THE LUXURY & NECESSITY OF NATURAL LIGHT - illumni Magazine, Sept 2013
Who doesn’t like staying in a luxury hotel? Over the past few years we have only stayed in a couple of hotel suites that are truly luxurious (the result of a fortuitous upgrade rather than a sudden influx of wealth!). Whilst the furnishings, layout and other appointments were both upscale the bathroom experience in both was quite different and mainly to do with light.
The first one had natural daylight flooding in through diffused frosted glass that ran the entire length of the room. It felt incredibly welcoming and luxurious. The second bathroom was internal with no natural light. Even the abundance of fancy taps and expensive tiling (all lit with dazzling overbright artificial lighting) could help or relieve the feeling of a literal and metaphorical cave. Lying in the bath with glare inducing overhead lighting was not a luxurious feeling.
It seems in recent times architects or their decision makers (developer and property agents) are ignoring the possibilities of natural light and becoming overly dependent on artificial light. And yet as all lighting designers know nothing ever replaces the beauty of natural light. With it’s dynamic shifts through the day, pleasing colour temperature and CRI it feels right to us humans who have evolved with it over the millennium. Our visual and circadian systems are attuned to its shifts.Have we lost our ability to design with natural light? Old ideas like fanlights over the door that we see in old houses are now a thing of the past. The technique of using light shelfs to reflect daylight into rooms from windows is rarely seen. Saw-tooth type factory constructions which use natural light efficiently are being replaced with structures in which natural light is barely a concern. What about light wells (so loved by the ancients and Le Corbusier) and internal court yards? There are many ideas and techniques that have been forgotten about with the abundant cheap lighting and electricity that has been the norm for the past century. More Lighting Designers need to design with sunlight and sky light. Why can’t internal rooms have at least a row of glass bricks or some other translucent material along the top of the wall to allow natural light to flow around the various spaces? Can luminaires be designed with daylight in mind? Is there an opportunity for a new product or material that can do this without sacrificing strength? Alvar Aalto used vertical skylights with diffuse angled surfaces to reflect every last photon of pale, horizontal light from the high latitude Nordic environments. Yet we in Australia, with an abundance of light all year round fail to use current and old techniques to create environments that allow us all to have the luxury of natural light. Now with energy issues, perhaps daylight is more of a necessity than a luxury.
This Isis installation used the optic principle of refraction to mediate and disperse the light of LED modules. Image: Encapture Photography
ARCHITECTURE AU Artichoke Magazine - March 2011 (issue 34)Energy efficient and long lasting, LEDs are changing the way we light the world. But making use of their potential may require new thinking on lighting design.
It would be hard to miss the buzz in the world of lighting design around the use of LED technology and its movement into interior and architectural lighting from other sectors. The reason there is an upsurge in interest can be put simply – energy efficiency and longevity. LEDs are the only light source that has the potential to convert all of the energy input into light. At the moment this rate is around 50 percent, but scientists are saying that this will increase with more research and development.
Saying this, there are challenges around this light source, such as light quality, upfront cost versus light output, the fact that they can be hard to use with existing lighting set-ups and fittings – just to name a few. But the positives for LEDs are compelling: LEDs are radically reducing electricity consumption, especially compared to the incandescent lamp in which 95 percent of the electrical input was wasted in dissipated heat.
Oh, the incandescent lamp! How warm and comforting the light, how good the colour rendering and how iconic the sculptural shape of the bulb. It is easy to design with incandescent lamps – the designer can work magic with shapes and materials without having to worry about mediating the light. But has our dependence on this nineteenth-century technology lessened our ability to deal with newer light sources when they come along? The LED (more formally known as solid-state lighting) story is marked by rapid development on the high-tech side and slow development in the form and design side.
LEDs are basically microchips with different layers of materials – when a current is applied, photons of light are emitted. The light from LEDs is naturally saturated colour (red, green and – since 1996 – blue). The white light we perceive from current LEDs is actually from a blue LED whose light spectrum has been manipulated with the addition of phosphorus. For years scientists focused on increasing the light intensity to the point where LEDs could be useful outside indicator lights and signage. The application side did not develop at the same rate.
Dr Jack Curran (an American speaker at the 2011 Lightfair conference in Las Vegas and an expert in the field) suggests that LEDs had been ignored by the lighting industry: “Since technology developments tend to speed up as time goes on, the lighting folks missed out on the initial developments and the LED train pulled out of the station without them. Now the lighting folks are hearing this whistle off in the distance and worrying that, since they don’t know where the train was headed, they may be run over.” One way the lighting industry is responding to the “runaway train” is making LED light fittings act as direct replacements for existing light sources. I believe this is setting up LEDs to fail – not in a technical sense but in an aesthetic and functional sense. LEDs are essentially glary dots – many lumens pouring out of the size of a peppercorn. LEDs will struggle to deliver good light quality in a fitting that is designed for other light sources.
In my own research I am looking at alternative typologies for light fittings that use LEDs and have an acceptable light quality. One idea (exhibited as part of the Artlight exhibition at the University of Technology, Sydney, in 2009) was to use the principle of refraction in a screen format to mediate and distribute the light from LEDs. I am now investigating how this idea could be used in an unconventional form as a light fitting.
LEDs are throwing up some intriguing challenges. For example, where should we look for typologies for LED light fittings? Are there any historical precedents? Are there new materials, shapes, ideas from other cultures or other disciplines such as architecture? With LEDs increasing in their longevity as well, there are questions, too: could the LEDs be built in, much as architraves and door frames are? But before we get to this point, we do need to deal with this technology with more creativity, technical understanding and real innovation. Most importantly, designers need to understand this light source and work with it, not against it. We can’t let the runaway train of LEDs get away from us.