A guide to facade illumination

The Permanent Outdoor Installation family of SGM architectural flood lights is specifically engineered to fulfill the needs of high-visibility facade lighting, enhancing the coverage and the output via highly efficient native lenses, while creating a package of luminaires to simplify the installation process. Luminaires that are capable of different optical performances while being similar in size, shape, and connectivity, are easier to specify and more suitable for building integration.

SGM I, P, and Q series offer a combination of narrow-to-wide beam angles to achieve the best throw and uniformity for the given distance, while ensuring color consistency, long-term reliability, and advanced control. 

Light evolves in space

Facade lighting can be imagined in many different ways, and it is often integrated into architectural plots since the conceptual stage. Artificial illumination can remark the entablatures, pillars and ornaments of classical buildings, spread dynamic colors over solid surfaces with no texture, or create media patterns to radiate light through perforated structures.

Furthermore, lighting can generate its own space into urban environments, transforming a big area initially thought for a functional purpose, into a versatile venue where entertainment adds value and commercial possibilities. In these scenarios, facade lighting is able to expand practicable areas, propose astonishing effects, or modernize unpopular locations.

With natural lighting transforming architecture during daytime, distances, positioning, and throw play a major role when designing, specifying, and permanently installing lights in nightime.   

Specific luminaires for specific needs

Narrow angle, long throw LED luminaires (such as the i series), also called high-punch floodlights, deliver a native beam angle optimized for maximum lux output at long distances. This makes them suited for illuminating the top of facades, generating accents over tall structures such as high columns and protuding sections, or emphasizing areas that are difficult to reach. In general, narrow beams are really useful to intensify vertical divisions, or to deliver a large amount of light to a specific part of the building.

LED-based long throw floodlights are extremely energy efficient, playing a crucial role to reduce overall power consumption. Because they can throw farther, this type of fixtures are also more accessible for maintenance purposes. 

211 Tower in Pittsburgh (US)

Lighting by Anthony Dolan.
26 x SGM i-2 POI fixtures were used as powerful uplights, increasing the overall contrast while highlighting the texture of the building.

Medium angle, mid throw LED luminaires (such as the P series), also called wall-washers, need to cover a broader spectrum of coverages. They are generally used to create uniformity over large horizontal areas, since they facilitate color blending and wall-washing. Using medium angle lenses is convenient when increasing the offset of the luminaire from the facade. In those surfaces where even illumination is key, the use of medium-angle floodlights can significantly minimize the number of units, while providing an even look.

These luminaires normally come in different lens options, so they can work as versatile tools when located in poles, roofs, or directly on the building. Mid throw floodlights are optically engineered to enlarge the beam width over distance.

Montacute House in South Somerset (UK)

Lighting by Matt Gardiner.
A selection of SGM P-5 floodlights with different native lenses, using 21º optics from a 50 m distance, and 43º at 25 m.

Wide angle, short throw LED luminaires (such as the Q series) are specifically designed for close-distance flood lighting; their native beam angle is optimized for maximum lumen output. Wide-angle floodlights are useful to highlight textures, to illuminate the base of a larger structure from a short distance, or to create dynamic gradients for architectural heritage. They are useful as uplights on the ground, especially for broad surface coverages and low-contrast transitions.

These luminaires are perfect to spread light over big surfaces, underscoring the three-dimensional essence of horizontally divided facades. It is the perfect solution for subtle illumination and smooth color transitions.

101 Building at Danish Technical University (DK)

Lighting by Matrix and DTU technical department.
The 26 x SGM Q-7 lights located on the floor cover a wide horizontal area from a very close distance, while enhancing the organic and curved shapes of the roof with a color-based gradient.

Direct view, pixel mapped LED luminaires (such as the VPL system) are the most important tools in media architecture to add creative possibilities in a dynamic, pattern-based environment. LED fixtures with pixel mapping technology can be used as a powerful solution for transparent, banded, or perforated facades where floodlighting can cast long shadows and generate reflections. Since they are designed for direct view application, these luminaires capture viewer's attention via attractive looks, motion matrices, and colorful atmospheres.

Very present in casinos, resorts, themeparks and skyscrapers in business areas, media facade lighting is a segment on its own. All luminaires with direct-view capabilities are an optimal solution to increase the visibility of brands, malls, and entertainment areas.

The Golden Gate in Gellerup (DK)

Lighting by Kollision LD agency. 300 x SGM VPL LED linears in 610 and 305 lengths map the entire façade through perforated metal panels, creating a dynamic and color-changing effect to wrap the entire walls.

Projection-based, LED moving heads (such as the G series) offer diverse possibilities in multipurpose venues, facilitating the integration of architecture, interactive systems, and leisure in the same urban space. Moving projection can draw shapes on walls, trim light beams to cover difficult geometries, and create stunning light effects with movement, all in the same fixture. While heavily used in stage lighting, IP66 corrosion-resistant moving lights are an excellent instrument to expand the activities in public areas, stadiums, and hotels towards new forms of development.

Spot moving heads include image projection, animation control and modifiable beam angles, while Beam moving heads are optically developed to output sharp and narrow aerial projection over dark skies.

Inno building in Antwerp (BEL)

Lighting by Christian Stenuit. 20 x SGM G-Spot moving heads were included in the luminaire package, projecting an animated, texturized layer of customized gobo patterns over a floodlight-based color wash.

G-7 Spot POI

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Key decisions in facade lighting

While supplying seamless color performance and consistent reliability across the entire range, SGM also offers a wide portfolio of solutions in terms of light distribution, output, and form factor. Specifying a SGM luminaire package is a safe bet, as it optimizes lighting levels for a sustainable use of energy, simplifies commissioning, and greatly reduces or outright eliminates the need for maintenance.

There is a number of key decisions when specifying lighting for facade illumination. Is it contrast what is needed? To what extent does lighting need to reflect the architectural style of the building? Is there space for creativity and amusement? 

From a technical point of view, some aspects must be in focus:

  • How much illumination (measured in lux or foot-candle) do you need in a specific area?
  • Does the building need white lighting in a specific color temperature, a solid color, or a specific palette of hues?
  • Is lighting supposed to be static, or dynamic? 
  • How large is the structure, and where can the luminaires be located?
  • Do you want to highlight the finish and the volume of the facade, or do you want to use it as a canvas? 

Answering these questions will help not only to build the lighting design, but also to help contractors, consultants, and lighting manufacturers when supplying the right solution for each building's characteristics.