The Evolution of Lighting Around Us: A Journey Through Time and Innovation
A Look at How Lighting Has Changed Over Time

The history of lighting in commercial spaces is a fascinating tale of innovation, creativity, and technological advancements. As design professionals, understanding the evolution of lighting helps us appreciate the tools and techniques available today and inspires us to push the boundaries of what's possible in the future. This article will explore key milestones and significant innovations in the realm of commercial lighting design and their impact on the industry.

The Early Days: Gas and Electric Lighting

The history of commercial lighting began with the introduction of gas lighting in the early 19th century. Gaslights provided a safer and more efficient alternative to candles and oil lamps, transforming the way all spaces were illuminated. This new form of lighting expanded working hours and increased productivity, as commercial spaces no longer had to rely on natural daylight. The first gas streetlights were installed in 1816 in the city of Baltimore. This was a big step in the history of gas lighting because it proved it could be effective for large-scale lighting needs of an entire city.

By the early 1800's, Paris and London had installed gas lamps along their streets. The added light increased accessibility and demand for nighttime activities, changing the nighttime culture from one of shutting oneself in to going out and socializing with others.

Gas was used to light streetlamps until the 1950s when it was replaced in most areas by electricity. Before the 1800s, most homes, workplaces and streets were lit by candles, oil lamps or rushlights (rush plants dried and dipped in grease or fat).

As electric lighting became available in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, commercial and residential spaces underwent another significant transformation. The invention of incandescent bulbs by Thomas Edison in 1879 paved the way for a new era of lighting design.

Mid-20th Century: Fluorescent Lighting and Design Trends

Fluorescent lighting emerged in the mid-20th century, offering improved energy efficiency and longevity compared to incandescent bulbs. Commercial spaces embraced these new lighting solutions, and designers began to experiment with unique installations and fixtures. 

It was during this period that iconic designs like the Sputnik chandelier and other modernist lighting styles emerged, reflecting the era's optimism and fascination with technological progress. Additionally, the advent of fluorescent lighting influenced architectural design, leading to the creation of new types of commercial spaces, such as open-plan offices that could be efficiently and uniformly lit.

The Advent of Halogen and Compact Fluorescent Lamps

The late 20th century saw the introduction of halogen lamps, which provided a brighter, more focused light source compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. Design professionals utilized halogen lights to accentuate architectural features, display merchandise, or create dramatic effects in commercial spaces.

 Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) also gained popularity due to their energy-saving capabilities and longer lifespan. However, the environmental impact of these lighting technologies became a growing concern, prompting the industry to seek more sustainable solutions.

The LED Revolution

The early 21st century marked the beginning of the LED revolution. With their high energy efficiency, long life, and compact size, LEDs transformed lighting design in nearly every way. Design professionals now had access to a versatile light source that could be used in a wide range of applications, from accent lighting to large-scale installations. LED technology also allowed for greater control over color temperature and brightness, enabling designers to create more dynamic and customizable lighting schemes. The aesthetics of commercial spaces were transformed, allowing for more creative and flexible design options that met both functional and aesthetic needs indoors and out.

Image: Apple Store natural light integration

Integration of Natural Light

As the focus on sustainability and occupant well-being increased, design professionals began to prioritize the integration of natural light into commercial spaces. Techniques like daylight harvesting, light shelves, and strategically placed windows and skylights allowed for the seamless blending of artificial and natural light sources, reducing energy consumption and enhancing the overall user experience. For example, Apple's retail stores are renowned for their extensive use of natural light, reducing reliance on artificial lighting and creating an inviting atmosphere for customers.

Smart Lighting and the Internet of Things (IoT)

With the advent of smart lighting and IoT technologies, lighting design entered a new era of connectivity and automation. Design professionals can now create dynamic, responsive, and energy-efficient lighting schemes that adapt to changing conditions, user preferences, and space usage patterns. These advances have opened up new possibilities for creating innovative and immersive experiences in commercial spaces. For instance, Amazon's fulfillment centers have utilized smart lighting systems to improve efficiency, reduce energy consumption, and enhance safety for their employees.

Image: Apple Store Design by Foster+Partners

The Future of Lighting: Innovation and Sustainability

As we look to the future, it's clear that the field of commercial lighting is poised for continued innovation and transformation. Technology and sustainability are set to be the twin drivers of this evolution, and the next generation of lighting solutions will likely be defined by their intelligent design and environmental friendliness. 

With the rapid pace of technological advancement and an ever-increasing focus on sustainability, the future of commercial lighting holds exciting possibilities. We have the opportunity to drive this evolution, using our creativity and expertise to develop lighting solutions that are not only aesthetically pleasing and functional but also environmentally friendly and intelligent. As we continue to push the boundaries of what's possible, we can look forward to a future where lighting design continues to enrich our environments, enhance our experiences, and contribute to a more sustainable world.

Let’s take a look at some of the technologies paving the way for the lighting systems of tomorrow.

Artificial Intelligence and Smart Lighting

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is expected to play an increasingly significant role in lighting design. AI-powered smart lighting systems could revolutionize how commercial spaces are illuminated, by optimizing energy use and adjusting lighting levels based on various factors such as natural light availability, occupancy, and time of day. This could result in more comfortable, adaptive environments and significant energy savings.


Alternative energy sources, such as solar power could also significantly influence the future of commercial lighting. With advances in solar technology, we might see a rise in commercial spaces utilizing solar-powered lighting systems, reducing their reliance on the grid and lowering their environmental footprint worldwide.

Bioluminescent Lighting

Bioluminescent lighting, which harnesses the natural light-producing abilities of certain organisms, is another exciting possibility. While still in its infancy, this technology could one day provide a completely natural and renewable source of light.

Li-Fi Technology

Li-Fi (Light Fidelity) technology, a method of transmitting data through light waves, could also become a part of future lighting systems. This technology has the potential to transform commercial lighting fixtures into data transmission devices, offering faster and more secure internet connections and integrating even more functionality into commercial lighting systems.

In Summary

The evolution of architectural lighting in commercial spaces has been marked by significant innovations and breakthroughs. As design professionals, it's essential to understand this rich history and appreciate the potential for continued innovation in the future. 

By harnessing the power of new technologies and building on the lessons of the past, we can continue to push the boundaries of commercial lighting design and create spaces that inspire, engage, and delight users. Looking ahead, potential developments such as solar-powered lighting, bioluminescent lighting, or smart lighting systems powered by artificial intelligence hold exciting possibilities. 

As we continue to explore these advances, we can anticipate a future where lighting design plays an even more integral role in shaping our commercial spaces and experiences.

The Evolution of Lighting Around Us: A Journey Through Time and Innovation
Brand Lighting, Joshua Berkowitz 1 June, 2023
Share this post

Brand lighting on Facebook

Brand lighting on Instagram



Join thousands of design professionals nationwide for the latest industry news, technology updates, and lighting trends.

Sign in to leave a comment
Embracing Cultural Influences in Lighting and Interior Design Trends
A overview of popular cultural design trends