring up to highlight the edges and define the external form of buildings.

Chris Richardson, managing director of Oldham Lighting, manufacturer of cold cathode light sources, reasons this is because developers in the region generally want to make a statement and, as such, are looking for buildings to distinguish themselves through lighting strategies.

The Address, in Dubai's Downtown Burj Dubai district, utilises a linear lighting solution and has already been successful in claiming its position on the skyline - despite the opinions of some lighting designers who think its strategy is a bit too striking, which detracts from its architectural features.

Whether it has been successful or not, a point on which most everybody agrees is that it has certainly succeeded in drawing attention to itself during evening hours.Padula agrees that during the day The Address stands in the shadow of Burj Dubai but at nightfall there is a transformation: "Everyone in the area recognised the building after just a few weeks of its illumination, which only underscores the ability of lighting to cement landmarks."

Savage says that designs from independent lighting houses are generally less prominent: "We carefully consider where to put lighting on a building to best accentuate the architectural form, the architect is always there as part of the approval of any lighting scheme, so has a strong say in how he wants the building to look at night," he explains.

"I believe, in certain scenarios, ‘less is more' and use throughout schemes to  expose key elements of a building; the more architects and clients we work with the more they appreciate the intricacy of good lighting design and often recognise what a lighting professional considers that others might not."

As an art form, architectural lighting will always be subject to personal opinion.

Architecturally unique compared to the majority of buildings in Dubai, the Madinat Jumeirah is aesthetically pleasing and well-maintained; in fact, it almost invites passers-by to stop in.

This is mainly due to an appealing lighting concept that has been designed in a conscientious manner to accentuate the historical design being emulated.

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