It’s been said that great architecture can’t exist without great lighting. As a registered architect and Director of Lighting Design for Lightswitch Architectural Chicago, Kerri Callahan knows a bit about both. Here, the architect-turned-lighting designer discusses how light can transform a space and why light should matter to architects.

Q: How does light impact architecture?
A: Light accentuates the beauty of the architecture. There is nothing more exquisite than a perfect joint in architecture, and what’s better than to make it stand out and show its natural beauty? As a designer, it’s important to understand how lighting can make architecture better. Functional lighting is necessary, but why not achieve both—Light that transforms architecture, but also allows us to see what’s important.

Q: What is your favorite work of architecture that has been transformed by lighting?
A: I’m biased. We work with great clients, so they give us great works of architecture to start from. The Ando Gallery in the Roger L. and Pamela Weston Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago is a favorite of mine, and is a perfect example of how lighting impacts the architecture. The only lighting in the gallery comes from illuminating the art and yet you clearly understand the definition of these perfect sixteen columns that create a sense of architecture before you even walk in.

Q: How does your architectural background inform your approach to lighting design?
A: I have compassion for the architect. Any architect knows that they are constantly struggling to fit 10 lbs of stuff in a 5-lb box. Doesn’t matter what project, but there is never enough space and something always has to give. So, I think about how can we detail the space constraints differently to ensure that we achieve the best design possible.

Q: What advice would you give to architects on how to light architecture?
A: Honestly, most of the time architects know what they are doing. One piece of advice would be to be careful using renderings to think about how you want lighting to look. They create a beautiful picture, but they can give a false sense of perfection. Also, be aware that those old, typical spacing rules are really starting to change for the good. Because of the advances in LED technology, we’re often able to reduce the number of luminaires that are needed on a project so that the ceilings aren't littered with downlights.

Q: How else is LED lighting changing architecture?
A: Let me count the ways! As buildings demand more efficiency and reduced spatial constraints, LED lighting is actually helping designers. Color is getting better and better—LED is not only competing with incandescent, but actually is in some cases a better choice. With the right lamp not only can we get that same beautiful, warm glow and color rendition, but now we can also be energy efficient and have greater control over color tuning to enhance the architecture even more.

The Sistine Chapel is a great example of this. It was just recently re-lit using color-changing technology that adapts to its revolving artwork collection. If that’s not an example of lighting transforming great architecture, then I don’t know what is!