Work. Illuminated.

March 2, 2018

Philippe Pare, Principal at Gensler discusses lighting as a key dimenson when considering the architecture and design of office and commercial spaces.

Be it decorative, natural or functional, lighting is one of the key dimensions of architecture and design. When executed well it can, undoubtedly, improve, shape and inspire people, spaces and places. It can guide us, empower us and direct our attention. On the other hand, too much of the wrong kind of light becomes unwanted ‘light pollution’ and inflates our energy use.

It’s well documented that good design has a positive impact on wellbeing and productivity, so as a designer and architect, it is imperative to understand how lighting affects people in order to shape solutions that are as positive for society as they are sustainable for the environment and for businesses.

However, as many a designer will attest, workplaces can be deceptively difficult places to light well. Many workplace lighting schemes tend to just light down to the desk, creating a ‘hollow effect’ and fashioning spaces that are not conducive to productivity.


Until recently, wellness in the workplace has been focused purely on physical activities but I believe that emphasis needs to be placed on the environmental factors which contribute to wellbeing, particularly lighting and daylighting. Natural light can positively enhance architecture, improving the way people feel and reducing our reliance on electricity – and at the same time the sophisticated manipulation of natural light can entrain our body’s internal circadian clock. But natural light isn’t gifted on every project, so it’s crucial for designers to creatively resolve this with solutions that support wellbeing and productivity. In this context, decorative lighting can be used for its optimal purpose – to enhance experiences and create an element of magic within the space. But decorative doesn’t always equate to noticeable. For me, the best lighting schemes are the ones which accentuate the architecture and interiors and draw no attention to themselves.


Another key downfall with many office lighting schemes is this sense of uniformity; no variation in lighting levels or temperature colour. For me, a more exciting approach is embracing light to define individual spaces and differing ‘neighbourhoods’ within a workplace – revealing different moods and subliminally suggesting varied types of behaviour. Workplace lighting must be responsive to varying employee needs by offering different levels of lighting for different activities.

I recently worked with our long-standing client Hyundai Capital on the headquarters in Surrey, where we incorporated hidden lighting and provided task lights in order to produce the optimum environment, a space that would empower its employees – a highly productive setting, not just a beautiful workplace. The design has a functional and industrial aesthetic; the main light source is hidden behind expanded metal mesh along the ceiling which gives the illusion of more height and space.

This technique also creates the effect of dappled light and emphasises the industrial style and culture that Hyundai Capital strive to achieve throughout their global portfolio of buildings. The team at Gensler made the main lights dimmer and provided task lights by Anglepoise so that people can create their own personalised atmosphere through light. Alcove lighting was also introduced which created an unexpected but comfortable and cosy environment within a workplace setting.

Day and night

Accepting that the sun and light change throughout the day is a major consideration, that unfortunately is often overlooked – with many workplaces incorporating schemes that are homogenous with a tendency to ‘over light’. At Gensler, we’ve been experimenting with the ability to implement controls that allow office light to mimic daylight. We have been working with Zumtobel to create a product called Mellow Light which has the ability to monitor the colour temperature of the lights.

For example, in the morning, the office would be lit with cooler tones to create an energising atmosphere and gradually throughout the day, the lighting would move through the spectrum, becoming warmer in the afternoon. Gensler has also created a light which changes based on the activity of the worker, acknowledging that the office is a fluid space which the lighting must reflect. If the overall lighting can dim, this paves the way for more decorative lighting to set the tone of the interior design.

Inside out

Finally, let’s not forget that all internal spaces have a connection with the outside world. The interaction of light within a building’s skin influences both the interior environment and outward expression. Having just moved our own London headquarters to a new temporary space until our permanent home in Thomas More Square is complete in 2019, we gave ourselves a somewhat unique brief – allowing for an experimental approach to deliver an intelligent, engaging and creative workplace.

The lighting in the public events space is the key decorative feature of the room with slimline, energy efficient LED lights creating a notional datum line in the ceiling. Weaving throughout the white linear plain is a red LED ribbon, which both represents Gensler’s corporate identity and serves as a wayfinding indicator to the adjacent studio area. Aesthetically, it adds a pop of colour to the industrial setting and sparks interest from pedestrians who can view the space from the street. More so, the lighting system is flexible, with a control system allowing us to create various room settings depending on need. The visual and emotional impact of the lighting scheme has helped to strengthen our brand’s experience.

Light as art

Light has been used for architectural effect throughout time and I am inspired by the work of artists such as Dan Flavin and Robert Irwin who used light to create ephemeral artworks. If we apply this theory to a work environment, we can emphasise unusual elements through spatial terms and decorative lighting can be used to highlight materials and textures used within a project. I do believe we can learn from the lighting used in museums and art galleries to create points of focus. This was utilised in the work Gensler did for Hyundai Capital’s global headquarters, where we were commissioned to design a custom assembly space atop their south tower in Seoul, Korea. Drawing inspiration from James Turrell’s light installation art, as well as classic photography cyclorama, we created a space that had no limits, traced in vicious-cut lighting that grazes the ceiling.

Moving from LA to London has made me think about light differently, I am more mindful about creating the illusion of light and a connection with the outside world. My goal is to generate an emotional experience and positively affect wellbeing in the workplace through the application of light in its purest form whilst enhancing a space’s performance and aesthetics.