The future of lighting and of lighting designers’ role

Esta é uma entrevista (escrita) entre MJPintoCoelho, a Presidente da LabLD, e Florence Lam, Global Practice Leader for Lighting Design at Arup, London.

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LabLD: The lighting community now requires constantly updated information about changes to standards, trends and technologies. Most of the LDs are just the product of their experience, not so much of an education in Light and Lighting. Do you feel that Lighting Designers are prepared to carry on with their education considering that there are not many universities or overall events that can respond to these needs?

FL: The key to a great piece of lighting design is not HOW one goes about designing it or WHAT one designs with.  It is the ‘WHY’ behind the conceptual design thinking. I have learned that the ability to find a lighting vision is really what matters.  Lighting adds value not just to enable visual functions but to create impact through both perception and the psychological experience. Thinking creatively is essential and involves imagination, intuition and deliberate choice.

In my experience, the purpose of university education is to equip the individuals with the technical knowledge and design techniques to start their career.  Practicing is the only way to develop and master the skills. It is however an art to become a mastery and passion is a crucial ingredient.

Being able to adopt state of the art technology to ensure concepts become viable solutions that are delightful for people, sustainable for the environment and productive for businesses, is certainly central to delivering a seamless combination of these factors. Lighting, like many industries, are seeing rapid advancement of technologies which drive innovation as well as changes in the nature of infrastructure and lifestyle, so designers must not be complacent to what they know but constantly seek new learning opportunity to augment their professional experience.

LabLD: You are right about the LD need to have a strong conceptual creative vision if the she/he wants the project to have ‘a voice’. The creative process is very much fundamental but, most of the LD projects, do reveal little care about this issue. And, I am including here some awarded lighting design projects too. Do you think the industry is interfering in the overall understanding of what a lighting design project should be about by presenting lighting design solutions packages?

FL: My definition of the ‘Lighting Industry’ includes lighting manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, wholesalers, designers and all professionals active in the lighting market. All have their areas of expertise and bring different benefits and choices to the markets. There will always be black sheep who undercut by compromising on quality. However, they are no threat if that is what the market wants – a client’s choice.  On the other hand, if we thought the market not valuing good design is due to lack of awareness, it is our responsibility to educate the public, beyond talking to our peer, why and what good lighting looks like.

The lighting industry is facing a huge transformation in this digital age, the real threats are from outside the lighting industry. It is therefore vital for our industry to work collaboratively and support each other in educating the public of good lighting and create a bigger ‘pie’ for our professional lighting industry, whether on design or products.

LabLD: Evolution in the public’s perception of light and the benefits they expect to receive from it, most notably in the realm of light and perception of their environment, might create new opportunities to change the maladies of our cities – light pollution. Do you feel cities have done significant work about this, or are solutions still mainly driven by manufacturers and their need to sell their own goods?

FL: Night-time presents challenges to cities globally. Cities and businesses want more light everywhere for commercial and safety reasons, but decades of ‘over lighting’ is blowing holes in electricity budgets, destroying wildlife, and erasing our view of the stars; the inspiration for generations of scientists, poets and explorers. “What was once a most common human experience has become most rare,” writes Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night, a book that assails the world’s unchecked light pollution.

For those cities which are known to have taken significant actions regarding their public lighting policy are mostly to address climate change issues, ie, reducing carbon and energy consumption through LED street lighting replacement and smart lighting controls. This results in technology based product solutions rather than design solutions.  However, technology should never be the only driver for change; change should respond to a clear social or environmental need.

So the challenge is to alter the perceptions of urban lighting beyond just a functional add-on for safety, but to recognise it as an opportunity to push the smart city agenda in a new direction, acknowledging how human behaviour could drive urban design, and in particular urban night-time lighting design.

I can see the tide slowly turning.  The future development will be less about the technologies but how technologies are used in an intelligent way to create responsive lighting to changing nightscape. We will see city’s lights change depending on time and usage patterns of the public realm after dark – articulating what we call the different shades of night.  Cities are now ready for lighting design professionals to not only push the boundaries, but to break down the barriers between different design disciplines and lighting, to ensure a truly human-centric approach is extended to urban design and planning and create a cohesive social nightscape for all.

LabLD: Sensors and connected lighting with the Internet, smart phones and apps, are expected to facilitate an unprecedented exchange of data among lighting and other building systems. 25years ago this was not on the table. Do you think we need young generations of Lighting Designers to give a push to this way of thinking light and our day to day needs and expectations?

FL: LED technology is becoming disruptive to the lighting industry not only as a longer life, improved energy efficient new lamp, but also as a connected light source making lighting part of a wider distributed intelligence – an ‘internet of light’ ecosystem – which could potentially help unlock rich and new data from lighting networks.

Like how a smart watch is no longer just about telling time, smart or connected lighting can be disruptive if it is no longer just about illumination.  Whilst this innovation is exciting and forward-looking, the paradigm shift will disrupt the lighting industry.  Being a disruptive innovation means it will require a new lens for  looking at the the built environment, clients, users … the world.

The next generation of professional lighting designers will need to be technically savvy as much as creative.  Going forward they will need to keep up to date with new trends from urban development to sensory design; issues around the lighting industry, in particular with the emerging lighting and digital technologies; and extending their design thinking well beyond the realm of art, architecture and engineering.

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