On the Development of Lighting Culture

The field of architectural lighting has undergone significant changes in the past few years. Lighting design is no longer based on choosing equipment and styles of lighting fixtures nor mathematical calculations. Instead of lighting, one might talk about night-time spatial entity, similar to the idea behind the term “exposure for a space” in photography vocabulary.

The culture of artificial electric lighting is rather young, in comparison to e.g. architecture. One might say that the history of architecture goes back 6 000 years, whereas the history of electric lighting is only slightly over a hundred years old. In this sense, lighting is a rather new concept.

 

Since the days of Edison, the technical and aesthetic development of lighting has mainly focused on saving energy and on the simultaneous requirement for enhanced intensity. Hence, aesthetic requirements and needs have taken a back seat.

 

Although man has, during this short history, invented the television and been to the moon, the most basic solution in architectural lighting has barely changed at all – it is a lamppost with some sort of a lighting fixture at the end of it. This is likely due to the effort of minimising costs, along with energy crises and a growing lighting network. The manufacturers of lighting fixtures and lamps have focused on creating more and more efficient products, while the lighting function of the products, i.e. illuminating something has suffered a defeat.

 

Naturally, this has caused for lighting to yet be found a rather simple and modest part of architecture. The design has been directed towards a combination of mathematical and technological work, where calculation formulas have determined luminance and distances between posts. Meanwhile, the most challenging features in terms of architecture have opened the discussion about the expression of form in a lamppost as a piece of street equipment. Thus, heavy goals in saving, related to both set-up as well as usage costs, have formed an obstacle for development. This is by no means an incorrect way to illuminate architecture, but rather a part of lighting culture, which can be referred to as techno-economic lighting culture.

 

The goals of modern lighting design are aesthetic. Lighting is a part of a space, and just as the function of architecture in daylight, the function of lighting in the night-time is to discern and arrange the space into an architectural entity. In order to reach this goal, we need more than calculation formulas or definitions related to expression of form. Modern lighting culture is called aesthetic, technical lighting culture.

 

The transformation has taken place on both sides of the millennium. Technical development has reached an end point of a sort, when both efficiency and quality have been accomplished. When it comes to design, the combination of a pole and a lighting fixture has probably undergone thousands of variations and even humoristic features.

 

 

New Culture – New Profession

 

Modern lighting culture and technical resources allow managing light as an artistic instrument. Different computer programs enable the designers to investigate the visual effects or light on various scales. The field of lighting is more and more demanding and versatile than a couple of decades ago.

 

We cannot expect architects or electrical designers, who master techno-economic lighting, to have the same basis and resources to master aesthetic, technical lighting. Transitioning from defining a few positions on a map to a visual, three dimensional entity of even thousands of positions already requires full-on focus with thorough knowledge of both technical and aesthetic requirements, so that the instrument is rather an opportunity than an issue. Modern lighting design cannot be work conducted simply alongside other design.

 

One essential part of the birth of a new culture, besides technical development, has been the birth of a new profession, whose source has been in the US of the 60s, where lighting culture is already rather profound. In Europe, lighting designers have organised only in 1995, when the European Lighting Designers Association was founded. Lighting designers have varying backgrounds and education – usually the background is in theatre, while many are certified architects and some are electrical designers orientated towards creativity.

 

A common denominator for lighting designers is mastering lighting technology as an artistic instrument, which builds architecture. Nowadays, Germany and USA offer degrees in lighting architecture. In Finland, the road has been paved by the Lighting Design department of the Theater Academy and the School of Art, Music and Media at the Tampere University of Applied Sciences. However, we still do not have direct education for the field.

 

It is clear that techno-economic lighting is mainly based on logic. Aesthetic, technical lighting has a closer resemblance to chaos theory, where each factor has an exponential effect, so that the result of the whole is impossible to predict, regardless of having complete control of the instrument or the design process. Then again, accepting this enables having the right attitude to the level of requirement offered by modern opportunities.

 

Everything that is possible to do, cannot be justified by aesthetic reasons. Therefore, understanding the aesthetics of intense lighting is a necessary starting point in terms of managing the space and the light.

 

Techno-economic lighting

  • minimizing costs as a goal
  • combination of mathematical and technological work, where calculation formulas are used to determine luminance and distances between posts
  • focus on lampposts and lighting fixtures and their role as equipment in architecture

 

Aesthetic, technical lighting

  • the purpose of lighting is to discern space and accentuate architecture
  • focus on the visual entity based on emotions
  • the goal is to create a certain atmosphere
  • less is more – saving energy through smart placement

 

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  • Author Roope Siiroinen
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