Lights On


The Element of Light in Commercial Projects

Lighting to commercial, mixed-use, and corporate developments can bebroken into several design elements or sections; mainly because each element can be designed in such a vastly contrasting way. Other than minimum requirements, there is no handbook which states the exact way to design lighting, especially when it comes to the aesthetics over the function. To guide us in getting the best result, we take all aspects into consideration. This includes, current trends, use of the space, budget, regulations, safety, etc. Lighting to externals, façades or restaurants have very different directives and requirements, as opposed to parking lots, offices or BOH areas. In this article, we will break down the main thought process when designing the lighting to these spaces.

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Lighting, and more specifically, façade and external precinct lighting, isvery often a forgotten element in building developments. A large number of clients do not fully appreciate the value of what a good façade andprecinct lighting design can add to the success of a project. It is also anarea that very often is “value engineered” first, when the budget is (more often than not) under pressure.

In reality, it is an integral part of the overall scheme, possibly even one of the most crucial aspects, as it means that the building, and developments are identifiable at night. It is your first impression when approaching the building, and one that leads you on a journey through the external zones, to the interior spaces, where the architecture and internal lighting then takes over. So much thought, hours of planning and detailing goes into a building, this must surely be enhanced and acknowledged during the darker hours. It is always a challenge to design façade lighting that successfully captures the building’s story, whilst not overpowering it and still adhering to the green building design regulations. Subtle, but affective is the preference of our designs. Highlighting the feature elements, acknowledging the outer form, and letting one’s mind fill in the blanks. The simple adage is ‘less of, means more effective.

Precinct and landscape lighting is more about an experience, as said above; a journey created by layers of light, pockets of excitement, areas of intimacy and spaces of darkness. Once again, not everything has to be lit to be effective. In fact, too much light just washes out the design, and creates a flat and boring artwork. Playing with layers of light, levels of light, colours of light and even no light, is what we have found to be effective and provides a good balance, when delivering this type of lighting design. Once again, the focus on ‘less of, means more effective’. Target key elements, and let the rest become the backdrop.


The design aspects of office lighting that you first need to look at is ‘what is the look and feel of the space’. This goes hand in hand with the type of office space you are working with, i.e. open office, smaller cellular offices, or a combination of the two.

With the rapid development of LEDs we have moved away from the old traditional 1200×600 lay-in ceiling fittings and towards the 600×600 lay-in ceiling fittings that come in a vast number of designs. But don’t let the600x600 fittings be your only “go to” fitting. Certain areas in the office should stand out or draw your attention. In these areas you can let your imagination guide you to enhance the sterile office space into a place people want to spend time at. Here you can look at adding pendants, linear fittings, downlights, cover lighting or even spotlight fittings on a track, that highlights artwork or feature elements, allowing the lighting and the building design to work together to create unforgettable spaces. 

The latest trend in office spaces is to have exposed soffits with suspended fittings, or cable trays running in strategic locations, or even sometimes having recessed fittings on them. For these office spaces one has to consider the coordination of services very carefully. Offices where the soffits are exposed, lend themselves to the installation of suspended fittings, and in general, linear fittings. Again, one can play around with the fittings and arrange them in different patterns or heights depending on the look and feel. The main thing to remember in these open ceiling installations is, do you want to highlight the services or hide them?

Should you want to highlight the ceiling as a feature of the space, then one should position lights shining up, and this could be more affordable than open channel fittings, or LED strips on the tray, shining up onto the soffit, instead of down, as long as you can’t see it from below of course.

With an office design, however, the design process must take into account the legal, and best lighting levels for office work. That, and the comfort of the workers who spend hours in the space each day. You will be governed by the SANS regulations for lux levels in office spaces, but further to the regulations, the client might want to achieve a certain green star rating for the office space. This limits the lighting levels even further, with much stricter rules on average illuminance. When going for a green star rating you will have to pay special attention to the type of fitting you want to use and how you want to control these fittings. For instance, one can look at daylight harvesting and sensor control whereby you can limit the maximum lux level the office area will be able to achieve at any given time of the day, even as the sun is more or less affective. This also allows the fittings to switch off once there is no presence detected. Some of the other factors to keep in mind are the following: the comfort of the person working at the desk, glare or flickering of light, direction the light is falling on the workspace, and degrees of Kelvin (colour temperature of the light fitting). In short, always try to understand the end result that you want and need to achieve in the office space and remember more light isn’t always the answer.

Lighting to parking garages has changed in the last couple of years. The actual light fitting itself has become more efficient, giving more light, whilst using less energy. We space them further apart without compromising the lux level on the ground. In years gone by, there was this generic runway of lights going down into a basement, focussing light on the drive isle and leaving the parking bays in the dark. This was a security risk and made the basements feel “cave like”. Recent designs look to light the forgotten parking bay, and more importantly, the walls at the ‘back’ of them, giving a more uniform light going around the parking areas. This makes the parking garage feel safer, cleaner, and more open.



The last year or two has seen so many new and diverse trends. People like to play with shapes, colour and style so much that one trend can’t define the outlook of lighting design. Our personal favourites are texture, efficiency, and basic elements. Texture in a light fitting itself, or lighting to textures, is an incredible feature to have. Efficiency lies in the way we place and control lights, not to pollute light or waste energy. Basic lights like bare filament lamps are an easy way of warming up a space without committing to a massive decorative pendant.

Less is more, at the end of the day. Focus your light where it is needed.


Annelize Dankworth

Christine Binedell

Mario Slabber




QDP Lighting & Electrical Design


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