It’s All Relative
Brightness, color, and contrast all play a role in any visual composition. This is especially true of lighted nighttime environments; the interplay of these three characteristics determines the quality and character of the lighted environment.
In the foreground of this image, on the right-hand side, is a brightly lighted mock-up of what is soon to be a prominent architectural feature of a new high-rise building under construction in Boston. The color-changing LED fixtures seen at the bottom of the image will highlight this building feature at different intervals, adding a playful element to the Boston skyline at night. The property owners will determine which colors to accent this element with, and therefore can control how subtle or dynamic this feature for different occasions. The use of color helps distinguish this lighted portion of the building from the sea of white light spilling from the windows of surrounding buildings in the skyline.
The overall brightness can be adjusted by dimming the LED fixtures. In the middle of the night, when most are asleep, the brightness can be reduced by dimming, giving a more subtle appearance than what might be desired earlier in the evening during prime viewing hours.
The contrast within a photograph taken shortly after dusk often produces the most striking images of lighted environments. The deep color of the sky enlivens the image, while it is the contrast between the sky glow and the dark silhouettes of buildings that defines the city skyline. A few minutes later in the day, and the sky will be too dark, the contrast is reduced, and the perception of the building forms is lost.
As designers we never want to use color or increase brightness just for the sake of doing so; more is not necessarily better. However, all of the lighted environments that we design must balance these characteristics – brightness, color, and contrast – and use them carefully to hopefully create architectural projects that become stunning images.
Photo Credit: Jamie Perry / Lam Partners Inc