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Why Good Lighting Design Has Little to Do With Lux or LEDs

Is there a designer who does not dream of the perfect lighting concept, which conveys a feeling of well-being and shows the architecture at its best? Unfortunately, however, it is often the case that the brief received from the client causes difficulties. All too often discussions are peppered with such terms as LEDs and lux levels,causing an unconscious shift in thinking in the direction of norms and technology instead of placing questions about requirements and lighting quality at the centre of discussion. But what exactly is quality lighting design?

Light Matters: A Flash Back to the Glittering Age of Las Vegas at the Neon Museum

Thanks to the increasing availability of giant LED screens, the Golden Age of Neon has quietly faded in Las Vegas. For decades casinos defined their visual identity with colorful neon signs and competed for the most innovative signage. But with casinos closing, being refurbished and the arrival of new lighting technology a lot of neon signs were replaced, and for many years the Young Electric Sign Company kept the old neon signs in their "boneyard" for storage and recycling. Fortunately historic preservation groups rescued these signs. With support of the arts council The Neon Museum was born to save neon treasures and to educate the public.

Read on to explore Las Vegas' luminous landmarks and The Neon Museum.

Neon Museum featuring more than 150 unrestored signs, Las Vegas. Image © Neon Museum, www.neonmuseum.org Front exterior of the Mint Hotel, Las Vegas / Nevada, circa 1957. Image © University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries. Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) Collection. Colour-changing neon sign on the façade of the Stardust Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, 1969. Image © University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries. Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) Collection. La Concha Motel lobby building, designed in 1961, was rescued from demolition and moved to its current location in 2007 to serve as the Neon Museum’s visitors’ center. Architect: Paul Williams. Las Vegas. Image © Neon Museum, www.neonmuseum.org

Light Matters: Heightening The Perception Of Daylight With Henry Plummer (Part 2)

Architecture professor and photographer Henry Plummer has heightened the transformative power of daylight with his cameras and published several remarkable books about light and architecture. His deep interest in light, and his lyrical writing perspective, were formed through his contact with the designer and art theorist György Kepes while studying at MIT. Within his numerous photo journeys Plummer has documented the various facets of daylight in Japan and the Nordic Countries, and of masters like Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. As a Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Plummer also still has ambitious plans for future book projects. In the second part of this interview, Plummer reveals how changing technologies have affected his photography, and discusses his thoughts on phenomenology and developing a poetic language of light.

If you missed it, you can read part one of this interview here.

Galician Center of Contemporary Art, Santiago de Compostela by Álvaro Siza. Image © Henry Plummer 2002 Guerrero House, Zahora, Spain by Alberto Campo Baeza. Image © Henry Plummer 2005 Männistö Church, Kuopio, Finland by Juha Leiviskä. Image © Henry Plummer 1995 Nanzenji Temple, Kyoto. Image © Henry Plummer 2013

Light Matters: Heightening The Perception Of Daylight With Henry Plummer (Part 1)

Architecture professor and photographer Henry Plummer has heightened the transformative power of daylight with his cameras and published several remarkable books about light and architecture. His deep interest in light, and his lyrical writing perspective, were formed through his contact with the designer and art theorist György Kepes while studying at MIT. Within his numerous photo journeys Plummer has documented the various facets of daylight in Japan and the Nordic Countries, and of masters like Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. As a Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Plummer also still has ambitious plans for future book projects. In the first part of this interview, Plummer shares a variety of insights about understanding light and approaching buildings for photography.

San Francisco de Asís, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. Image © Henry Plummer 2012 Center Family Dwelling House, Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. Image © Henry Plummer 2006 The Redentore, Venice by Palladio. Image © Henry Plummer 2012 Avila Chapel, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome by Antonio Gherardi. Image © Henry Plummer 2012

Light Matters: Learning From Vernacular Windows

Before computer daylight simulations were used to optimize the atmosphere and energy in buildings, generations of builders developed simple principles to create the best windows for their site. Two lighting experts have studied these traditional openings in buildings to find inspiration for more sustainable designs today. Francesco Anselmo, a lighting designer at Arup, and John Mardaljevic, Professor of Building Daylight Modelling at the School of Civil & Building Engineering of Loughborough University, have analysed the sun and skylight variations from northern regions like Stockholm down to the equator in cities like Haiti or Abu Dhabi.

Read on to learn more about the variety of traditional windows.

Window in Rome, Italy. Image © VELUX Group Window in Stockholm, Sweden. Image © VELUX Group Window in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Image © VELUX Group Window in London, Great Britain. Image © VELUX Group

Light Matters: Le Corbusier and the Trinity of Light

For his three sacred buildings, Le Corbusier has played masterfully with orientation, openings and textures to create kinetic architecture with daylight. His pilgrimage chapel at Ronchamp, the monastery of Sainte Marie de La Tourette, and the parish church of Saint-Pierre in Firminy reveal distinctive and individual approaches that each render contemplative spaces with light. In his book “Cosmos of Light: The Sacred Architecture of Le Corbusier,” Henry Plummer, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has analysed these projects with outstanding photographs taken over 40 years and brilliant writing.

Read on for more about how Le Corbusier created his cosmos of light.

Corridor to atrium cadenced with sunshine in late morning. Monastery of Sainte Marie de la Tourette, Éveux-sur-l’Arbresle, France. Image © Henry Plummer 2011 Upward view into scoop at sunrise. Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France. Image © Henry Plummer 2011 Golden light on altar wall. Church of Saint-Pierre, Firminy, France. Image © Henry Plummer 2011 Upward view of fissure and brise-soleil, on overcast day. Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France. Image © Henry Plummer 2011

Light Matters: UN Celebrates The International Year of Light 2015

Light is all around us, and it increasingly affects our daily lives. For example, we have started to carry personal light sources around with our smartphones, and in our homes many electrical machines now utilize light to display information and simply to appear more attractive. In a larger context, architecture and cities have also developed a new dimension with the advent of electrical lighting for work and entertainment.

Inspired by the central role of light for our culture and technology, the United Nations has proclaimed 2015 as the “International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies” (IYL2015). With IYL2015 the UN wants to raise the awareness of the importance of light and optical technologies in our lives, our future and the development of society.

Read on after the break for more enlightenment around IYL2015.

"Over the Rainbow", Shanghai, 2013. First place in the SPIE International Year of Light Photo Contest, www.spie.org. Image © Paul Reiffer Realities:united, NIX, simulation drawing, 2005. Exhibition: Lightopia, Gent. Image © realities:united Swing time. Boston, 2014. Image © Howeler + Yoon Architecture New York – The City and the Storm. Image © Iwan Baan for New York Magazine

Light Matters: 7 Ways Lighting Can Make Architecture More Sustainable

Sustainable lighting design offers various well-being and environmental benefits in addition to economic advantages for clients and users. Although daylight provides a free lighting source,  for most spaces the amount and time of daylight is not sufficient and electrical lighting is necessary. A focus on sustainability becomes essential for minimizing energy consumption and improving the quality of life. Even though efficiency has significantly increased with LED technology, electrical lighting is still more widely used. Often the ambition for renovations or new applications goes along with a higher quantity of lighting instead of finding a better lighting quality with an adequate amount of energy.

Read on after the break for Light Matters’ 7 fundamental steps to achieve sustainable lighting.

Light Matters: Smart Flying Pixels Create a Floating Glow

Imagine luminaires that could fly and visualise new buildings or individually guide you through space. What would happen if you could even interact with these flying pixels? These concepts could be realised in the near future as the first prototypes and experiments are being introduced. Software-driven LED pixels combined with drone swarm technology provide extraordinary possibilities for inducing new forms of spatial experience. These luminous pixel clouds emerge as digital patterns, but at the same time they emanate a romantic quality with their unique star formations twinkling in the night sky. The first projects have shared a playful note, but laboratories such as MIT's SENSEable City Lab, ARES Lab and Ars Electronica Futurelab have shown an intriguing future in urban design for guidance systems or envisioning real estate developments, as advances in battery technology and wireless control have opened new perspectives for a life with smart flying pixels.

Light Matters: Whiteness in Nordic Countries

The Scandinavian countries have developed great buildings that resonate with both the scarce light in winter and the long summer days. Henry Plummer, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has very carefully studied the various daylight phenomena in the Nordic countries, with extensive photo journeys and brilliant writing that combines an analytical perspective with a poetic touch. His view of daylight looks beyond the practical advantages of using reflective white spaces to facilitate bright rooms; the passionate photographer is much more interested in the light effects that play with the local beauty of nature and touch the human soul.

Read on for more about how Nordic light enters white spaces

Light Matters: The Missing Element At the Venice Biennale

“Elements of Architecture,” the Rem Koolhaas-curated exhibition at the 2014 Venice Biennale, delved into several remarkable structural as well as technical components of architecture, including floors, walls, doors, stairs and toilets. But why was light missing? 

Light Matters: Creating Walls of Light

Modernism induced a shift in lighting away from luminaires and towards invisible light sources that render spaces in a purer (forgive the pun) light. For the first time, lit walls were used to define rooms and to structure architecture. Today I’d like to explore early prototypes - including Philip Johnson’s Brick House and the Seagram Building - and discuss how their lighting techniques continue to influence architecture today. 

Grazing light at Sancaklar Mosque, Istanbul. Architects: Emre Arolat Architects. Image © Thomas Mayer Wallwashing at British Museum, London. Architecture: Foster & Partners. Lighting design: Claude Engle, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Photo: Dennis Gilbert / View. Image © ERCO, www.erco.com Wallwashing at Nordrhein-Westfalen House, Germany. Architeture: John Pawson. Photo: Werner Huthmacher. Image © ERCO, www.erco.com Cove lighting at private spa. Designer: Carmody Groarke. Lighting design: Lighting Design International. Image © Christian Richter

Light Matters: Mashrabiyas - Translating Tradition into Dynamic Facades

The delicate mashrabiya has offered effective protection against intense sunlight in the Middle East for several centuries. However, nowadays this traditional Islamic window element with its characteristic latticework is used to cover entire buildings as an oriental ornament, providing local identity and a sun-shading device for cooling. In fact, designers have even transformed the vernacular wooden structure into high-tech responsive daylight systems. 

Jean Nouvel is one of the leading architects who has strongly influenced the debate about modern mashrabiyas.  His Institut du monde arabe in Paris was only the precedent to two buildings he designed for the harsh sun of the Middle East: The Doha Tower, which is completely wrapped with a re-interpretation of the mashrabiya, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum with its luminous dome.

More mashrabiyas, after the break...

BURJ DOHA, Doha, Qatar (2002 – 2012). Architecture: Ateliers Jean Nouvel. Image © CSCEC BURJ DOHA, Doha, Qatar (2002 – 2012). Architecture: Ateliers Jean Nouvel. Image © CSCEC BURJ DOHA, Doha, Qatar (2002 – 2012). Architecture: Ateliers Jean Nouvel. Image © CSCEC LOUVRE ABU DHABI, Abu Dhabi, UAE (2007 – under construction) Architecture and image. Image Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Artefactory, TDIC, Louvre Abu Dhabi

Light Matters: Richard Kelly, The Unsung Master Behind Modern Architecture’s Greatest Buildings

Richard Kelly illuminated some of the twentieth century’s most iconic buildings: the Glass House, Seagram Building and Kimbell Art Museum, to name a few. His design strategy was surprisingly simple, but extremely successful. 

Lighting for architecture has been and still often is dominated by an engineering viewpoint, resigned to determining sufficient illuminance levels for a safe and efficient working environment. With a background in stage lighting, Kelly introduced a scenographic perspective for architectural lighting. His point of view might look self-evident to today’s architectural community, but it was revolutionary for his time and has strongly influenced modern architecture.

Read more about Richard Kelly’s remarkable, and unsung, contribution to architecutre, after the break.

Entrance, Seagram Building, New York. Image © Ezra Stoller/Esto Seagram Building, New York. Image © Thomas Schielke Entrance, Seagram Building, New York. Image © Ezra Stoller/Esto Bar, Four Seasons Restaurant, Seagram Building, New York. Image © Hagen Stier

Light Matters: Sacred Spaces

The use of light can lead to very diverse feelings: a ray of sunlight calls attention; glare overpowers; the nocturnal sky fascinates, while a dense dark forest arouses fear. Religions have made use of these experiences to convey the mystic aspects of their respective deities — accordingly, so too do their erected buildings.

After the break, an exploration of the different approaches for using light as a vehicle of symbolic meaning and spiritual experience in religious spaces.

Al-Irsyad Mosque, Indonesia. Architects: PT. Urbane Indonesia. Image © Emilio Photoimagination Cathedral of Brasilia, Brazil. Architect: Oscar Niemeyer. Image © Wikimedia Commons Crystal Cathedral, USA. Architect: Philip Johnson. Image Courtesy of American Seating Church of Light, Japan. Architect: Tadao Ando. Image © Buou

Light Matters: 7 Ways Daylight Can Make Design More Sustainable

Daylight is a highly cost-effective means of reducing the energy for electrical lighting and cooling. But architectural education often reduces the aspect of daylight to eye-catching effects on facades and scarcely discusses its potential effects - not just on cost, but on health, well-being and energy.

This Light Matters will explore the often unexplored aspects of daylight and introduce key strategies for you to better incorporate daylight into design: from optimizing building orientations to choosing interior surface qualities that achieve the right reflectance. These steps can significantly reduce your investment as well as operating costs. And while these strategies will certainly catch the interest of economically orientated clients, you will soon discover that daylight can do so much more.

More Light Matters with daylight, after the break…

Light Matters: Glass Beyond Transparency with James Carpenter

In Modernism’s attempt to dissolve spatial boundaries with transparency, the material used - glass - is all too often dematerialised. In contrast, the New York-based designer James Carpenter is interested in multiple readings of glass - beyond transparency. 

As Carpenter explains: “People approach light in relationship to architecture. It is that the light is the means by which the architecture is revealed and the architecture is basically defined by the way the light enters the space. I tend to think actually from the opposite direction where the light itself is what informs the architecture. The architecture is in service of light rather than the other way around.” 

More Light Matters, after the break…

7 World Trade Center. New York, NY 2003-2007. Image © Andreas Keller Dichroic Light Field. Millennium Tower at 160 Columbus Avenue. New York, NY. 1994-1995. Image © JCDA Dichroic Light Field. Millennium Tower at 160 Columbus Avenue. New York, NY. 1994-1995. Image © JCDA Sky Reflector-Net (2013), an integrated artwork, is an artist, architect, engineer collaboration with James Carpenter Design Associates, Grimshaw Architects, and Arup, commissioned by MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design and MTA Capital Construction Company (MTACC). Image © Richard Kress, JCDA

Light Matters: Europe's Leading Light Festivals

In mid autumn, when the nights get longer in the northern hemisphere, we encounter numerous light festivals. And indeed, within the last ten years, more and more light festivals have globally emerged. The reason for the success of light festivals is simple, as the German curator Bettina Pelz concludes: “It’s actually fairly easy, because whenever you do something with light in cities in the night, then people do come. If you do it good, they come twice.” 

As Pelz points out, light is an apt medium for evening events, since it easily attracts people. Communities have discovered the potential of lighting for city marketing, and the closer they plan their date to Christmas, the more they merge their illumination with the festive blinking lights of commercial Christmas markets.

Join us on a tour through some of the leading light festivals in Europe. Read more about their different backgrounds, artistic concepts and future trends after the break...

Light Marina Bay. Singapore, 2012. Image © Darren Chin Berliner Cathedral, Festival of lights. Berlin, 2012. Photographer: Marius Schwarz. Image Courtesy of  Festival of lights / Frank Herrmann Tunnel of love by Vollaerszwart. Glow 2011. Image Courtesy of GLOW Eindhoven Cagna Illuminations, 2012. Design: De Cagna . Light Festival Ghent. Image Courtesy of City of Ghent