Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review: Lighting Design & Process

Lighting Design & Process by Office for Visual Interaction
Jovis, 2014
Hardcover, 216 pages

I'll admit that when it comes to light, I veer toward books that focus on natural light, such as titles like Henry Plummer's Nordic Light and Mary Ann Steane's The Architecture of Light. As an architect I understand the important of artificial lighting for interiors and exteriors, even though I believe the best buildings exploit natural light's qualities to their fullest. People cannot exist today without artificial lighting, and therefore it should be an integral part of the design process. One problem for me is that books on lighting design, rather than those on natural light, tend to be overly technical, with an emphasis on general conditions rather that specific applications. This is the case with a book by ERCO I featured five years ago, but a book by Herve Descottes of L'Observatoire International, which I briefly reviewed three years ago, points in the other direction, toward accessible case studies that explain how general principles of light are applied to specific projects. Light Design & Process by Jean M. Sundin and Enrique Peiniger's Office for Visual Interaction (OVI) falls into the latter camp, and they do an excellent job of showing how lighting designers work to create solutions that can be dramatic, subtle or even invisible.

[Scottish Parliament - Cafeteria ceiling]

The book starts with an introduction by Dietrich Neumann, editor of the book The Structure of Light: Richard Kelly and the Illumination of Modern Architecture. It then launches into the most in-depth project, the Scottish Parliament designed by Enric Miralles Benedetta Tagliabue with RMJM. Nearly 50 pages are devoted to the project's many spaces and lighting applications – exterior walls and walkways, public areas, lighting cast into concrete, the debating chamber and lighting for television broadcasts, to name a few, though my favorite is the exposed conduit lighting in the cafeteria. Just as the building is composed of numerous buildings, each unique yet exhibiting the hand of its designer, the lighting is diverse, working with the architecture to elevate it accordingly.

[Book spread on New York Times Building]

Most of the projects – many of them are notable buildings with notable architects – are given anywhere from 2 to 12 pages, but another project given a good amount of real estate (nearly 30 pages) is the New York Times Building designed by Renzo Piano. Like the Scottish Parliament, the Times Square high rise has many different applications of lighting, from illuminating the building's exterior, its public spaces and offices, to the theatrical lighting of the TimesCenter auditorium. In this project as in others, the reader is treated to numerous photos of the finished building, but also photos that document the process, and many sketches and other drawings that do the same. It's one thing to write that the uplights are yellow as a reference to the city's ubiquitous taxicabs; it's another to tell that story visually through photos of cabs and a local taxi shop painting a sample luminaire, plans, elevations and detail drawings, and photos revealing how the lamps were aimed so as to not throw light past the building's top; the last is important given that uplighting is an obvious source of light pollution in cities. Therefore the book tells the stories of the projects as much, if not more, through images as through text.

[Book spread with OVI's sketch for Zaha Hadid's Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art]

Other projects in OVI's monograph consist of completed buildings but also historic preservation and a number of in-progress projects. All together, they act as an argument for integrating the lighting designer into the process at an early stage, so the lighting strategy plays as much a role as form-making, and in some instances influences the form of the building. In all my years of experience in practice, I can think of only one or two projects where this happened, one in which lighting was an integral part of the building's nighttime identity and one with a building type that required a lot of specialized lighting. But all too often the lighting designer is brought in well after most of the decisions are done, then just asked to figure out the spacing of lights and provide a spec list. Sure, not all buildings are the Times Building or the Scottish Parliament, but architects should certainly strive for results as extraordinary – and illuminating.

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