LIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME (the theory behind the practice)

LIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME (the theory behind the practice)
Source of photo:


In the – not many – paragraphs that follow, an attempt will be made to briefly analyze part of the theoretical work of R. Kelly, a man who left an invaluable legacy to future generations of lighting designers, not only with his applied works but also with his writings. One of these was published in 1952 in an article entitled: “Light as an integral part of architecture”, and has since become the “bible” of architects and designers.

This part is about his idea of the separation of three types or layers of light that together constitute Kelly’s proposal on lighting solutions. Obviously influenced by his work in theatrical lighting, he introduced theatrical (lighting) techniques to address architectural lighting by separating these three different types:

“ focal glow or highlight”: Focused glow as a technique is widely used in theatre, when the so-called “cannon” is lit, illuminating the protagonist and following his movements on stage. However, it can also be encountered in everyday life, when on a bus or a boat one lights the head-mounted flashlight to read a book. It is therefore used to emphasize an element, to give it prominence, to draw attention or to create three-dimensional forms so that people can perceive them more comfortably and easily. Works of art are commonly illuminated with this technique as exhibits in art spaces in conjunction with the second type of light, which according to Kelly is the

“ ambient luminescence”: it is the so-called general lighting in the theatre or otherwise the uniform – diffused lighting coming from various directions resulting in the “erasure” of shadows. Objects illuminated in this way lose their substance, since they look flat. Undoubtedly, this environment disorientates the user, especially considering how easy it is to lose orientation at night in a cloud of fog. Of course, rooms with diffused lighting create a quiet, relaxing atmosphere for the user because it creates a uniform distribution of light, so that all the objects in the room appear equal to each other and without any trace of imperfection. In architecture and theatre it is common for these two practices or light layers to be used in combination.

• The last lighting effect, the “play of brilliants” or “sharp detail”, which in Greek is rendered as “play of brilliants”, is something that is added to excite the user’s interest and entertain him. Specifically, it is the use of gobos in the theatre or lighting effects in a concert or exhibition. Using the glow effect enhances the value of the objects (of course it always depends on their material, because it can create unwanted blurring) and emphasizes their shape. It can be created by the luminaire itself or by the reflection of reflective surfaces and fascinates the human eye. Rare crystals and gemstones possess this property in themselves. It is an effect detached from the theatre that is intended to fascinate and captivate. A genuine application of this layer in everyday life is the disco ball.


These visual effects are everywhere, in nature and in the creations of architects and artists. Some even use them unconsciously, without knowing that they have been categorized. Below is an image of applied work for each of Kelly’s three categories. The source of inspiration is the use of lighting in theatre, architecture and art installations.


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The above image is from the performance “Titans” by Euripides Laskaridis that was presented at the Athens Festival in June 2017. The lighting design is signed by Eliza Alexandropoulou, a founding member of the Before Light group. The interesting thing here is that the actor himself holds the light source that illuminates him, aiming to draw attention and focus the audience’s interest on him. It is exactly what Kelly describes as focal glow in his article: “the lit candlelight on the face”.¹

Furthermore, the visual effect of “ambient luminescence” will be examined in an applied architectural project, specifically in the Intercontinental Hotel in Doha, Qatar, which was undertaken by Eleftheria Decaux’s office. The room is illuminated with diffuse, uniform lighting. There are no shadows and the effect is relaxing and restful to the human eye. It is noticed that focal glow is also used in the background, with the directional light coming from the table lamps. The glow is evenly distributed and the light seems to belong to the space, as no one is concerned about where the light is coming from.

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Finally, a lighting installation taking place in an area of London, Canary Wharf , by the lighting company Adam Decolight entitled “Sasha trees” is presented, which creates a contrast with the illuminated surrounding buildings. The high brightness combined with the glow from the trees acts as a magnet for the eyes of passers-by. The lighting effect creates an atmosphere that one definitely wants to visit, upgrading the value of the trees to something precious. The trees are visible from a distance and invite the visitor to come and discover them.


Source of photo: Elena’s Zoumpou personal archive 

Text Editor: Elena Zoumpou – Lighting Consultant

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