Some light conversation

Having recently joined the team as an Associate Lighting Designer, we decided to pick Gary’s brain about the world of lighting. From the benefits of a good mock-up and embracing technology, to sustainability and creative expression, here’s what’s on his mind.

1. If you could give your teenage self one light fitting, what would it be?

Anglepoise 1227 – I have three! (Although one needs a bit of work… rescued from a skip.)

2. What is your favourite colour of light?

The ethereal qualities of the golden hour are hard to be beat, especially on an early morning trail run.

3. Is there anything in particular that you personally enjoy that defines your lighting designs?

I do love a good mock-up. The time and effort to create one always pays dividends in the long run to finesse a detail or confirm the colour temperature grazing the wall of a particularly interesting material. We don’t always get the time or expense to create them, but it’s something to push for more of in the future as part of our design process.

4. How do you think that lighting trends have changed over the years? And what do you think has caused these changes?

Sustainability and green credentials have all come much more to the fore in recent years, largely in response to climate change and paired with the lighting sector (really part of the technology sector) on an efficiency drive to do more with less power consumption. Even though we still need to educate people and clients about what exactly lighting designers do (and don’t do!), there is an increased awareness from people that we exist and can bring tremendous value to projects beyond W/m2 requirements.

5. Technology is exponentially permeating all aspects of our lives. How do you feel lighting as a sector is embracing this?

The lighting design industry has a good track record of embracing technology, but with the advance of the Internet of Things (IoT) we have to be wary of a compromise to our schemes. Light fixtures are especially well placed for all manner of sensor integration because there is already power (and often data) attributed to them. We should definitely be looking to offer our integration for this, but careful that all these sensors and add-ons don’t compromise the primary function of the fixture within the lighting scheme.

6. As the lighting industry becomes more eco sensible, is there a danger that the design response may have less scope for creative expression as the kit of parts may, for a while, shrink? Or is this the moment to be MOST creative as a result?

It ought to encourage more creativity. A completely blank page can be a very difficult design brief, so by introducing parameters it helps frame our design. I think eco constraints will force us to evolve and think of ways to distinguish ourselves in the market to continue to stand out.

7. With a collective global awareness of sustainability issues becoming prevalent, how do you think the lighting industry should respond?

There are certainly better things that the lighting industry can do and that we should take charge of. Especially as lighting equipment has much longer lifetimes that often far exceeds the project life or the design/trend cycle they were installed for. What happens to that perfectly usable equipment afterwards? We need to work harder to ensure that it can be re-used where possible and not end up in landfill. There have been some small schemes to address this from lighting designers, but integration with the wider electrical industry is needed to scale it up.

Some areas need real consideration as to whether lighting is needed at all. If there are environments that don’t need light or don’t warrant light, we should be mindful of that and protect the darkness. Maybe we should become champions of darkness design?

8. Do you think that these lockdown experiences will change how we perceive the lighting requirements of our domestic environments? And has home working as a status quo had a large part to do with that?

Absolutely. Simply by virtue of spending more time in our own homes more people have started to notice the impact that lighting has. This is particularly important, because even if you don’t necessarily own your own home and can’t do any major changes to the installed lighting, loose light fixtures and task lamps are a great way to improve your (work) space.

9. UV got a special mention by Donald Trump recently as a way to cure Covid (fact check). However, this does acknowledge that lighting and wellbeing both mentally and physiologically are inextricably intertwined. What role do you think that lighting for “wellbeing” will play in the future?

We are already seeing lots of studies (e.g. Double Dynamic Lighting study from Aalborg University) that are offering a more quantitative take on this. At a high level, many lighting professionals have known about the role that lighting can play towards circadian entrainment and physiology, but with no real data or long-term studies to back it up. Conversely, some clients ask for it because it’s a buzzword they’ve heard with no real understanding of what it actually means (or costs to implement properly!). Following the ground-breaking initial findings from the likes of Professor Russell Foster, increasing amounts of work and case studies are being undertaken for us to further understand it. There is a balance to be had for including such forward-thinking elements in our work because it has so many unknowns, but as time goes on, we learn more and can implement it responsibly and appropriately within our designs.

10. What is your prediction for the lighting industry for the next one, two, three years?

I’d like to see the IoT almost turning in on itself and not just provide data to the building operator, but emerge as a way for the inevitably connected nature of luminaires to be properly tracked and monitored more closely by manufacturers so that they can really follow through on their promises of a circular economy (rather than current QR codes that put the responsibility on the users/FM).

Whether we as designers like the phrase or not, I think the notion of “human-centric lighting” will be even more in demand from clients – hopefully more studies emerge for us to learn more about what lighting can and can’t do in that respect.