Its intriguing that no one – and I mean no one – has been prepared to argue in favour of the downlight grid, despite it becoming the default lighting system for many homes / hotels / restaurants / shops. In fact – you name it, and downlights are illuminating it. How did we get here?
Back in the early 1960s, the UK badly needed a standard for our homes and that was fulfilled by The Parker Morris Standards, which were set out in the Ministry of Housing's "Design Bulletin 6 – Space in the Home".
Ah me: a Ministry of Housing . . . whatever went wrong there, I wonder?
Anyway, the PMS didn’t have a lot to say about room lighting, other than it was good idea – which at least improved on the decrepit state of much of our pre-war housing. In practice, it meant the introduction of the central ceiling pendant. Not a work of genius, perhaps, but an efficient way of going about things. But within twenty years, most households had evolved to table lamps and standard lamps, with a few intrepid souls introducing wall lights, with all of the ker-fuffle that entailed – and so the life of the central pendant was reduced to vacuuming and lost pennies.
And so to the downlight. Interior decoration in the early 80s was begging for something with a bit of an edge, and what better than a small, sparkly, light source that could be tucked into ceilings in a generally discreet fashion. The revolution had begun.
Twenty or so years later – let’s call it The Millennium – and the downlight was available over the wholesaler counter for next to nothing; the burden of the low voltage transformer having been spirited away courtesy of the mains voltage lamp version (the GU10). And regardless of the fact that it’s never been a particularly good lamp, it was good enough to win over a supine audience.
What began as a great piece of domestic theatre, highlighting into the dimmer corners of the room, became the modern version of Parker Morris’ central pendant lamp – a mindless grid of illumination possessing a ceiling – any ceiling – any venue – any purpose. And that’s what I’ve been complaining about all this time.
One final thing: the cost. There’s an idea that downlighting is somehow cheaper than any alternative (apart from no lighting at all). This is not true.
Here’s an example for you; take a modest utility room and even there you’ll find four or six of these downlighting critters, where a single fixture would easily suffice. The installing contractor will usually cost a job on a per point basis, so four downlight could cost £200-£300 just to install – and that’s before you’ve bought the fixtures. If that groupuscle was to be replaced with a single light fixture, you’re already £200-ish better off, and half of that would give you a perfectly acceptable fixture for that space.
Now imagine what you might be able to do in the kitchen – the dining room – the bedroom . . . you get my point?
Of course, the real question that now needs asking is: if not downlights, then what?
And that’s where a bit of imagination and adventure is called for . . . and that’s no bad thing. Here's an idea for you. . . three standard pendant fixtures suspended into a bespoke ceiling recess in a lift lobby. They accentuate the architectural detailing simply by aligning with the lift doors. But there's no need for additional highlighting . . . the job is done.
And yes - for the eagle-eyed amongst you, there are a few downlights in the background, doing service as escape lighting - since you ask.
A (very) basic guide to ethical specification
Lighting design: it's a client thing
Calculating obtrusive light: whose job is it?
When there's nothing in the catalogue
When is a chandelier not a pendant? When its a lantern!
When clients learn too much . . .
One of our details is missing
Where will light fittings come from?
The end of the light bulb?
Always something new . . . again
Always something new . . .
Combining old and new
On being in the dark . . .
Riffing The Internet of Things
John Bullock writes a regular column for lighting magazines. You can find all of the archived pieces here.
BLOGS - LIGHTING DESIGN
John Bullock writes about all things and anything concerning architectural lighting design; new technologies and old lamps; anything,really.
HOME LIGHTING CONSULTANT
John Bullock designs innovative lighting designs for people's homes. By working closely with clients he is able to deliver solutions that meet - and exceed - their expectations.
BLOGS - CPD RIBA CORE PROGRAMME 2015
John Bullock will be presenting a seminar on latest lighting design and technologies as part of the RIBA CPD Core programme 2015
BLOGS - SUSTAINABILITY
John Bullock believes that the UK lighting industry needs to embrace a sustainable way of delivering good quality product through good design, fabrication and end-of-life management.
BLOGS - LIGHTING HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Lighting has a vital role to play in our health and wellbeing.
CONDUIT (6) - Lighting for Winter Gardens
CONDUIT 5: Home Lighting - LED Lighting (2)
FX Magazine: Lighting Focus - Sustainability (Issue 258)
CONDUIT 4: Home Lighting - LED Lighting (1)
Can Smart Lighting Save The Planet?
CONDUIT 3: Home Lighting - The Bathroom
Can Lighting Save Us From Ourselves . . . NO!
CONDUIT 2: Home Lighting - The Dining Room