Cultural buildings and museums are built to share knowledge and cultures with the general public. These institutions bring together and present pieces of art and performances in a way that enables an appropriate and authentic visitor experience. The perception of the objects shown is clearly a fundamental part of this experience, as interactions between the exhibits and their surroundings shape the perception of the observer. Architectural and focussed lighting play an important role in helping to reveal the true meanings of these objects and spaces.

In addition, cultural buildings and museums are also built to preserve valuable goods and resources for the future offor society and, more often than not, a landmark in the cityscape.

The growing number of temporary exhibitions and events also demonstrate this growing trend. These cultural offerings shape the social life of a city and can further boost the appeal of a museum or performance space.

The structure and layout of these buildings are naturally built around the visitors and the artworks that they come to experience. As a result, light has to adapt its qualities to reflect these parameters and fulfil the needs of the user.

Selfie/picture in front of paintings (from Kunst Historisches Museum, Vienna)

Museo del Duomo (Milan)

Why do people go to museums?

Although these buildings are primarily intended to share and preserve works of art, we now have to ask ourselves a key question: Why do people visit museums? These places often have a long history, having started out as private art collections before being opened to the public from around the end of the 18th century. Nowadays there are thousands of museums with specific architecture and particular ways of exhibiting arts. This evolution demonstrates how the architectural language of these places has changed, along with the nature of visitor behaviour.

People normally go to museums to be enriched by the information that these places seek to present. Individuals want to improve their knowledge by studying exhibits and learning about artists, history and everything that a museum may contain.

As we are currently experiencing a period of social and technological change, there are also other reasons besides the ones mentioned above. There is often an emotional aspect, incorporating feelings such as love. People regularly want to impress their loved ones in front of a piece of art by showing and sharing their specific knowledge.

Being part of a community is another reason, with a trend towards enjoying art with others. Indeed, the status associated with being a member of a certain association can make people feel integrated into a cultural community.

Alongside solid cultural reasons for visiting a museum, church or exhibition centre, it therefore seems to fair to conclude that people now recognise these kinds of places as social meeting points in which (or outside which) they like to spend time. This aspect has led to a change in expectations. For example, the results of a recent survey showed that 47 per cent of the visitors to the Tate Modern go there for social reasons.

Then there are museums like the Guggenheim in Bilbao or the MAXXI in Rome (and many others), where the “archi-stars” have taken an almost sculptural approach to designing the buildings, changing the character of a neighbourhood or an entire city and at times even establishing the architecture as the main reason for people to visit.

A contemporary cultural building has become an object to be shaped and crafted by architects, who sometimes take on the role of a sculptor and create their own piece of art to contain other artworks. Visiting these places from an architectural point of view, both outside and inside, and seeing the way they interplay with daily life and interact with outdoor public spaces has indeed itself become a fascinating experience. That is why these buildings increasingly have a social and visual impact on urban life, during the day and at night.

The visitor experience Given the fact that visitors want to feel enriched by their experience in a cultural building, it is possible to imagine a journey that starts outside and leads right up to the artwork.

Kunst Historisches Museum (art history museum), Vienna

Liebighaus (outside)

MAXXI (Rome)

The National Maritime Museum (Amsterdam). An interactive lighting solution allows visitors to learn about a specific part of the painting by combining touch-screens (on the tables) and focus lighting (on the painting).

Perception of the building

Light already starts to play a key role outside the building, sending a message to visitors about what is inside, focussing on architectural details or enhancing the impression of exhibits that may be visible from the exterior.

Perception of the architecture

Tailored architectural lighting can significantly help the visitor to move through the space and appreciate the art with high visual quality, balancing the contrast of luminance between different surfaces and tuning the colours to maintain material and structural authenticity.


A lighting system can support individuals as they navigate through the space, transmitting information to their personal devices and helping to create a customised visitor experience. A “digital connection” between the museum archives and the visitor can help to share more knowledge and “unknown” artworks via multimedia devices.

Perception of the artwork

In a world of globalisation, standing in front of “the real thing” is a rare and unique experience. That is why light plays a fundamental role in experiencing art, enabling the visitor to feel and interpret the message sent by the original creator via his or her work and simultaneously respecting the history of the exhibit and the environment in which it is presented.

The visit comes to an end when the people, inspired and enriched by the art that they have just experienced, exit the building with fresh knowledge in their cultural rucksacks.

Städel Museum





Possible ways to illuminate a painting: from soft and homogenous to sharp and focussed. a) Wallwasher. b) Wallwasher and spotlights (with different beam angles). c) Spotlights (with different beam angles). d) Wallwasher and picture-framing.

Active light in museums

The aim of the art and culture lighting application is to enable visitors to perceive arts and cultures in the best possible way, helping people feel enriched after cultural visits. Active light in museums focuses on visual comfort and preserving sensitive materials, while at the same time taking all conservational and visual aspects into account. This creates a unique experience, emphasising the appreciation of art and architecture, as well as underlining the importance of a dynamic and precise lighting system.

As a premium partner in the art and culture sector, Zumtobel can make this possible by providing specific lighting solutions tailored around works of art and their surroundings, adopting sensitive approaches with an extremely high quality of light and using innovative technologies to maintain, manage and interact with the lighting system.

BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) devices integrated into the LED module improve the way individual fittings or groups of luminaires can be remotely controlled. This enables exhibitions to be managed in a simpler and more efficient way, while also supporting the conservation of individual pieces through a network of sensors. In addition, the possibility to dim the luminous flux down to a flickerfree level of 1 per cent is vital for sensitive materials that have to be appreciated with very low lux levels.

The Zumtobel portfolio for the illumination of art and culture applications offers a complete toolbox of flexible lighting instruments with a wide range of optical solutions for every kind of exhibit. The miniaturisation of these devices and the ability to adapt to a variety of architectural situations help designers integrate the lighting system effectively and discreetly into the architecture.

Finally, the state-of-the-art lighting solutions and the high quality of the light sources mean that museums can safely preserve artworks and accurately reveal their original artistic message – both now and for generations to come.

Courtesy – Zumtobel

Leave a Reply