The art and science of lighting
Amid stacks of stupid press releases, one occasionally intrigues, as did the pitch from lighting designer Christopher Thompson, whose Studio Lux (Seattle, WA and L.A.) does big, beautiful, energy conscious lighting design.
I reckon a lighting designer is always worth taking to, having believed John Fowles when he wrote in The Magus that “between skin and skin, there is only light”. Read my Toronto Star column this week to find out how this one’s theatrical design experience coloured his approach to light.
Below are pics of his work and then an edited, condescended interview conducted by email (hence, perhaps, Thompson’s extremely graceful answers, which I’ve clipped in a few spots). It was by email either because we had phone issues, or I was drunk (note to editor - just kidding). I can’t remember. Worth a read, tho, imho.
Given current projects include homes in London, a restaurant in Switzerland, a residential high-rise in Seattle, a pre-fab hotel in Palm Springs and a project with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Scottsdale, (also in my column) our first question had to do with how busy he is.
VS: You’re also pursuing a Master’s Degree in green lighting?
CT: It’s not just to have a better understanding of how I impact change through lighting, but to also better understand how other trades, materials and professions are being impacted by lighting, so that I can support that process in my designs.
VS: When did green lighting first become an area of interest?
CT: Well it’s hardly a choice that you can make; it’s one that will be made for you as a designer if you don’t keep up. I hope that my legacy is partially defined by my work on FLW, but what’s interesting to me is that he was aware of and actively working in sustainable design long before it became what it is today. So in a sense I’m catching up to a man (and his vision) who has now been dead for many years. I think my whole industry is, it’s more than just an area of interest, it’s a change of necessity.
VS: Good lighting is part science, part art. Is that part of the appeal for you?
CT: Lighting design void of an artistic layer is just lighting engineering. On the other hand, an overly artistic approach can lead to issues of cost over-runs, functional and practicality issues. I like balancing both and our clients seem to agree. To be successful, a lighting designer must marry left and right-brain approaches to ensure that what looks good aesthetically will perform to meet the owners’ expectations.
VS: Why is lighting often the last thing people think about?
CT: Sometimes lighting design is seen as something that will resolve itself as the project unfolds. Meaning, all jobs need lighting, so somewhere in my budget there is lighting and somehow it will get installed.
The difference between a successful and marginal look in a room often is the difference between locating a fixture properly and leaving it to chance. Even if the fixtures are selected, and even if the “electrician starts next week,” one of the biggest impacts we make as lighting designers is understanding the relationship between a fixture’s performance, the room’s use, and how to meld those realities.
VS: How does lighting affect design?
CT: Good design affords one the opportunity to do more with less. If you are not sure how much lighting you need in your kitchen, but you know you need good light, you can just throw a bunch of lighting in and you may be under or over. The exactness of design eliminates waste and supports a better living environment.
VS: On a tangent here, but are you concerned with light pollution?
CT: I think you only need to go to the California desert and look into the sky and you cannot help but be concerned about light pollution (or light trespass). The acuity of the stars and night sky is nothing short of glorious, often drowned out by light pollution in unregulated communities. This is another component of our industry that has come under regulation by State and Federal governments using the Dark Sky Initiative.
VS: How have LEDs changed over that time?
CT: LED technology has progressed similarly to the computer industry, especially in the early days. For over five years, a new generation of LEDs has been introduced about every six months, each with greater light output per Watt, (which reduces energy consumption.)
New methods of LED production that reduce the use of hazardous materials are being explored. Just last week an article spoke of using silicon as a substrate, which requires less energy to produce, is readily available (reducing the carbon footprint of transportation), and uses fewer hazardous materials. Today we are seeing replacement lamps that truly provide the warmth and brightness of the incandescent lamps they replace.
CT: There is an industry-wide change to LED’s and improved fluorescent sources to backfill the void left by the demise of the incandescent lamp and in support of stricter energy codes.(R)egulations will continue to tighten in response to local and federal mandates, including self-policing of light trespass issues in many communities.
The architectural design community evolves and pushes the design envelope in response to their own codes, but equally, as a response to the evolution their industry now finds itself in, which is the precedence in the overall design ethos toward a sustainable and green design program. Their trends drive our trends, and are influenced by availability of materials, or the introduction of new material that meet the sustainable goals.
Future trends will continue towards greater efficacies (light output per Watt of energy consumed) and the melding of multi-faceted goals into one lighting product.
We see manufacturers produce innovative fixture designs that are built around the LED light source rather than altering existing products, which results in more efficient and productive lighting instruments for the designers’ arsenals.
Looks, performance, green design and manufacturing process, built in control and dimming abilities right in the fixture controlled by smartphones and tablets, and the introduction of what was once relegated to the theatre…(where) we can control color, beam patterns, and intensities by changing the input to a given fixture.
With the LED lamps becoming more integrated into residential and commercial markets, we’ll start to see RGB (red, green blue and the ability to mix to any color) LED’s so that with the simple input of your tablet, iPhone, you’ll be able to change the lighting by color, intensity or pattern with the swipe of your finger. (Indubitably - see post re Sylvania Mosaic Strip below.)