I’m currently in the throes of preparing course content for my Griffith College students for the new term starting next month. Looking at the material for my first lecture on lighting history, it is so impressive the explosion of lighting creativity at the end of the 19th Century, start of 20th. Electric lighting arrived on the scene with Thomas Edison’s light bulb in 1870. And was followed by a myriad of new lighting technologies and professions. Indeed, it was an impressive era for innovation, over those forty years that followed you had the arrival of the telephone, television, car and airplane. When you consider the rate of progress in development in the previous 200,000 years of modern man, it was a pretty incredible time of technological growth and creativity.
The arrival of the light bulb changed our way of life almost as drastically, I believe, as any of the other inventions of the time. Suddenly light was available on demand. We were no longer limited to daylight hours for work and play. Many of us forget this and how recent these changes in our daily cycles have been. In the span of human evolution we have only had light at night for one hundred and fifty years. Our new-found time, brought with it many improvements in both business and pleasure, from factories to late night bars. We were no longer ruled by the night. It became our work and playtime.
Its feels to me now looking forward that we’re at a similar juncture in the lighting industry. While we had light on demand for most of the 20th Century what we could do with light was limited. It was in one colour, energy intensive and limited in size and control. LED’s for lighting arrived nearly twenty years ago at this stage, but its only in the last number of years that they have really come of age. In both cost and performance there is no comparison to any of the older technologies. And just as Edison’s light bulb led to an explosion of creativity and new professions, the arrival of LED combined with control innovation has led us to the verge of something similar in lighting at the moment.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is becoming a mainstream design tool. In addition rendering packages give us the ability, as light designers, to truly play with lighting options and represent real life design to our clients before they are built. And there’s just so many more options now available with LED technology. There are a myriad of options now to conceal lighting, which is fantastic as all the emphasis is on the lighting effect. On top of all this our ability to control lighting precisely in colour and level is also becoming limitless. Dynamic white LED is here where we can get cold or warm lighting at the touch of a button. This is great for creating or altering ambiance but also very important for bringing our artificial lighting in sync with our natural circadian rhythms. Something Edison never thought about!
The world of light fitting design has similar opportunities opening up. Fittings are now not constrained by the size and light distribution of the bulb, so the designer can be truly creative in form. OLED now takes that ability to play with form a step further. OLED stands for Organic LED, which means the LED diode is embedded in a material. Lit glass and internally illuminated wall paper is a reality although a number of years from mainstream use.
Many are now taking advantage of these new creative lighting options and again similarly the invention of the light bulb before, this is leading whole new creative professions. The “lighting artist” has arrived and light art exhibitions are sprouting up throughout the world. In turn leading to new lighting experiences in the form of festivals. From the success of Festival of Lights in Lyon, there are now lighting festivals in Amsterdam, Taiwan, Singapore and Sydney to name a few.
The world is changing so fast and can sometimes be a little intimating (I definitely would like to put on the pause button from time to time) it is also an incredibly exciting time to be alive and to be a lighting designer. We get to lead lighting into it’s next era.