John Bullock Lighting Design
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Connecting lighting to everything


This piece of writing came out of a conversation with a friend in San Francisco; we've been tossing the argument back and forth about the current state of the global lighting industry. There is a growing impetus, brought about by electronics companies takng over lighting production (blame the LED revolution), within the industry to concentrate on 'communication via light'  -  a new way of applying lighting control and connectivity - rather than seeing light sources as simply being part of the lighting designer's palette in creating a lit environment.

Once upon a time we had a 'lighting industry'

There was a good reason for this, as a good half of our lives is spent in the dark and we choose to spend a lot of our daylight hours in manmade caves of one sort or another; so light is a very important thing to have available. For many millennia we made as much light as we could from whatever we could burn, and usually went to bed once night fell. There was little sense of 'industry' (unless we include the candlemakers and the rushlight makers) until we industrialised the process of refining OIL - 'lamp oil' as it became known, even into the 1960s when my mother used to send me to the high street with a gallon can for the paraffin that fuelled the heaters that kept the house warm (and damp!). Its amazing that I'm still here.

Electricity changed everything, of course, and lighting technology went from strength to strength from the innovative work of Edison and Swan (and the other guys in the Electric Light Band who we always forget; like the Frenchman de la Rue, for instance) to create the industry that we have come to know and love (and occasionally loathe).


Why the history lesson?

Simply because we have to remember that, since the days of pre-history, lighting has been attached to the human need for light. Early light fittings, seen only in museums these days, usually demonstrate techniques that focused available illumination onto tasks - focusing lenses for fine needlework; reflectors for desk lights; mirrors on sconces to reflect more light into a room. Light was the medium that made things possible - it was far more than the luxury that we consider it to be today. The point of luxuries, of course, is that they are not essential; we buy them; revel in them; and put them to one side once the amusement has gone. And in this way we have forgotten what it is like to have NO LIGHT. We act as though Light is always available, forgetting that its something that we still need to make if we wish to continue enjoying our sophisticated lifestyles.


But why did I say "once upon a time we had a 'lighting industry'." Well, its because I think that the industry is fracturing into a chaos of junk makers and snake-oil 'innovators'. This has come about because the arrival of the LED has broken the shackles of a patrician industry that introduced new lamps in a sensible and well-considered manner,  a time when new sources were handed over to selected luminaire manufacturers to further promote the new source by developing new families of luminaires. The system worked - and perhaps the industry got lazy and complacent, because what's happening wasn't in anyone's ten-year plan. So we have two headline situations: we've forgotten what its like to have no light and we've lost the foundation of an industry that DID understand the purpose of lighting. LED developers and manufacturers show no such lighting sense. In fact, these days, less seems to be written about the reason for lighting than is written about the potential for yet new stuff - and that tends to be all about Electonics - not Lighting.


When I say 'connecting lighting to everything', I see it as a way of Light enabling me to do the things that I want to be getting on with in a life-fulfilling way - Light a a way of seeing. Our new LED masters would have a different definition: they see 'connecting lighting to everything' as an electronic means of having the technology behind the light sources 'speaking' to other pieces of electronica - apparently in ways that will enhance my lifestyle without me having to do much about it. This is adolescent madness. Every teenager would love to live their lives in a way that means never having to do the boring stuff and only having to engage with the 'fun' stuff. But food will always be on the table; clean clothes always in the wardrobe and a set of wheels available at the front door - all delivered by the power of electronics.


But this is borderline decadence (though there is plenty of evidence that we've overshot that borderline in so many other ways). And decadence is never clever as it only goes one way - and that's rapidly downhill. We are moving into an environment where most things are becoming 'someone else's problem' rather than accepting that most of what we experience is influenced directly and indirectly by the things that we choose. In the Zen tradition, there is a saying: Before Enlightenment; chop wood, carry water; After Enlightenment; chop wood, carry water'. Whut? Before we 'understand' we see the humble tasks that keep us warm and fed as useless toil; but once we 'understand' we see that these humble tasks are the very heartbeat of our lives - and we come to relish them.


So when we bring Light into our lives we should 'understand' the miracle that enables that Light to be created - just Get The Connection!


To learn more about my lighting design philosophy and how I work, please click HERE!

RIBA CPD in 2015

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John Bullock Lighting Design
4 Miller Way

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