Over the years, Architectural Lighting has covered the topic of color many times, but surprisingly we have never devoted a full issue to the subject. (You can view the online archive of articles at archlighting.com/tag/color.) Given the abundant use of color in illumination these days, however, we thought it was about time.
Color is a complex issue. There is a real science behind it, and it lends itself to aesthetic and emotional responses, not to mention different cultural interpretations. As a starting point for this issue of the magazine, we’ve organized our color discussions around technical issues and design responses. Color has been the subject of some pressing debates of late. Most notable of these has been the controversy surrounding the American Medical Association’s warning against the use of blue-rich LEDs, particularly for streetlighting applications. In this issue’s Report (“Feeling Blue”), we break down that debate.
In this issue’s Technology article (“Red Light, Blue Light”), Mariana Figueiro, director of the Lighting Research Center, examines how rethinking the use of saturated colored light—red and blue, specifically—can aid in increasing daytime alertness and nighttime sleep. It’s an important discussion given the increased interest in circadian lighting and the way it has taken hold as a topic in the lighting community, and as lighting manufacturers develop luminaires that incorporate color-tuning capabilities.
From a design standpoint, we look at art installations and projects in our Briefs section that are using color in intriguing aesthetic ways—ways that might seem familiar to those working in lighting design.
And finally, in our cover story, we have a profile of Oklahoma City native Rand Elliott, an architect who has his own particular viewpoint when it comes to the interaction of light and color as a place- and space-making device. Elliott’s work transforms everyday building typologies, such as parking garages and offices, into dynamic environments that use color as their organizational structure. His is a refreshing take on the use of color and serves as a reminder about how we use light and color as design elements.
In fact, it seems as though everywhere you look these days there’s a building façade, building crown, or monument that is being lit up in a rainbow of colors. Once reserved for special occasions and announcements, color, especially in illumination, is now ubiquitous. This begs the question: If color-changing capabilities are incorporated into every design, are we diluting its purpose? I think so.
This, by the way, is a discussion that has arisen often for us here at architectural lighting, particularly in the context of the AL Light & Architecture Design Awards Best Use of Color category (see our last issue for the 2017 winners of our annual awards). Every jury that has met over the past 14 years has debated why color is being used on a project, if it has a critical design role, or if it is just being implemented because the technology happened to be available?
When LEDs first started to make their mark in the lighting industry, the technology lent itself to color and made it much easier to incorporate color-changing capabilities into designs than had previous product offerings. But like any technology, it’s only as good as the person using it. I wonder: Are we relying too much on technology—in this instance color changing and color programming—to do the designing for us? Moreover, for a generation of lighting designers who know only LEDs, what core design skills are not being fully developed because of this technological reliance?
While color does hold an important place in design, I hope we have further debate as we ask ourselves as designers: What is the value-add in applying color?