Lighting done right

New era of lighting-design software: faster, more flexible and offers 3-D renderings

June 01, 2001 |

In the past, using lighting-calculation software has been frustrating — programs were time-consuming, keystroke-dependent and hard to master. Users were often restricted to designing simple, rectangular rooms or buildings, and flat-type ceilings or roof structures. The resulting architectural models were, at best, good approximations of the proposed architectural structures.

Another limitation was slow calculation speed, which often delayed the designer's efforts to produce quality designs and renderings quickly.

A new era

Lighting-design programs have made impressive advances in flexibility, speed and accuracy over the last few years. Overall, programs are more user-friendly and deliver a range of new features, including the ability to produce 3-D renderings. In addition, many new programs allow calculations of interior and exterior lighting scenes; some even incorporate manufacturers' products into designs.

Most programs on the market provide the ability to either model complex architectural elements with numerical analysis or create 3-D color renderings, but few are able to provide both. One program that offers both is AGI32, a program available from Lighting Analysts Inc. that the author's firm has reviewed.

Renderings produced with AGI32 are in color and are photometrically correct, meaning they utilize actual luminaire photometric data from lighting-fixture manufacturers. This feature gives both designers and their clients visual feedback during the design process. Proposed designs can be fine-tuned on the fly, increasing designer efficiency while minimizing revisions during construction.

Irregularly shaped objects, rooms and buildings can be created from scratch using basic 3-D elements or a combination of building blocks from the software's library. Blocks can be defined and stored for use on other projects. Once a block is saved in the library, it is scalable along any axis — x, y or z — which can eliminate steps in the modeling process.

Lighting levels on any surface, whether flat, sloped or curved, can be calculated, as well as the disability glare for a person situated at a specific location within the design field.

Today's building designers are often asked to "test-drive" a space prior to construction. With 3-D color rendering capabilities, products like AGI32 allow designers to show the effects of lighting from different angles and locations.

There's little chance that any software could replace the knowledge and abilities of an experienced lighting designer. However, software can provide designers with a means to verify the accuracy of their designs efficiently and better present their ideas to clients.

For more information on AGI32, visit

Paul Mercier is a senior lighting designer with Stebnicki Robertson and Associates of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He can be contacted by e-mail at

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