Posted in education
on May 27, 2014 3:38 pm EDT
In Sacred Spaces—The Meaning of Light
A guide to creating the right lighting for sacred spaces and beyond.
St. Martin's Episcopal Church; Houston, TX. Photo © Michael John Smith, MJS Light
Without careful attention to lighting detail, the sheer number of architectural features worth highlighting can quickly create lighting noise or result in a uniform, featureless space.
Sacred spaces are designed to inspire awe and reverence, to encourage emotional response and invite quiet reflection. Lighting designers are acutely aware of the powerful roles light and shadow can play in eliciting an appropriate audience response –and they expertly use lighting and lighting controls to help define and direct the visual hierarchy of worship services, weddings, concerts, or other special events. And, while the need for dramatic lighting is universally accepted, there is no one right way of achieving the perfect result.
Lighting designers may be working with deep rich wood, heavy stone, and traditional stained glass, or painted walls and bright, airy daylit spaces. Without careful attention to lighting detail, the sheer number of architectural features worth highlighting can quickly create lighting noise or result in a uniform, featureless space. This not only detracts from the worship experience, it causes energy waste and wreaks havoc with lighting power allowances in building energy codes. Appropriate dimming and lighting control strategies, designed around the needs of the space, can re-establish visual focus while allowing for maximum flexibility, efficiency, and reduced maintenance costs.
Setting the Scene: Shade, Shadow, and Highlight
Decorative features can be used to reduce the need for electric light and create a bright, welcoming atmosphere.
Skillfully chosen lighting and lighting controls can enhance the meaning and spirituality of the worship space by taking advantage of different surfaces – light colored stone reflects light, dark hardwood absorbs light, and colorful windows play with the daylight in the space. Sculptures, altars, floral arrangements and metal work can be highlighted for emphasis, using aim-able spotlights and floodlights with lenses and baffles, without overwhelming the solemn purpose of the space.
Sometimes theatrical light fixtures are used for exact precision of light control. Architectural features like high walls, ceilings and vaulting must be lit to emphasize wide, open areas, effectively reinforcing the feeling of grandeur that one expects from a sacred space. This is typically done with indirect pendants, cove lighting, or artfully hidden indirect wall packs.
Each of these features can be subtly acknowledged, while still preserving the critical hierarchy of the service itself.The service generally requires four main lighting components:
1. Task lighting for reading
2. Accent lighting on the worship leader and religious objects, flowers, and altars
3. General, ambient lighting
4. Celebration lighting.