For our Lighting Issue, released this month, gb&d got some of the biggest names in architectural lighting design to weigh in on the industry’s biggest questions. The field still faces numerous challenges, and LED technology continues to change the game. But we were inspired by our participants’ candor.
Q: Why did you choose to specialize in lighting design?
Francesca Bettridge, Cline Bettridge Bernstein: I was in the right place at the right time. I was in design school, and Carroll Cline asked me to come and work for him. For people who have been in the industry for a long time, there were a lot of opportunities and circumstances that led to openings in what was then a young field.
Francesca Bastianini, Lumen Architecture: I have a background in theater and psychology, so I’d been doing lighting for theater before moving into architectural lighting. I think the psychology plays into wanting to create spaces where others are comfortable, where people can find joy in their environment.
Glenn Heinmiller, Lam Partners: If you scratch the surface of many architectural lighting designers, you’ll find theatrical lighting designers underneath. It was my passion for lighting design that got me into stage lighting, not the other way around. Lighting intrigued me, and I saw the theater as a way to explore it.
Michael Cummings, Focus Lighting: The subconscious impact that lighting has on people was very compelling to me, how even subtle shifts of lighting can create a huge shift in the way people feel or perceive their surroundings. The art of that subtlety is what drew me in and what still drives me to this day. It’s a lovely medium to work in. Difficult, but lovely.
Q: What’s one innovation you’re waiting on?
Heinmiller: I always wish I were enough of a visionary to have a clever answer. Ten years ago I wanted a hundred-lumen-per-watt source that I can dim and that never burns out. LED is approaching that. The other breakthrough I’m looking for is on the business side. The way fixtures are bought, sold, and delivered is stuck back in the Dark Ages.
Nelson Jenkins, Lumen Architecture: I want the ability to have fixtures that potentially could work off of photovoltaics and the sun, and not have wires in them in the traditional way so they can live and breathe with the building and not be consuming resources at the same time.
Bettridge: I’d like to see more advances in higher LED light output and having more options for controlled use; to get a narrower beam, you sometimes need a big aperture. I’d also like to see more control for glare and color consistency.
Cummings: I think there’s a very ingrained appreciation for firelight as safety; evolutionarily, our brains are wired to accept that as the right light. So to have an LED that mimics the color shift of an incandescent or halogen bulb, I think that would help.
Michael Hennes, Cline Bettridge Bernstein: What seems to be on the verge is good, easy, and inexpensive control solutions for lighting because that allows you to start making it easier for people to control their light levels, energy, and color balance.
Q: How can lighting design highlight or advance the green aspects of a building?
Cummings: So there’s the obvious answer: low energy, low heat gain, and low maintenance. But I think there’s also how green aspects affect the human experience. You can do the math and say, One watt a square foot, I’m done—and that’s great on paper. But I think we need . . . to be conscientious of the quality of light and creating the feel of a space and an emotional connection with people.
Jenkins: Lighting should just be part of good architecture, solid architecture, which you would want to be environmentally conscious.
Hennes: With the trend toward sustainability in general, we all have to learn how to create more from less. Understanding how the light affects surfaces, how to use fixtures that have a decorative glow and give a sense of lightedness to a space, understanding room finishes and daylighting, and how to pull all of these things together—that’s what needs to be taken into account.
Bastianini: It’s thinking not just of the light fixtures, but their integration with the control system. That’s what allows the people who are occupying the space to actually have it function as it’s designed.
Q: How has LED technology changed the way that you approach lighting design?
Jenkins: Well, LED is one of the fastest developing aspects of lighting design and energy. It’s quickly becoming the light source to use in lighting design and in lighting, whether it’s in cars, street lights, or buildings.
Heinmiller: It absolutely doesn’t change the way we approach design. It does change the technical solutions we recommend. The choice of light source can be a complicated analysis. Sometimes LED is the best choice, but not always. In some ways it’s made life more complicated because you have to educate people that LED isn’t the silver bullet for energy savings. It’s a tool—a new technology that’s changing every day—and it makes more sense as time progresses. But the answer is, it depends.
Cummings: I have many answers for that, but the first is a more extensive client education process. It’s easy when you’re talking in the language of incandescent and halogen sources because everyone knows what it’s like to live or work or shop somewhere that’s lit like that. But the evolution of LEDs has pushed us to reinvent the education process. When we design, we do a presentation where the client is an audience member and we compose each view as little vignettes. Light is such a subjective medium—I say ‘bright,’ you say ‘bright,’ they’re two totally different things. So we try very hard throughout that education process to create a visual dialogue with the clients so that the expectations we’re creating are fully understood by them.
Q: Misinformation about energy savings has been a problem. How can we combat this issue?
Heinmiller: We had this conversation last Thursday with a school’s facilities maintenance guys, and they wanted to know about LEDs because they heard they . . . last forever. But LED might not be best for a classroom. The important thing is to use the light source with the least amount of energy but that still meets your objectives. You have to . . . have the conversation individually, and it takes time.
Jenkins: One thing with energy savings is how it will be used. The common compact fluorescent lamp in your residence is going to be more energy-efficient than your incandescent lamp. However, if you’re going to be dimming your incandescent lamp down to like five percent, and your compact fluorescent lamp doesn’t dim at all, it doesn’t make it more energy efficient.
Cummings: We’ve been discussing the idea of submitting an energy tax return. Everyone would be allowed a certain number of BTUs per year, and at the end of the fiscal year, when you submit your property tax return, you’re also taxed on how much energy you use above what you are allowed, and try to use that information as a way not just to enforce, but inform and incentivize.