We have been discussing where lighting design sits in the mind of the design industry and where it might go in the future. While many are celebrating and criticizing the exhibited works at the London Design Festival for 2016 we are looking at the light, how it has been used and to what effect. It may come as no surprise that this has not been the hottest topic at the festival, or even a topic at all, but we think it says a lot about where we are at as an industry.
For outdoor installations like ‘The Smile’ by architect Alison Brooks and Arup, the design process considered lighting treatments as part of the whole. The funnel-like sloping interior is illuminated from both ends as daylight pours in through the voids. Perforations drilled into the timber allow natural light to filter inside during the day, and the warm glow of the internal light source to punctuate the facade at night. The location for the holes was calculated carefully so they would sit in the least highly loaded parts of the installation. In a beautiful display of design integration the holes provide a functional and decorative purpose, and at the same time tell a story about the way the structure works.
Beholding the work at night reveals Brooke’s thoughtful approach to the way ‘The Smile’ interacts with light. At night the golden glow of the internal lighting radiates out of each end and entices the curious visitor through a welcoming luminous arc. The effect is to set off the natural warmth of the timber while the source itself, long lines of light running along the floor, articulate the curving architecture and accentuate the incredible engineering of the structure. It is no surprise that Brooke’s engaged a lighting design studio, SEAM design to help realize this vision. Specialist knowledge about how a range of lighting technologies can work, and more importantly affect people’s experiences and behaviours, allows lighting designers to work from a position of measured restraint. Understanding what a space and its people need and providing just enough of that is one of the most challenging aspects of lighting. Here, the collaboration between architect and lighting designer has yielded a piece that brilliantly balances atmosphere and impact. ‘The Smile’ has enjoyed top billing on websites such as Dezeen and Designboom, and rightly so. We can’t help but wonder would this be so if the lighting design had not contributed so strongly? It is pure speculation, but worth asking the question.
Moving to an indoor installation and we find Benjamin Hubert’s studio Layer’s collaboration with Braun, Foil. The whole piece relies on the refraction and reflection of light. LEDs illuminate 50,000 stainless steel panels that have been polished to a mirror finish and set on a 20 metre by 1.2 meter ribbon that runs the length of Room 94 in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The ribbon undulates in a constant sine-wave motion intended to reflect the 360-degree movement of the Braun shaver head. This in itself would be an interesting piece to behold in its scale and movement, however the act of lighting the installation in a specific way adds an entirely new dimension. The reflections create a gently morphing pattern of refracted light that moves, heaves and surges against the 15th Century tapestries lining the walls and ceiling. This ‘dance’ takes place against an atmospheric soundtrack composed to accompany the fluid motion. Much like ‘The Smile’ the experience is designed as a whole. Lighting and sound become materials, to provoke senses and emotions. Site, form, function, sound and lighting are integrated to tell a story and create an accessible experience for all visitors.
The evocative power of lighting as a form of expression and as a design material cannot be denied. International design festivals are a great way for studios and individuals to demonstrate the outer limits of their creativity and the push the boundaries of material and process capabilities. It is refreshing to see lighting moving past the spotlighting of objects and being integrated so proactively in these projects. Lets hope the implications of these ideas can go beyond festival top picks and further our conversation about the material contribution integrated lighting will make to the future of design and architecture.