Mike Grubb investigates how good lighting is dependent on the profession being fully incorporated into the design team
For many years, lighting designers have urged architects, engineers and clients to bring them into the design process at the beginning, because integrated design is better design. Now that appears be happening, with lighting designers able to embed good lighting practice into the architectural brief and maintain the continuity of design language through to delivery and beyond. But why is this positive change taking place now, and what can we do to make sure it happens more often?
We have to remember that lighting design as a separate discipline is only one generation old. On one level, high-profile exterior architectural lighting schemes, light art events and regeneration efforts directed at creating a night-time economy have all helped to insinuate lighting into the public and political consciousness to a level probably not seen since artificial lighting was introduced into our streets.
This is coupled with growing, though often vague, concern about the environment. In the home and the workplace, individuals can see the benefit of controlling light levels by adjusting task lighting and setting timers. It does not take a massive leap of imagination to see that this can be applied on a wider scale, to reducing lighting in city centres in the small hours, for example. Nor is the public unaware that lighting technology is becoming more efficient. We are inured to miniaturisation, improved battery life, greater user-friendliness, enhanced functionality and so on in other areas of life, so why should lighting be different?
In terms of the design team, there has also been gradual but perceptible growth in the mutual respect and reliance shown to one another by groups such as architects and lighting designers, or landscape architects and lighting engineers. This may have been helped by people in the post-credit-crunch era being more inclined to think in terms of systems.
As an example of this, a new building is not only a construction but also a collection of components with embedded energy; its design has to anticipate changes of use and thought has to be given to when it is demolished, its use of resources, its links to the surrounding infrastructure including transport, and so on. This wider, longer-term approach to design calls for lessons to be absorbed from every set of conditions and each project.
A good topical example of this is the way in which the Olympic Development Authority (ODA) has approached the legacy of the 2012 Games. In 2008, Sutton Vane Associates developed the lighting strategy for the park and public realm’s (PPR) aspects of the Olympics as part of the LDA Design/Hargreaves team. It takes into account issues such as proposed habitats, creating safe routes, and the efficiency of lamp types and lighting controls, and has guided the efforts of designers, constructors and planners.
This carried over into lighting designs which lead into the legacy mode of the Games. I think it is fair to say that this involvement has been crucial in decision-making and helping to create continuity between phases. But the ODA has also set out to capture the lessons learned from aspects of the Games, from promoting biodiversity to restoring the Olympic Park waterways.
Towards the end of 2011 ODA chairman John Armitt launched the London 2012 learning legacy website (london2012.com/learninglegacy). It contains more than 200 documents encapsulating what has been learned, best practice and innovations from the construction programme which aims to raise the bar in industry and be a showcase for UK PLC. This is the first time intellectual capital of this scale has been captured by any Olympic Games or UK construction project. It is made possible by the collaboration and contribution across contractors, industry partners, government bodies and academia.
As a practice we believe that lighting designers and engineers have a responsibility to educate and inform the public and legislators on the value and role of lighting design. What I have begun to learn is that this effort has to be made in concert with other professions, and one of the best mechanisms I can think of to achieve this is the model developed by the ODA. This really is about championing learning.
This article was first published in fx Magazine.