Opportunities in the Lighting Universe for True Masters

Posted: November 21, 2008 in General SSL Commentary
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fireiceSome wonder why I am such an enthusiast for lighting in general. That’s easy – Lighting is COOL! As an artist at heart, lighting is appealing, as it shapes the visual experience of observers as much as an oil painting hung over a couch. Lighting is both ethereal (it exists, yet is untouchable), and mechanical (requires hardware to manipulate and generate illumination). There is nothing else in the universe of human endeavor that blends art and science in this way. If this were all just about illumination of space to enable and excite human vision, there is enough meat here for anyone to enjoy a lifelong pursuit of it. But, this no longer the case.

In this evolving and rapidly expanding human universe, lighting has now gained a third dimension.

Artificial lighting hardware is nothing more than energy converters. Luminaires absorb electrical energy, converting this energy to visible light, and heat. The balance between the conversion to heat and light imparts a certain effectiveness, called efficiency. There are also inevitable internal losses, optical inefficiencies that lose light potential that reduces efficiency.  This is all part of the science of light – fun but not exactly a great topic for cocktail parties.

Delivering the resulting light emission from sources and luminaires to paint the environment with highlight, shadow, fill, and color, are the pallet of the lighting design artist. Using position, selection of tools, optical focus, diffusion, and other techniques to numerous to cover here, the lighting artist can create sharp edges and contrast, or fill a space with a soft warm glow. Add in color effects, and the capacity to change the human visual experience within a space becomes infinite.

The third dimension is the underluying inter-relationship between light and the human environment. This takes design beyond simple eye response and painting of spaces, to shaping the integration of light and its consumption of energy in the context of the environment as a whole. This includes a new balancing of energy impact, occupant visual need, and sustainability. Further, this third dimension includes a philosophy behind the art and application of science. This includes approaching design with a grander underlying strategic theme.

For example: A theme may inlcude the infusion of daylighting and artificial light as one. In this example, the design team may choose to erase all traces of artificial light – no downlights, wall sconces, or dramatic effects. This extends beyond simply mimicking daylight effects, into the underlying emotional satisfaction occupants feel from daylight. This would include use of supplemental artificial light to enhance daylight when natural conditions fail to support the positive emotional response (adding warm color and shadows to an othewrwise gloomy day, for instance). Extending this to spaces without natural light, and artificial lighting scheme that responds to actual natural light extends the natural light impact into all spaces, erasing the differentiation. When combined with a goal to conserve energy, dimming of natural light through the use of blinds, movable reflectors, or controllable tint glazing will reduce over-lighting effects, creating greater balance to artificial lighted space – reducing both solar heat gain and lighting loads as a whole.

This example demonstrates how lighting design founded on an underlying psychological response – to create a design that thoroughly infuses natural light into the environment – takes lighting beyond filling the space with enough efficient (read low impact, sustainable, efficient) light for function and accents to enhance aesthetics. This third, underlying dimension requires integration of light into building siting considerations, and daylighting dynamics, and eventually building automation.

There are literally millions of decorative artists in the world. The difference between these mainstream artists and the masters, is in the underlying “intelligence” that shapes the artists product. Lighting is poised to realize the emergence of lighting masters, in a sea of skilled practitioners. Technology of the last 125 years has been somewhat stifling to this endeavor.

The emergence of solid-state lighting will have a far greater impact than anyone in today’s market can imagine. The capacity of solid-state luminaires to combine finite control of optics, color, and intensity, in energy efficient products that are easily controlled with simple digital devices and computers, will transform lighting for lighting masters.

Solid-state luminaires not only provide an infinite pallet of color and control, they can be configured in an infinite array of shapes and configurations. One can realize a linear strip less than 3/8″ of an inch square, that can be bent and shaped, or assemble an array that covers the entire surface of a 100 story building. This maluability will lead to all new approaches to the architecture of lighting hardware we have never had before. The long life and reliability of solid-state will also lead to the integration of lighting into building materials and surfaces. OLED technology will take this further, creating textiles that act as luminaires and surface decoration as one. Soon enough, wall surfaces that change in color electronically, textures that can be activated using digital control will result in an interaction of light and surface that is simply unprecidented.

Imagine a space lighted by skylights, where the view above reveals moving clouds across a bright blue sky. Now imagine a cool breeze flowing through the space – evident by the wall surface fluttering and changing in shade. Now imagine the artificial fill light creating the passing shadows of clouds through the room, subtle shading. Now, imagine this exists in a space located on the third floor of a 30 story building in New York City in winter – that the skylight is actually an OLED illuminated video of a sky image taken in New Mexico.

Imagine dining at a restaurant where each dining setting is isolated from those around it by OLED video scrims, where the lighting for each table environment setting can be selected from a menu of effects, from moonlight and candles, to the sharp light of a day at the beach.

Imagine an office space that adjusts to your task needs automatically and invisibly because it is in tune with your exact activity. The lighting system simply tracks your eye movement and orientation, dimming the areas of the space beyond your visual range (wasted energy), and enhancing vision where you are working.

Imagine a retail environment that is connected to the sales database. Tracking customer movement, and comapring sales activity, the lighting system adjusts to draw traffic to slow moving products, draw people from the mall entry, or highlighting a schedule sale item, using simple point-and-click software. Inactive store areas beyond customer vision are then dimmed to save energy.

Imagine lighting that is 100% off-grid. Solar panels and batteries, coupled with energy recovery from water flow, heat escaping appliances, etc… store energy by day, to be used for light at night. This, combined with color and intensity control, special surface effects to overcome seasonal light disorders, to wake you silently in the morning, and guide you automatically at night with motion anticipating night lights, without ever suffering darkness of a power outage again.

Lighting is indeed poised for change. Looking at the last 125 years of progress, and the technology in hand, the potential for truly amazing new applications, and the inclusion of new levels of art, will generate an emergence of lighting masters. These masters will transform light as it has the video game market from pong to current giga-polygon virtual reality of today. Further, that capacity will expand further within itself, and begin to paint the real world.

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