3+1: fundamental lighting categories

Above is a rendering I made to help explain a basic way to categorize light sources.  Lighting can be broken down into three fundamental geometric categories: point sources, linear sources, and planar sources.

Now, we don’t live in a conceptually perfect Euclidean world, and the perception of relative scale of course matters in how one defines a certain light source.  What is approximating a skinny “line” of light at a far distance resembles a rectangular plane of light at a near distance, so context is essential in these categorizations.

A direct result of this relative scale perception issue is that when points, lines and planes are aggregated together in clusters, they create visual textures across a meta surface.  Let’s call these the “3+1” fundamental geometries of lighting.

While lighting technologies have remain stubbornly routed in either point or linear sources, architectural designers have moved onwards, exploring the use of luminous planes and textures extensively in their projects.

Zaha Hadid's Maxxi Museum is an excellent example of architects using planes of light.

And this is where LED and OLED technologies can really shine.  Rather than trying to “LED-ify” traditional fixture formats that were developed around point and linear lamp technologies, fixture companies can support these architectural trends by capitalizing on the creative new formats enabled by LED and OLED.

For example, luminous surfaces are very difficult to create.  They are traditionally detailed with linear fluorescent lamps, arranged in a grid, with a deep cavity behind a translucent surface.  Spreading out lots of low powered LEDs, or using tiled patterns of luminous surfaces like OLED, allows the depth of the cavity to be cut down tremendously.

Textures of light are also traditionally very difficult to include in architectural projects.  A designer could either specify lots of individual point or linear fixtures (which is costly) or back-light some cut-out pattern (which is inefficient and wastes energy).   Now with LEDs or small OLED panels, cost effective and low maintenance “mini-fixtures” can be pre-assembled into architectural paneling, providing a cost-effective and energy-efficient way to create dazzling patterns of light.

A pattern of light integrated into stone panels by Aldabra.

I think you’ll be seeing innovation in the lighting industry trending towards more of these hybrid lighting + architectural panel systems.  More on this in the future.