My Design Philosophy

The lighting palette of light sources and fittings has grown amazingly over the past decade, and mostly for the good - which I find heartening in these challenging times. And even though the way that we make light may be changing, it shouldn't make the final result any less exciting or any more boring.  Because lighting is about people, and that can't be a boring thing - now can it?.

Lighting is about people.

Every second of every day we process light information - through our eyes, our skin, through every cell in our body.  This information tells us about our surroundings; are we safe; do we like what we see; do we understand what we see?

The way that we light, then, follows a simple process. How do we want our buildings to relate to the things that we get up to inside them. Its not about the engineering of buildings for some abstract reason, its all about the interaction between people and between people and the built environment.

Do we understand what we see?

Some very clever people have written about vision and perception, and I don't intend to compete with any of those guys. Suffice to say that John Berger put it like this: 'Seeing comes before words.' We might be able to describe our surroundings in words, but the seeing goes beyond the power of words, to a place that much deeper within us. So its not just about the simple act of seeing with our eyes, it's about being conscious of what we are seeing, of where we stand on this planet.

The lighting designer carries the burden of helping to make space understandable, helping us to make sense of the space around us.

Making it Green

Lighting design needs to change.

The traditional (let's call it the 'old-fashioned' ) view was that energy costs bore very little relevance when it came to the aesthetic value of a lighting scheme. 'Good lighting' was all about 'drama' and 'scene-setting', and none of us really cared about how fast the electricity meter was spinning round.

There are those among my peers who believe that lighting design is finished, and that nothing will ever be as good again. Hmmm. They disappointment me with their lack of imagination. Because having an energy / environmental /sustainability crisis does bring some benefits. A 'green revolution' means that the design process has to be handled in a very different way.

The 'greening of lighting design can play a hugely positive role in the development of new ideas. Many of the old assumptions no longer hold true; the lighting palette is changing, growing and maturing and is opening up new ways of creating - and a very exciting landscape it is becoming, too.

I'm shifting my lighting design thinking towards the ambition of 100% low-energy solutions, and I see no reason why that shouldn't be achievable, given the range of low energy sources that are now, or will soon become, available. All we need is for many of the decorative manufacturers to come on board and put a bit more effort into moving away from redundant light sources - and we'll be there!

But it doesn't stop there.


The low-energy approach is only the starting point for a holistic approach to building design. If we're to take this issue seriously and embrace what it really means to accept responsibility for the way that things are done, then we need to look beyond the light fitting in the box.

Sustainable production means taking care of the way that we extract materials from the earth and how we deal with the waste that we put back into it; its about stopping our reliance on practices that damage our own ecology, such as dumping stuff into landfill where toxic materials can leach into underground water; its about dealing fairly with parts of the world that are far away from where we live - where what we don't see doesn't harm us, or so we prefer to imagine.

Its Big Stuff - it really is, and the lightng industry is only at the very beginning of putting a Sustainabilty Ethic into practice. But here's a thing: A little while ago, CIBSE President Rob Manning told an audience: ' ...  we face the challenge of refurbishing up to 18 million buildings by 2050 (to reduce carbon emissions). To put that into perspective, it is over 50 buildings per hour. We are not prepared for that task.'

So we'd better get something sorted pretty damned quickly, I feel.


A word about Codes of Practice:

There are Codes of Practice that deal with lighting design, and there are Codes of Practice that deal with Sustainability

The published Lighting Codes of Practice and Lighting Guides are there as useful points of reference, but they are not books about DESIGN. They have their uses, but they don't tell me anything about what my client is looking for. I want to know how the client sees the building. I ask them to imagine how a building or a room or a desk works throughout the day; a kind of day in the life script. From there, we can appreciate how the lighting design needs to develop. Then we can take a look at Codes of Practice; see how they fit in with our plans. Why do I do it this way? Because lighting isn't for buildings, it's for people it's as simple as that.

The Sustainability Codes (BREEAM etc) are more people-friendly. They don't really refer to lighting as a discreet subject. Lighting gets rolled up into a building's energy usage. But where lighting design does get a mention, is under headings like 'Health and Well-being' - which suits me down to the ground.


A footnote to Lighting Design

Fire-fighting design is always a house of fun. Every now and again I'm asked to review a lighting proposal or installation that has what shall I say not come up to expectations. It often happens with projects where the lighting hasn't been thought through and has been left to the last minute. But design surgery is always painful. Fire-fighting design can be fun and profitable for the lighting designer, but rarely for the client.

And lighting design that is taking Sustainability seriously really needs to be incorporated into the building design process at an early stage - and the earlier the better.