Mar 15, 2018

A look back at fearless forecasts from 1999 doesn’t prevent a new list this year

Some people save magazines. Piles of them unread, or issues that they may want to reread or think may have value someday are stored awaiting more time or greater interest. My pile of these was recently reduced to about a dozen, collected over decades. One was handed down to me by a friend and colleague, Pam Horner, when I transitioned into her office at OSRAM about five years ago. This 1999 LIGHTFAIR edition of Architectural Lighting grabbed my attention due to an article titled “Down the Road: The Future of Lighting.” Nearly two decades have passed since this article was written. How did the prognostication hold up?

A look back at fearless forecasts from 1999 doesn’t prevent a new list this yearWhat struck me first was who was interviewed and how engaged these icons of our industry remain today. Michael Siminovitch was then at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and later founded the California Lighting Technology Center. He said, “We need to give lighting users—particularly office workers—the ability to dynamically control the intensity, spectrum and distribution.” My second impression was not just that his comment was still relevant today, but how sad it is that we have not achieved this yet. We have the products and apps now as predicted, but market penetration of these “smart” devices is slow.

Mark Rea from the Lighting Research Center foresaw the LED revolution a full six years before the first viable architectural LED luminaire was sold, stating, “with white LEDs coming along soon they’ll be moving into general lighting applications.” Francis Rubenstein, then a staff scientist for LBNL, said “a high-efficiency source that costs $2.00 would change our world.” These predictions have been realized.

Michael Lane, then at the Seattle Lighting Design Lab, addressed blue light stating, “blue-content is getting short-changed by the current lumen rating method.” He had this awareness 20 years ago, and as anyone who ever replaced exterior HPS sources with LEDs at the same intensity knows, that it is still an issue today. Bill Gregory, then at GE Lighting, prophesized a “move toward integrated lighting systems,” and we are finally moving in that direction now. There were misses in the future forecast too. Some technologies flared and then fizzled as SSL evolved. More fiber optics, light pipe and induction lamps were predicted along with advances in metal halide. These technologies peaked years ago, as LEDs eclipsed their advantages for general illumination.

In 2017 people in our lighting community often told me that they want a glare metric. I have been known to laugh at them, but this is my snarky inner voice escaping. When researching the early years of our industry, I found that one of the biggest complaints about gas lighting was glare. It was unresolved then and although informed attempts have been made, we are without a universally accepted metric more than 100 years later. This is noted because our best and brightest also knew we needed to be able to control intensity, spectrum and distribution decades ago and we have had the means to do it, yet it still remains uncommon. We have grumbled about glare too, even though we have great products and technology that can address it, have proposed metrics to measure it and still witness awful installations that assault communities and give LEDs a bad rep. The past reveals that lighting professionals were brilliantly forecasting the future that we should have achieved by now, and that progress, at least with lighting, still occurs slowly in some areas. Twenty years from now integrated lighting systems with dynamic, individually controlled, inexpensive LED lighting should be table stakes for applications. My inner voice puts an emphasis on “should.”

What changes in our lighting community can we count on this year? Here are some safe bets:

If you save magazines, consider hanging onto this one until 2039 and shame me if the list above fails to materialize. When you see the lighting community experts cited above, applaud them as visionaries and honor them for their expertise and leadership. If you are struggling with why these visions take so long to materialize, please join committees, fund research and/or get involved to help shape the future of lighting both in direction and velocity. Twenty years for gestation of great ideas and goals seems frustratingly slow and too far away. Oh, and if you ask me about that elusive glare metric I will try to control my snarky voice, especially if I know you are working on a solution.


Mark Lien


Mark has designed interior and exterior lighting systems for a wide range of applications including residential, municipal, retail, healthcare and both conventional and nuclear power plants. Over several decades he has provided lighting education while working, presenting and... More info »