A light obsession

Living in Dubai for three years whilst working as a lighting designer has taught me many things, including how lighting can influence a city in more ways than one. Now that I’ve developed a keen eye for lighting design and a raised level of awareness about the industry, I’m constantly observing and assessing the city’s illumination. Is that cove in the mall wrongly installed? Is this spike lighting failing for a tree light? I find myself obsessing about how a hotel I’m staying in or coffee shop I’m visiting has been illuminated. How I view my surroundings has truly changed as I’ve learnt more about the specifics of lighting and the use of light in general.

Looking back, I never questioned how a place was illuminated. Maybe it seemed too bright or uncomfortably dim, but I just didn’t pay much attention to lighting as a whole. Put an E27 base in a ceiling connected to a switch screw lightbulb, and voila, the house was well lit. It was that simple back then, with no real need for concern.

Even during my days in school, I didn’t care when half of the 600 x 600 LED panel in our classroom wasn’t working. Heck, I even liked that it was slightly dim. Now however, with all the knowledge that I’ve acquired along the way, I’m somehow seeing a correlation between the lighting in the room and my failing grades in my freshman drawing class. It maybe wasn’t my fault after all! All jokes aside, understanding the requirements and standards of lighting means that I can now fully appreciate its importance. Almost like a light bulb in my head; a eureka moment!

Simple life scenarios like finding yourself dozing off inside an auditorium during a lecture or feeling happy whilst strolling inside a mall, can somehow be attributed to the ambiance created by either low quality or high quality lighting design. One glance and I can zero in on what the lighting issue might be; perhaps it’s the performance, the installation, or the design itself. On one hand, I find it a bit frustrating that I can’t do anything about the dark spots of cove lighting in malls, or that inconsistent colour temperature in a restaurant. But on the other hand, I like that I now have a greater appreciation of these things. The wisdom that I’ve acquired allows me to see life – and Dubai – through a different lens. A lighting designer’s lens.

I can now see how marvellous architectural designs can be when they are paired with appropriate lighting. When I can, I make sure I intervene to correct wrongly positioned directional lights or badly installed LED strips. On one occasion, I even found myself being questioned by a security personnel when I tried to fix a spike light. I explained what I was doing and asked if could fix all the spike lights in the area. He understood and allowed me to continue. And I’m grateful, because the feeling of gratification that followed was worth the time correcting each and every one of those spike lights.

Dubai is the perfect place to immerse yourself in when it comes to lighting. When I first came to the city, I was like a firefly drawn to those lighting exhibits. The skyscrapers at night are just unbelievable to the eyes. Now, equipped with a level of expertise in lighting, I’m a smarter firefly. Still enjoying the beauty and the magnificence of the city, but with a better appreciation and understanding of what I’m looking at.