Two years, discussions on every aspect of lighting from “light poverty” to “chiaroscuro” and many frantic submissions later, my Master’s programme in Architectural Lighting Design at Hochschule Wismar University finally came down to my dissertation paper.

I was elated to have the opportunity to study and explore a relevant topic in lighting – as I live in the UAE, and I’m privy to some spectacular works of architecture. It serves as a source of inspiration and as a lighting designer it constantly provokes me to think of the role of lighting in architecture. I chose to do a lighting masterplan for the Saadiyat Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, with a focus on façade lighting design. So, I thought I’d share an outline of my design thesis below.


The Saadiyat Cultural District is the Abu Dhabi government’s initiative to develop art and culture in the region by bringing the international arts experience to the UAE, while showcasing the rich Emirati traditions to the world. The district will consist of iconic institutions like the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim, with architectural contributions by the likes of Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid.

My lighting design scheme is an exploration and proposal for the district’s lighting masterplan. The illumination of this area needs to highlight its culture and architecture, giving the nighttime atmosphere a strong identity. Lighting the façades of buildings should bring out the best expression of their nocturnal architecture, as well as complement the vision of the institutions.

The lighting masterplan underlines the key elements of the space to make the nightscape a memorable experience. The plan also tries to use the emotional and visual impact of light to reinforce the brand identity of the district.


Kevin Lynch, in his book “The Image of the City”, defines elements of a masterplan: “To heighten the imageabilty of the urban environment is to facilitate its visual identification and structuring.”(Lynch,1960.)

The urban structure of a space can be defined by its path, edges, landmarks, nodes and districts. These elements were identified and the character of each studied to maintain legibility in the lighting solution for the district. The lighting masterplan aims to support the different activities and tasks carried out to provide identity, structure and meaning to the space at nighttime.


Some of the most remarkable celebrations of light in nature are the natural optical phenomena we see everyday. Our best light memories are from the observation of a natural sky – the glow of the sky, the starry sky, setting sun.…

They are remarkable in their ephemeral quality. They brighten up the sky by diffusion of soft light, color and dramatic effects. The light from nature is complex and can never be truly replicated. But this lighting design scheme tries to take inspiration from these phenomena to give expression to the light in the museums.

A light phenomenon can be measured as a composition of varying light qualities. Spectral light qualities like intensity, contrast, color, movement, shape, and ambiance were all analysed. These parameters were used in the design solution to create visual delight, balance and evoke memories of nature.


Lighting design for the Promenade – inspired from a “Light Pillars” effect:

Promenade Saadiyat Cultural District Lighting Design Scheme

Lighting design for the Zayed National Museum – inspired from an “Aurora” effect:

Saadiyat Cultural District Zayed National Museum Lighting Design Solution

Lighting design for the Time Line Garden – inspired from “Crepuscular rays” effect:

Architectural Lighting Design Time Line Garden Saadiyat Cultural District Abu Dhabi

Lighting design for the Guggenheim Museum – inspired from “Anti-Crepuscular rays” effect:

Guggenheim Museum Saadiyat Cultural District Abu Dhabi Architectural Lighting Scheme

Lighting design for the Museum parks – inspired from an “After glow” effect:

Museum Parks Saadiyat Cultural District Abu Dhabi Architectural Lighting Scheme

Lighting design for the Louvre Museum – inspired from a “Corona” effect:

Lighting Scheme Louvre Museum Saadiyat Cultural District Abu Dhabi Middle East

Blog post by Harshita Shetty