A tribute to the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks in the form of an illumination.

photo by: A. Strakey/Flickr/CC BY-NC ND 20

March 22, 2016

9 Tips for Lighting a Building

Raising awareness for a building or place in need can be tough, and more often than not, the place in question is overlooked, forgotten, or outside the public eye. How can you bring it back into the spotlight?

One good method is to shine a light on it. Literally.

Lighting a building can have a profound effect on the way other community members see a space. It can help people remember the structure’s earlier days, inspire new ideas for adaptive reuse, or just show people that someone cares.

Here are 9 tips for how to light a building.

1. Define your goals.

Lighting a building can serve a number of purposes. Think about what you are trying to achieve. Are your goals purely aesthetic? Or are you trying to raise awareness and generate support for a place that really needs help? How you answer these questions will influence the rest of your choices going forward.

2. Lay out your timeline.

Are you looking for long-term illumination, or is this a one-off installation meant to raise awareness and visibility? These details are critical because they directly affect your bottom line. The longer term your lighting project, the more durable your equipment needs to be.

3. Nail down your budget.

Architectural lighting can get pricey, especially as the size of a building increases. If you need help footing the bill, consider reaching out to local foundations or corporations for grants or sponsorships. Local and regional businesses love to have their names attached to feel-good projects. Think about which organizations might relate to your cause most. Also consider crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to engage local residents and neighbors.

An illumination of the facade of Washington's National Cathedral.

photo by: ehpien/Flickr/CC BY-NC ND 20

Illuminating is an excellent way to attract attention to it.

4. Outline your plan.

What do you want the building to look like? Are you going for a stunning look or something more understated? Are there any additional visual elements that will help convey your message, attract attention, or communicate more directly with the community? Also, consider using the facade of your space as a projection screen for showing photos or videos of the building during its heyday to remind the public of its value and history.

5. Go the DIY route…

You will be amazed by the impact a few $20 flood lights and extension cords can have on a place that would otherwise be lost in the night. There are tons of illumination options just waiting for you at your local hardware store.

6. …or find a vendor.

If exterior illumination really isn’t your thing, there are companies that specialize in architectural lighting just about everywhere. If specialists are out of reach but you’re not sure of your ability or skill set, consider consulting local event planners. Many of them are frequently tasked with creating custom lighting schemes for parties and other special events.

An illumination on a building as part of a climate change protest.

photo by: Brennan Cavanaugh/Flickr/CC BY-NC 20

Lighting buildings can be used to promote causes.

7. Don’t break the law.

Sometimes lighting is easy. Other times, it comes with a flood of permits and review processes. Make sure you have all your permissions in place. Never stage an installation on private property without the owner’s consent.

8. Make it an event.

Everyone loves suspense.Plan a community event to flip the switch. This is a great way to garner media attention, engage local stakeholders and elected officials, and recognize sponsors. This is your chance to create a memorable moment for your place. Have some fun with it.

9. Document, document, document.

Turning on the lights is a big deal. Make sure you have a team (even if it’s just your friends) to capture high resolution photos and videos of the illumination. Having these assets will help you spread the word for your cause. Make them readily available to reporters and share widely on social media.

Jason Clement

Jason Loyd Clement is the former senior director of marketing campaigns and partnerships at the National Trust, which means he spent his days (and most nights) talking with people about how they can save the places that matter to their communities.

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