The tech sector rolls out discoveries and advancements on a seemingly daily schedule. The AEC sector implements those findings more slowly, as designers and manufacturers work to stay current, process complex new information, identify useful and remunerative applications, and test them in the real world.
To that end, nine architectural and lighting designers share the developments that they consider invaluable to their own practices and that they see permeating the industry at large. Common themes include circadian lighting, additive manufacturing, and lighting controls.
Cristina Parreño Alonso
Founder, Cristina Parreño Architecture, Boston
In his 1973 essay “On Constructing a Reality,” cognitive scientist Heinz von Förster reminds us that “ ‘out there’ there is no light and no color, there are only electro-magnetic waves.” Instead of transmitting light, sound, touch, taste, and smell to our brain, our nerves are stimulated by energetic variations of external agents, which they then translate into impulses. Through experiments exploring how we can perceive things that don’t exist, and how we sometimes cannot perceive things that do exist, Förster illustrates how our brains can take incomplete information from the outside world and make it complete.
Synesthetic light technologies should have the biggest impact on architectural lighting design and the user experience. By converting one input sensation into a different kind of output sensation—“smell-seeing” or “light-touching”—synesthetic light technologies in architecture could make the observer aware of an operation that is ingrained in our cognitive system at an unconscious level. (Composer Iannis Xenakis explored this notion in the music realm with his UPIC tool.) By stripping the viewer from the conventions of seeing, intentional light synesthesia can destabilize our perceptual ground, removing our anchor to the world but also freeing us from its limitations. We’d be granted access to the work of perception as a creative act, one by which we reposition the architectural context.
Sherry Lin, Ilva Dodaj, Phat Quach, and AC Hickox
Senior design team, Domingo Gonzalez Associates, New York
We anticipate that lighting manufacturers will continue their drive to increase efficacy in response to ever more stringent lighting power allowances, balanced with the need for glare mitigation and an improved user experience—in line with the emphasis on lighting quality.
We expect to see more sophisticated and intuitive lighting control systems in response to burgeoning interest in circadian rhythm interaction and natural light response. We would like to see more universal compatibility between systems and luminaires, but not at the cost of innovation.
The 3D printing revolution will lead to tailored solutions on a per-application/per-building basis, facilitated by the growing use of BIM in both design and building life cycle stages. Such “made-to-order” form factor and photometric characteristics might also incorporate predictive maintenance—or, at least, end-of-useful-life indication—and, when no longer viable, offer full recyclability in a regenerative, cradle-to-cradle cycle.
Founding principal, Mikyoung Kim Design, Boston
As our urban environments have become increasingly densified, meeting the needs of neighborhoods and individual residents is one of the most important challenges faced by designers. We are implementing a more efficient use of energy with smart technologies that can manage a city’s lighting needs in a surgical way rather than on wholesale grids that have traditionally shaped the way we move through cities. Ultimately, lighting innovations are about linking to data and the internet to reduce energy consumption. Meteorologically, our cities are under immense stress from storms, flooding, and increased volatility in the weather. These smart technology systems can help monitor changes so that urban lighting grids are more responsive, targeted, and efficient. These technologies can also help designers make cities safer, more efficient, and healthier for everyone.
Our landscape lighting work prioritizes protecting the night sky from light pollution. Not only do we reduce wasted energy, but we can also have an impact on overall carbon dioxide emissions. Nighttime exposure to lighting has been shown to be harmful to our health, especially in cities. Landscape lighting, when poorly done, has been shown to increase the risk for sleep disorders, obesity, and depression because artificial light alters our circadian sleep rhythms.
Owner, Francis Krahe & Associates, Los Angeles
Five years ago, we anticipated that the advance of LED technology and concurrent developments in materials science, interconnectivity, and media technology would revolutionize the lighting industry and offer new opportunities for design. Today, these changes are evident: The power and impact of light are prominent, lighting components are less visible and more integrated with the architecture, and the boundary between lighting and media design is nebulous.
Five years from now, responsive lighting designs will be the norm. We see great opportunities to create spaces with interactive light, where its intensity, color, and movement respond to occupants or to programming, changing the use of any space, on any given day or days. These options, available for many years at high cost, now bring creative programming within reach of any project. The intersection of advances in the color quality and range of LED chips, the lighting controls embedded within LED chip programming, wireless communications, and the Internet of Things will create the greatest change in the lighting design field.
Partner, Thurlow Small Architecture, Oakland, Calif.
Lighting is emerging as not only a medium between physical and virtual experiences, but also as the cue that such relationships exist. Light has always expressed society’s intention and priority of public space, first by providing safe passageway for pedestrians at night, and then by highlighting routes for automobiles. Now, the attention has returned to the exploration of pedestrianized public spaces made dark by lack of sun and lack of use. As cities reemerge as vibrant, active, democratic environments, all spaces and infrastructure once abandoned can be reclaimed for play and social investment. What is essential is that these public spaces are defined not by institutions, but by individuals whose engagement and choices lead to impacts beyond the immediate and physical world, and into the networks of social media.
The next step from the physical definition of light is to a carbon-less version—where the energy generation from movement in and around the light translates into the expression of the experience itself. This potential feedback loop again highlights the priorities of our future culture: an environmental justice that says that we are renewable, open-ended, and deserving of visual and virtual attention.
Anita Summers, AIA
Principal, The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry, Atlanta
Tunable white lighting is becoming more affordable and easier to specify. We’re using it at a high-end restaurant with an open kitchen where we’ll be lighting the chefs in action: The chefs need clean, bright light, but the diners want a soft, dimly lit restaurant. We can adjust the color, brightness, and glare for each light source so that it works for both parties. Our design has been influenced by technologies that help us do our work better, like ElumTools, a plug-in that quickly and accurately calculates light levels in Autodesk Revit models.
In the 2020s, we’d like the opportunity to control lighting more on the fly, Amazon Alexa–style. Instead of just changing basic settings or dimming, voice commands might also change light intensity, color temperature, or beam shape. Restaurateurs could then set the lights based on whether diners are having breakfast in the morning or a scotch at the bar to end the night.
From a sustainability standpoint, we hope to see smarter lighting that reduces energy use based on the number of occupants and their location.
An abridged version of this story appeared in the February 2020 issue of ARCHITECT under the headline "Architectural Lighting: Innovations for 2020 and Beyond."