Illumination for monuments: marrying efficiency and aes-thetics

By: Secom
24 de February, 2021
Reading time: 5 min

Illumination projects play a key role in ensuring that monuments can be enjoyed to the full when visibility is poor. Where light fixtures are positioned, their technical characteristics and even their colour play an essential role in highlighting a monument’s most outstanding features while respecting the artist’s vision.

This article addresses...


Criteria for illuminating historical monuments

Research, analysis and a good understanding of the architect’s vision and preferences must form part of any historical building illumination project.  Projects that take the purpose for which the monument was designed into account and deliver solutions that are respectful of the concept can only be successfully executed if they also include an analysis of historical, written, photographic and geographical data.

Colour combinations to pick out features

As a rule, ornamental illumination of historical buildings should aim to highlight natural colours and shapes. This is why coloured lights that change or distort textures and tones on façades are not recommended. However, depending on where a building is located, lights and other buildings situated close by can cause some distortion, in which case certain alterations that help to correct this can be made.



Light temperature is always determined by the designer’s criteria, but warm tones tend to be the preferred option for monuments and older buildings. Cool light is typically used on more contemporary buildings.

Uniform lighting across entire monuments

When selecting illumination points and deciding on the final design, it is important to ensure the monument can be seen from all angles. Illumination needs to be uniformly applied. However, areas of light and shade can be used to achieve more dramatic effects and create visual volume.

When a surface is lit up entirely, it becomes more difficult to appreciate smaller details. Without areas of shade, it looks like a flat surface. When light fixtures are positioned strategically, however, volumes and textures stand out, giving façades a more realistic feel.



Positioning light fixtures: the importance of customised design

It is also important to find exactly the right spot for each light fixture. Ensuring that cables are not left out on view or positioning light fixtures such that they end up blocking the view are just two points that need to be kept in mind during each stage of project development. Two of the most common answers to these issues include spotlights embedded into the floor or protruding spotlights. However, these options are not always possible and it is important to provide specially adapted solutions that work well for the specific characteristics of each project.

Light projection from a distance, for example, means that light can be distributed uniformly across a monument. Spotlights fitted on lampposts can be used to focus light on façades and create the same effect as rays of sunlight. Lighting installations of this kind create a very natural look since there is very little difference between what the monument looks like during the day and what it looks like at night.

Another option consists of lights that are fitted onto buildings. When these lights are strategically positioned, they help to generate a mix of light and shade. One of the main advantages is that they can be used to create volume and highlight certain aspects of a façade.

Mixed light projection, meanwhile, can be used to make the most of the advantages of both systems. Lighting from a distance can be used to create a natural look to form the basis of the project while spotlights fixed along certain points of the building generate volume and depth. If, for example, a building has a number of floors or angles, areas of shade can be strategically created in order to highlight the required volumes. In other words, illumination which is not excessively uniform can help to ensure that relevant details are not lost.




Light fixtures for aesthetic and efficient lighting pro-jects

Fortunately, thanks to technological developments in the illumination industry, there are a range of different solutions for achieving extraordinary levels of performance, irrespective of the challenge. These are described below.

LED lighting that does not deteriorate and RGBW lighting on monuments

LED illumination delivers optimum levels of performance. It uses much less energy than older lighting systems and requires very little maintenance. LED lights last for 50,000 hours, a great deal more than the 10,000 hours that low-consumption light bulbs last.

Their optics are very different, meaning that they can be used to create personalised lighting effects to suit each project. When a lighting project calls for a natural ambience, lights with an extensive beam angle are a good option. When a dramatic effect or concentration of light on one particular point is required, this calls for intensive lighting solutions.




Strips or RGBW systems make customising white lighting possible. They are particularly useful in cases where slight colour corrections are needed.

Linear light fixtures that vary in length

Linear lighting solutions are also a very convenient means of creating a theatrical effect. The length of these indirect light fixtures can be customised depending on the size and length of the area that needs to be lit.

Spotlights or wall wash lighting systems

Spotlights or wall wash lights are also a great resource for creating focal points. Their dramatic mix of direct light and shade can be used to draw attention to an area. Indeed, they can even create volume where there is none.

FloPro lights embedded into the floor with light projecting upwards

FloPro lights that are embedded into the floor create a warm and inviting ambience. They light up an area by projecting light upwards from the ground and this creates a pleasant ambience with interesting contrasts. They are often used at entrances or when indirect lighting is needed in order to make a space look larger.




Legislation on illumination for buildings

Before embarking on a project and deciding on lighting solutions, the specific legislation regulating illumination of façades and buildings must be taken into account. This will ensure that the legal framework and any limitations on light fixture design are clear.

There is no specific national legislation addressing this field, but there are a number of regulations that lay down certain limits. In Spain, in addition to legislation that is specific to each autonomous community or municipality, the points indicated below should be taken into account.

Law 16/1975 on Spanish Historical Heritage

This law regulates the requirements for guaranteeing appropriate conservation of historical heritage sites. Article 19 regulates any prohibitions affecting the physical and aesthetic integrity of monuments. Specifically, point 3 refers to installation of cables, antennae and pipes on façades and roofs, and in gardens.

Royal Decree 1980/2008 regulating energy efficiency in exte-rior lighting installations

The purpose of this law is to ensure that all exterior light installations meet energy efficiency objectives. Its provisions include a series of requirements including official energy efficiency certificates known as ITC-EA certificates. For cases of the type addressed in this article, the most important of these are certificates 01, 02 and 03.

These complementary technical guidelines are a series of calculations based on installed power, illuminated surface area and average illumination level. ITC-EA-01 covers the installation’s energy efficiency. ITC-EA-02, meanwhile, refers to the maximum installed power per unit of surface area. Last of all, ITC-EA-03 certifies light glare at night.

Other legislation on light pollution

Whilst there is no specific legislation for light pollution, there are a number of texts with recommendations for avoiding contamination of this kind. The first of these is Royal Decree 243/1992. It aims to protect the light quality at the Astrophysics Institute of the Canary Islands observatories and it prohibits ornamental illumination on monuments, public buildings and so on from midnight. It also recommends directing light beams upwards rather than downwards towards the ground.

Law 34/2007, for its part, defines light pollution. Local administrative bodies are responsible for regulating measures aimed at controlling light glare at night and proposing specific measures to tackle this. For example, using amber lights rather than white lights.

Noteworthy Secom projects

All of the aforementioned illumination systems have featured in projects developed by Secom in Spain. Some of the most noteworthy of these are described below.

The façade of the Water Authority building in Murcia

This project used wall wash lights strategically positioned on the façade to highlight the visual divide created by the building’s large windows. The lights were positioned along a single axis for the first and second floors, projecting light both upwards and downwards. The lighting system used was the RGBW type which makes changing colours easy. This was put to good use on International Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, for example, when the façade was bathed in blue.




A footbridge designed by architect Santiago Calatrava

There are a number of different lighting solutions on and around the footbridge designed by architect Santiago Calatrava in Bilbao. These include FloPro spotlights embedded into the floor of the bridge itself. They improve lighting on the footbridge and aid visibility. The project also incorporated wall wash lights to heighten the visual impact of the shapes of the footbridge structure.




Hotel Intercontinental in Madrid

This particular project sought to highlight the building’s structure (it is on a corner) and avoid projecting direct light onto bedroom windows. This was achieved by positioning spotlights and linear light fixtures on the building’s façade.




Illumination projects for monuments must rise to the challenge of highlighting specific features while remaining respectful of the original aesthetics of the building. Combining different types of fixtures can help to create light effects that highlight geometric shapes or generate visual contrasts that help specific features of the building to stand out.



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