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How to Use Light to Harness Architectural Design Poetics

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: Pixabay


As an architectural designer, how you think about light can make all the difference in your design’s success. For example, do you work with architectural light as more of a scientist or an artist? This distinction can help you to become better at doing both. And when you design environmental light as both a scientist and an artist, your designs will be more fully enjoyed by occupants as they experience the poetics of your built vision.

When you discover the beauty of light as a scientist, you are uncovering its function. For example, what lighting types will help your building occupants to have healthy circadian rhythm physiologically? And when you tap into the potential of light as an artist, you are integrating its aesthetic feeling. In this case, an artist would ask the following question of light: How can I sculpt light in all its intensity, color, and focus to create feeling within buildings occupants, emotionally? By learning to think as both a scientist and artist, you as an architectural designer will extract more opportunities from light – which will help you to reach higher poetic heights in your environmental design projects.


Of course, there is overlap between how a scientist and artist think. And one may argue that a scientist is very creative and that an artist is very analytical. For this reason, when you think as both a scientist and an artist, you are able to tune your design experience into one of deep meaning for your building occupants. This means that you will achieve a “sweet spot” within your design where light, both scientifically and artistically, works to uplift quality of experience of your design. This is when true poetics surfaces.

For instance, if light is designed to properly help a building occupant achieve a healthy circadian rhythm, and the same lighting design is creatively orchestrated to emotionally tap into an occupant’s feelings, then this lighting design will have reached a “convergence point” where it is better than the sum of its parts. In this case, the overlap between scientific and artistic thinking will throttle this lighting design into poetic realms as building occupants feel better, both physiologically and emotionally. And when this happens, occupants will engage in more inspired and beneficial actions that help themselves, other people, and even contribute to the environment itself.


Just imagine a person working within an office building. With the proper lighting that has been both scientifically and artistically designed, the occupant will physically feel healthier and will emotionally feel more inspired. Together, these lead to unlocking the “overlap”, where deeper meaning yields poetics. To this office worker, their environment is proactively helping them to achieve better creativity and productivity results, to help them get into deeper flow states. And this dialogue between environment and occupant becomes poetic.

As an architectural designer, remember to be aware of how you think about and design for light. By expanding the way in which you integrate light within your design projects, you will be able to grow your designing vocabulary – and this will ensure your occupants are experiencing true poetics within your design.




what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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