Applying Slow Design Principles for Culturing Wellbeing Through Lighting Installations

January 9, 2023
Figure 1
Figure 1. Reveal – The IALD Light Workshop conducted in CCA/Chandigarh uses light to reveal previously unknown facets of Le Corbusier’s architecture. Old brick and concrete structures received a futuristic fervor with light.

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By Amardeep M. Dugar, PhD


This article is an abridged version of a study1 that demonstrates how lighting installations designed with slow design principles can culture (cultivate and propagate) wellbeing. The World Health Organization2 defines wellbeing as a state “which allows individuals to realize their abilities, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and make a contribution to their community.” However, beyond this definition, it is difficult to drill down into what wellbeing really means on a day-to-day basis, the factors that may influence it, and how can it be measured and improved3. Lighting is an integral component of social life that constitutes an essential part of social interaction and day-to-day activities by attracting, directing, and enchanting users4, 5. The existential aim of architecture is to transform spaces into places by discovering the meanings of the designed spaces, where the delivered physical characteristics promote the physical and mental wellbeing of its users6. Spaces can be constructed into authentic places by making connections between three different components, namely, the physical characteristics of the setting, the actions or activities within the setting, and the conceptions or meanings carried by the setting7, 8. Lighting holds significant potential for the betterment of users’ wellbeing, as the distribution of light within spaces influences individual feelings, impressions, and reactions9, 10, 11. Lighting design itself can give rise to psychological attachments by enabling the transformation of spaces into places, thereby leading to overall wellbeing12, 13.

Fuad-Luke14 however argues that wellbeing can be achieved with slow design, as its guiding philosophical principle is to reposition the focus of design on the trinity of individual, socio-cultural, and environmental wellbeing. Slow design emerged as a new paradigm for sustainable design, where design balances socio-cultural and individual needs with environmental wellbeing15, 16, 17. It can be defined as a design method that is deeply conscious of the lifespan, materials, and processes used in the creation of its end product, resulting in environmental soundness and consumer enjoyment18. The study explores the application of slow design principles in the design of lighting installations: how certain activities can be facilitated, and what meanings can be added or emphasized by applying these principles within physical settings. While previous studies19, 20 have explored the use of slow design theories in lighting, the aim of this study is to create meaningful interactions with users through the physical characteristics of lighting installations. In this regard, the study considers aspects such as users’ experiences and positive perceptions of spaces such as feelings of safety and social involvement through lighting installations21. Lighting is subject to design principles that can significantly affect the way in which users interact with each other and the spaces around them 22. The study approaches what lighting installations do and what they mean emerging from a wellbeing assemblage, which embodies the affect and the effect, the dogmatic and the dynamic, the external and the internal, the intangible and the tangible aspects of light.

The Framework

The study reinterprets and redefines the seven principles of slow design15, 23 into applications for designing meaningful lighting installations, as listed below, which are then formulated into a step-by-step guiding framework, as shown in Table 1:

  1. Reveal – the lighting installation should create awareness by uncovering hidden essences of the space.
  2. Expand – the lighting installation should provide a bigger picture by broadening the scope of the space.
  3. Reflect – the lighting installation should provide time for users to think about their actions and create a supporting narrative for the space.
  4. Engage – the lighting installation should provide a do-it-yourself concept where users become active designers of the space.
  5. Participate – the lighting installation should create active opportunities for users to personalize and reconfigure the space.
  6. Evolve – the lighting installation should provide opportunities to create a space that is changing or growing over time.
  7. Ritual – the lighting installation should create a ritual for better user experience by stimulating social interaction.

Table 1. Slow Design Framework for Designing Meaningful Lighting Installations

The Case Studies

The study uses lighting installations designed as a part of the International Association of Lighting Designers’ (IALD) Light Workshops Series24 as case studies. These installations are earnest exemplifications of the slow design principles that have built psychological attachments with users. Designed as a model for teaching the lighting design process, these workshops are a series of hands-on experiential learning events intended to facilitate long-term connections between users and spaces in a collaborative, educational, and fun manner. The essential users of the space, namely students and entry-level architects, co-created full-scale lighting sceneries under the guidance of lighting experts, while adding a level of excitement to the often intensive and technical subject of lighting design. A total of ten such workshops have been conducted over a 5-year period between 2016 and 2020, in nine cities across India and Jordan namely: Amman, Bangalore25, Chandigarh26, Chennai27, 28, Delhi29, Hyderabad30, Kochi31, Manipal and Mumbai32. Each of these workshops was designed around a narrative pertaining to the socio-cultural contexts of its respective spaces. These workshops are examined as case studies using the framework, where the application of each principle is demonstrated either on a single workshop or a group of workshops.

Case Study 1: Reveal

Slow design offers ways to reveal the true essence of a space by creating awareness and uncovering the function of the place. Lighting installations inspired by slow design can help users unearth the hidden or unnoticed aspects of a space. The aim of the IALD Light Workshop conducted in the campus of Chandigarh College of Architecture (CCA), Chandigarh26, as shown in Figure 1, was to experience the true essence of the site by revealing the smaller and unnoticed elements with light. The objective was to create lighting installations that are a tribute to Le Corbusier, one of the grandmasters of modern architecture who designed both the city of Chandigarh and the CCA campus itself. The concept was to open up new experiences for the users who visit the site with designed darkness; users were transported to alternate co-existing parallel universes of building forms through experiential portals of light. The installations revealed Le Corbusier’s architecture style of rigid brick and concrete ”Braise Soleil” structures in a previously unknown manner.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Reveal – The IALD Light Workshop conducted in CCA/Chandigarh uses light to reveal previously unknown facets of Le Corbusier’s architecture. Old brick and concrete structures received a futuristic fervor with light.

Case Study 2: Expand

Slow design expands spaces beyond their stated brief, such that users can have intimate and symbiotically interdependent relationships, thereby creating places. Lighting installations inspired by slow design can provide expanded benefits for certain target user groups apart from providing an interactive user experience. The aim of the IALD Light Workshop conducted in Amman, as shown in Figure 2, was to create a never-before-seen experience by expanding the beauty of selected places that remain unseen during the day with a new perspective. The objective was to create lighting installations that offer a feel-good atmosphere for the users of the city of Amman. As the expanded goal was to celebrate the auspicious occasion of the 20th anniversary of His Majesty King Abdullah II’s ascension to the throne, the selected installation sites had a great political significance, considering their connection to the royal family. The installations expanded the Hashemite vision of a strong emergent kingdom by using light that transformed these sites into beacons of hope, knowledge, and power.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Expand – The IALD Light Workshop conducted in Amman uses light to expand the Hashemite vision of a strong emergent kingdom. Politically significant sites were transformed into beacons of light.

Case Study 3: Reflect

Slow design enables users to reflect upon how actions taken by them can create a train of interactions with a space, thereby creating a sense of place. Lighting installations inspired by slow design can help users appreciate the space by informing them about their own behavior. The aim of the IALD Light Workshops conducted in the campuses of the School of Architecture and Planning (SAP), Chennai27, and Asian School of Architecture and Design Innovation (ASADI), Kochi31, as shown in Figure 3, was to enable users to reflect about the impact of light on the lives of animals, humans, and plants. The objective was to create lighting installations that are sensitive toward issues of light pollution, sky glow, and stargazing, which comprise an important yet forgotten aspect of our lives. The experiential concept is of linear progression in nature by lighting the various elements and textures to showcase the natural charm of the sites. The installations enabled users to reflect on the fact that creativity should enhance the beauty of nature and not cause any harm to it.

Figure 3.
Figure 3. Reflect – The IALD Light Workshops conducted in SAP/Chennai and ASADI/Kochi used light to enable users to reflect upon environmentally sensitive issues of light. The experimental lighting treatments included minimal light spill using low-level floor grazers with warmer correlated color temperatures.

Case Study 4: Engage

Slow design can use information collected from discreet systems in a space to pull together a place that has user engagement at its core. Lighting installations can become one of the many potentially dynamic systems within a space for triggering active engagement from users. The aim of the IALD Light Workshop conducted in the campus of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi29, as shown in Figure 4, was to create an engaging identity for the rather obscure spaces. The objective was to create lighting installations that transform these unused spaces into lively places triggering active user engagement. Lighting has been used to create interesting surprises such as consecutive focal points that end in color-changing silhouettes and façade patterns framed with subtle lighting, and to enable careful attention to details by maintaining low light levels. The installations encouraged user engagement while also becoming a representation of the users’ levels of engagement.

Figure 4
Figure 4. Engage – The IALD Light Workshop conducted in SPA/Delhi uses light to engage users by creating visual interest. Obscure-looking spaces were made to look interesting and lively with colors, patterns, and shadows.
Case Study 5: Participate

Slow design creates opportunities for users to actively personalize and reconfigure a space to their needs. Lighting installations with increased built-in flexibility can improve the likelihood of users being able to efficiently adapt the space for their needs. The aim of the IALD Light Workshop conducted in the campus of the CSIIT School of Architecture, Hyderabad30, as shown in Figure 5, was to provide a user-specific lighting scheme that enables users to become active participants. The objective was to create lighting installations with built-in qualities of dynamic metamorphism, which change their character in relation to user needs. A layered lighting approach dabbling with scenography has been incorporated, where users can switch between different scenes using brightness, colors, patterns, reflection, refraction, and shadows of light. The installations allowed users to participate by actively reconfiguring their lighted spaces.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Participate – The IALD Light Workshop conducted in CSIIT/Hyderabad uses light to enable users to actively participate in the creation of their personalized spaces. Users were able to flexibly switch between different lighting scenes with different brightness and colors.

Case Study 6: Evolve

Slow design enables spaces to evolve beyond their initial design brief into transformative places. Lighting installations that continue to evolve in time and technology will inevitably continue to serve well into the life of the space. The aim of the IALD Light Workshop conducted in the campus of the Crescent School of Architecture (CSA), Chennai28, as shown in Figure 6, was to set a precedent for evolving beyond the initial design brief. Cyclone Vardah had devastated the city of Chennai along with the campus just days before the scheduled workshop. Instead of cancelling the workshop altogether, the objective was to create lighting installations that will go beyond the initial design brief by making the best of the ruins of the cyclone aftermath within the campus. The fallen trees and broken branches were used as props to project interesting patterns of light, color, and shadows on building facades, thereby prioritizing the “green” on architecture. The installation evolved into a sensitive representation of the rebuilding process of a city after a natural disaster.

Figure 6
Figure 6. Evolve – The IALD Light Workshop conducted in CSA/Chennai uses light to evolve into a greater cause of rebuilding after a natural disaster. The ruins of the cyclone aftermath, such as broken branches and fallen trees, were used as props in the installations.

Case Study 7: Ritual

Slow design provides a sense of security and stability by creating casual, interpersonal, and nimble rituals that stimulate social interaction. Lighting installations creating new small acts done in particular situations and in the same way each time, which are imbued with symbolism, spark something meaningful with users. The aim of the IALD Light Workshops conducted in the campuses of the RV College of Architecture (RVCA), Bangalore25, Sir JJ College of Architecture (JJCA), Mumbai32, and the Manipal School of Architecture and Planning (MSAP), Manipal, as shown in Figure 7, was to stimulate users with rituals of social interaction. The objective was to create lighting installations imbued with symbolic acts, which become a meaningful daily ritual. Each of these campuses consisted of corridors that connected all the prominent spaces, finally leading up to the classrooms. The initial concept of the lighting scheme was drawn from the basic function of corridors and staircases, which is movement. The movement was enhanced through a hierarchy of primary and secondary focal points. This created visual movement of the eye as well as physical movement of the body through interest points, rather than the basic idea of access to another space. This movement was highlighted using brightness, colors, and shadow patterns. The installations allowed rituals of social interaction and connectedness by improving the visual rhythm and use of the space, thereby increasing the psychological attachment of users towards each other and the space.

Figure 7
Figure 7. Ritual – The IALD Light Workshops conducted in RVCA/Bangalore, JJCA/Mumbai, and MSAP/Manipal used light to create a ritual of social interaction from the simple act of movement. The visual rhythm of all horizontal and vertical movement spaces such as corridors and staircases were improvised with lighted focal points.


Lighting installations can gather momentum with slow design, as users can be invited to connect with the histories and patterns of lighting realized to date through empirical observation, sensory awareness, and intuitive imagining. Augmented reality (AR) technology brings components of the digital world into the real world through immersive sensations20. Introducing AR-enriched interactive systems into the urban lighting realm can reveal any under-observed phenomena by raising awareness of the surroundings and the diverse ecosystems contained therein. Users can be encouraged to annotate local area maps with their thoughts, memories, sensations, fantasies, drawings, and design gestures so as to capture local knowledge and public imaginings about the evolving nighttime identity of their neighborhood or surrounding area. The lighting experience can unfold with visually rich cues revealing unexpected aesthetic pleasures embedded in seemingly banal spaces. This in turn will generate awareness about the unseen or forgotten aspects of the urban spaces, reminding users of their own part in and responsibility toward the life of their localities.

Tangible lighting control interfaces33, 34, 35 that integrate intelligent data collection functionality emerge as the key physical characteristics for encouraging meaningful interactions with users. Interactive lighting installations can become sites of discovery by infusing layers of meaning with these interfaces that challenge and delight the users, thereby enriching their meaning well beyond mere function and convenience. These interfaces can also be tailored to administer personalized therapeutic lighting treatments for users, thereby leading to overall wellbeing. Over time, these interfaces can render psychological attachments as they start showing visible traces of their relationship with users by revealing user patterns. Users will start perceiving these interfaces as living, breathing beings with their own lives and stories to tell. These interfaces can ultimately become co-sharing tools for reorganizing neighborhoods, instigating users’ relationships with other users and their connection to the natural environment. This in turn will help in shaping newer habitats where community stewardship of the designed outdoor lighting systems determines their evolution over time.


Literature reviews and the exemplified case studies indicate that slow design indeed has the potential to culture wellbeing by strengthening psychological attachment with lighting installations when applied with consideration. City councils incorporating smart lighting technologies and integrated systems can use this framework and the physical characteristics as guidelines for implementing interactive urban lighting systems. While the original slow design principles were written to provide inspiration and direction, this study reveals that detailed user-centered research is required into how lighting systems are used to identify when it is best to slow users down during use. The process of slowing down needs to be done at the right time for more meaningful interactions to occur for supporting the psychological attachment theories23. Slow design principles hold tremendous potential in providing interactive lighting systems with the perfect balance of modern technologies and user-centered designs. However, the advent of a new era of connected and smart lighting technologies (e.g., IoT, Li-Fi) in the realm of urban lighting requires a shift from technology-push and system-oriented products to data-driven user-centric designs.


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