LLD. When did you start being interested in lighting design and engineering?
KPM. I studied architecture originally in the late 70s but then moved into lighting research at the Bartlett, UCL. What has intrigued me over the years is that people specialize in lighting from a huge variety of different backgrounds—theatre lighting, architecture, interior design, engineering disciplines of all types and the odd physicist. We all bring our particular perspective to the subject—and that’s what keeps the discipline fresh and interesting.
LLD. A few academic institutions teach specific lighting skill-focused courses but are there enough of them?
KPM. I suppose it depends upon how graduates from these courses wish to practice later on. In the course that I have been involved in there was always a clear intent to take students who had a creative design background—architects, interior designers, architectural designers—and introduce them to the technologies and technical underpinning of lighting while at the same time those who were building services or electrical engineers could develop some sensitivity to the concerns of the lighting designer or lighting architect. The practice of lighting was common ground on which these disciplines could meet. Such a course can also act as the foundation for deeper studies in lighting at doctoral level.
I sense a growing demand from the lighting consultancies for more designers and engineers in lighting from undergraduate courses and interest in lighting education in the Middle East and Asia is increasing so, yes, there is an opportunity here.
We have the problem of how to educate our future lighting designers, engineers and practitioners. I quite like the way E. F. Schumacher talked about education in his book A Guide for the Perplexed. He explained education as being a divergent problem in that some say that those who have knowledge and experience should teach and those who lack knowledge and experience should learn. In contrast, others say that we should provide a facility or environment where the student is allowed the freedom to flourish. These are opposites and Schumacher suggests that we should transcend these opposites by actually caring about the student.
The problem is that we need light to live and this means harnessing daylight and deploying artificial—which, by the way, I now tend to call ‘synthetic’—light. Depending on how we do this we can either enhance architecture or destroy architectural intent; we can increase the readability and legibility of our cities or we can generate insecure, unsafe, threatening environments. We can reveal the colour and texture of surfaces and people or distort the modelling of faces and objects. These are complex problems but they are of deep intellectual interest. They require the scholar of lighting to draw from many different disciplines—the natural sciences, engineering, the social sciences, architectural and urban design, photometry and colorimetry.
LLD. So how should lighting programmes change and evolve to allow those students to learn new skills and be creative in exploiting new technology?
KPM. I have spent most of my professional life addressing this question and have seen many changes in architectural and urban design together with transformative developments in light source technologies and controls strategies for lighting.
I have been reading what Robert Sedgewick of Princeton University has been writing about the changing educational landscape. He refers to three educational abstractions—and in lighting terms I think this means we need textbooks for use by students to learn and study the details of lighting. We need lighting courses that encourage communities of students to learn together and we need web content for use by students to explore and interact with lighting topics.
In the realm of textbooks we have excellent offerings in the area of human factors, lighting calculations and the overall design of lighting. But there seems to be a gap in good textbooks covering the technology and applications of LEDs and OLEDs and in the fundamentals of daylighting prediction and visualisation. Other areas that require attention are the impact of lighting on health and well-being and how to design appropriate lighting strategies at the urban or city scale.
Digital technologies now give us the opportunity to deliver web content such as video, animations, coding pipelines and lighting demonstrations—up-to-date dynamic content—forming a living online document not available in print and supporting and extending the textbooks available. It also gives the facility to deliver reproducible research—transparent and freely available lighting design computations and daylight modelling processing pipelines whose details and methods are currently completely hidden from the student. And our lighting courses need to deliver lighting material, engage with students and, importantly, provide validation of their learning.
We still need the lecture or the seminar or the workshop but for architectural and urban lighting design then better to work in the architectural project mode. This can work very successfully if you can engage with a real-life construction project and can call on a ‘client’ to inform the project brief and provide peer review in crits. And there must be a lighting research component in our courses—perhaps a dissertation but you could equally well propose a technical report, a design document or a feasibility study which replicate outputs generated by consultants in the real world.
LLD. For lighting education to stay relevant, educators have to reskill and update their content and the lighting community requires constantly updated information about changes to standards, trends and technologies? How can we cope with all these changes? Are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) the answer?
KPM. Some lighting material can be perfectly well delivered like this—harnessing the rich potential of the web in this way can be very stimulating for students. But much lighting design is a dialogue between student practitioner and tutor literally taking place over the drawings with pencil in hand and so I see the MOOC as complementary to the lighting design studio.
I think the key is to develop lighting communities and this ensures that educators are exposed to the rapidly changing technological environment and professional lighting practitioners can bring their expertise to bear by contributing to our lighting courses and programmes.
To become a fully rounded lighting professional takes time and encouraging people to devote that time to a possibly difficult career path is problematic but with the potential of light to make such an impact considering the design of our light sources, our light fittings and their placement in the architectural and urban environment, surely we must rise to the challenge.