richard kelly’s six qualities of light

Everyone in the lighting industry knows Richard Kelly’s “three elemental kinds of light”:

  1. Focal Glow (make it easier to see)
  2. Ambient Luminescence (make surroundings safe and reassuring)
  3. Play of Brilliants (stimulate the spirit)

However, few people have ever read the original source material for these quotes, which I found in digital form in an online repository and have uploaded here (PDF)  for posterity:

Richard Kelly–Lighting as an Integral Part of Architecture

What is fascinating in reading the original is that Kelly actually elaborated six additional primary qualities of light.  He stated:

“… light itself as a physical force can have specific qualities attributed to it by the regular occurrence of specific effects as does the wind…”

He goes on to detail the six qualities:

  1. Intensity
  2. Brightness
  3. Diffusion
  4. Spectral Color
  5. Direction
  6. Motion

I really appreciate how Kelly included color, direction and motion into his conception of lighting design, predating so many of the “innovations” currently promoted by the transition to LED technologies and digital controls.  Good lighting design has always included the fundamental element of Time in architectural projects.

Kelly states:

“In the use of any and all knowledge of light, its qualities, its traditions in cultural influence, etc., in combining the three major elements of visual sensation to make beauty, remember that ‘Variety is the spice of light’ and thus must be used cautiously by an understanding hand to be visually significant.”

Kelly’s foresight and deep understanding of what makes beautiful luminous environments continues to make him relevant to this day.