In the pursuit of learning new things, or curating learning experiences for others, I find myself in a balancing act between prediction and catching-up. In an effort to play the “education futurist” and predict what information convergence is next—like the Pantone folks determining what color we need before we know we need it—I’ve compiled a list of seven ideas for consideration. Some of this may not be new to you—maybe none of it is—but I believe the tipping point has arrived for some of these predictions to humbly take their place in the “catch-up” category. Fueled by the need for customization, these trends will help us get smart about each other, and embrace computer-assisted outcomes.
1| Building Awareness (Lighting Controls): Considering our increasing comfort and familiarity with device networking in our homes, cars, etc., and our dependency on customization (think Alexa), we’ll learn more about input options—both deliberate and subtle—for lighting controls.
Education will come from collaborations like Sculpt (funded by the Department of Energy), a research group tasked with developing spatially-adaptive lighting control systems. See “Adaptive Controls Run on ‘Autopilot’ ” (LD+A October 2021) for more on this hopeful “first glimpse at future sentient occupant-centric building management systems.” We’ll also learn ways that, by way of machine learning, lighting controls will design the space in real time, responsive to individuals’ lighting profiles and how that relates to others in a group or space—estimating the ideal overlap. What if, for example, lighting controls responded to work-from-home absences or employee turnover, showing a different lighting scheme based on the new recipe of individuals in the building? What if the lighting changes when a stranger is in the building?
2| Emotional Intelligence and Language:
In another form of building awareness, we’ll focus on awe and empathy. If you read my last column (LD+A September 2021) you might recall we’re working to recalibrate the language we use to describe light and lighting to improve communications to those outside our industry. Innovation isn’t just about the latest widget—it can be a change in approach to how we share our experience of light with each other. I loved Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. I’ll admit I struggle with anything claiming to create happiness, but if you can look past the title, you may love this book. The incredible amount of nuance that writer Ingrid Fetell Lee shares about what joy means in our built environment is inspiring. She weaves ideas about light and lighting into her insights on color, celebration, transcendence and play.
In another perspective, Thomas Schielke, author of “The Language of Lighting: Applying Semiotics in the Evaluation of Lighting Design” (LEUKOS in Volume 15, 2019), writes about the limitations of language created to explain the meaning and function of the relationship between light and architecture without proper nod to the influence light has on our behavior.
We often focus on the relationship of light to architecture and space, and have a barrage of technical terms for that relationship. We even photograph spaces without people in them—as if to say, the people in the space are an afterthought. Schielke layers windows, luminaires and lighting patterns as information about a space, and urges us to consider the language we use to describe what the user receives from the space (comfort, wayfinding, clarity), rather than what the architecture receives from the lighting (grazing, spot lighting). Schielke writes, “Such a view is especially relevant for lighting situations that appear technically correct but where users experience problems in meeting their expectations and understanding their meaning.”
If you find the human experience difficult to describe, I’d recommend Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart – Mapping Meaningful Connections and the Language of Human Experience. Brown covers empathy and awe as I mentioned above, but also dives into stress, nostalgia, curiosity, surprise, amusement, tranquility—all human experiences that lighting can contribute to and detract from, which is exactly what Schielke was alluding to in our reconsideration of the language of light.
3| Simulation: Perhaps as a replacement for our verbal and written language limitations, AR and VR experiences become more accessible, and lighting predictions within a 3D model, changes and opportunities in optics, and lighting experiences like adaption and color immersion, will become part of our dialogue. LightFair booths and presentations may become embedded with AR codes. I would highly recommend David Rose’s new book SuperSight if you’re curious about the future of our augmented vision, AR experiences and customization, and the risks involved in it. If the name sounds familiar, Rose was the Annual Conference keynote in 2016, after a committee chair presented a convincing argument for it (it was me).
4| Parametric Modeling: In the up-and-coming designer’s repertoire should be the ability to identify and quantify features and constraints (parameters) of a design problem, input that data into BIM plug-ins, and seek comfort in mathematical relationships formed by data. With a savvy landscape architect and structural engineer, I once created a model for a catenary lighting system by inputting numerical data representing what I needed the design to achieve—amount of light, dimensions and channel burden (DMX) of my chosen luminaires, wattage, how much sag and weight the cables could withstand, maximum run lengths from driver-to-luminaire—into a BIM plug-in and generated two or three iterations of a responsible layout—without drawing a single thing. While this represents a change in team dynamics with interdisciplinary dependency at more stages of the process, it still conjures up empathy by creating a transparency in the process of how every discipline has to change with each small adjustment in parameters.
5| Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing): Additive manufacturing makes customization tangible. Not apt to daydream via digital simulation? “Custom Architectural Lighting Through 3D Printing” by Nadarajah Narendran and Jennifer Taylor (LD+A January 2022) outlines the scope of this technology in our industry well: “With a 3D printing solution, the value proposition becomes mass customization, rather than mass production, and the ability to customize fixtures that better match with the built environment and improve visual appeal and function. Scientists at Rensselaer’s Lighting Research Center (LRC) envision the future of architectural lighting practice involving on-site, on-demand printing of cost-effective, custom light fixtures.” The team at Signify previewed their intent of exhibiting 3D printed luminaires with three descriptors: bespoke, fast, sustainable. Check out the online configurator from Signify’s 3D Printing adventures at www.signify.com/global/innovation/3d-printing.
6| Lighting Diets: The balance in most nutritional diets of exposure and deprivation—think Keto and Atkins—will undoubtedly creep its way into lighting recommendations. As circadian entrainment factors and research become better understood, and personal preferences on viable work hours are vocalized in corporate culture, fads will emerge with well-marketed intentions.
Maybe we’ll see personal lighting coaches touting their ability to predict a night owl’s recipe for a perfect morning based on a quiz about your activities (exercise, sleep, screen time) and preferences (color, mood, clarity). While diets might work— and it’s tempting to assume light might counteract your midmorning coffee crash—I urge you to consider the benefit in getting information from the research of scientists, labs, consensus-based documents, and other robust methods of gathering and delivering information. Want to learn more? Consider the new Online Certificate Course in Light and Human Health at Mt. Sinai this fall.
7| Team Dynamics and the Visual Medium: We’ll see more business owners discussing what they learned in the last two-or-so years about how you keep, teach, connect and inspire lighting teams that depend on visual information (mock-ups, table-tops, trade shows). I’ve spoken to lighting design firm owners that have relayed a disconnect in training someone new in an all-remote staff. Without the ability to spontaneously absorb information by learning from one another in close proximity, to casually glance at luminaires, we may be raising a design generation that assumes lighting can be described in photographs alone. Is that enough? How will individuals bond over the impact of lighting, if we remain virtually (dis)connected? The intentional effort of training someone new for those offices embracing remote work, will be a learning curve. However, this shift will also create the momentum for innovative presentations that are beneficial internally for company trainings, and externally engaging for events. Suffering from death-by-PowerPoint? Check out interaction-design.org to spark some ideas.