Reporting by Chris Beatty; photographs courtesy of The New School
Last Friday at Parsons the New School for Design, Derek Porter, Director of the School's Lighting Design Program, and Matthew Cobham of Philips brought together a diverse group of researchers, architects, and lighting designers to discuss the nuanced juncture between natural and man-made lighting.
"Luminous Talks: Nature and Man-Made" kicked off with a look at research into the fundamentals of light perception, presented by Dr. Raymond Van Ee, a professor of neurology and a research fellow at Philips whose work examines the importance of light in creating the optimal conditions for maintaining attention.
Clockwise from top left: Matthew Cobham; Raymond Van Ee; Davidson Norris; George Craford
Next, we heard from George Craford, an early pioneer of LED lighting technology who worked with Nick Holonyak to bring LED's from industrial switchboards to car headlights, a feat once described as impossible by the Wall Street Journal. Craford explained that while 'a photon is still a photon' no matter where it comes from, there are a couple of key ways to quantify the quality of light. The main system in use today is the Color Rendering Index (CRI) which measures the reflection of a light source as it bounces off 15 unique color chips. The CRI of an incandescent light bulb is a shown by broad curve which reaches its peak with the reflection of yellow light. The CRI of fluorescent lighting is spiked with multiple peaks, its phosphors were actually engineered maximize its results on this score.Presentations then shifted from research to design application. We heard from Davidson Norris, a Principal at Carpenter Norris Consulting, who works to bring natural light to the darkest of public plazas. "Black Holes," as he describes them, are omnipresent in New York's grid system and his firm offers meticulously calculated solutions that overcome the shadows created by density.
One site he is working on currently is located on the Upper West Side and is flanked on three sides by buildings over 150 feet tall. This is no match for Norris' system of mirrors that will illuminate the space with ever-changing natural light 365 days a year.
L: Noah Yaffe; R: Renderings of Sliced Porosity courtesy of Steven Holl Architects
The final presentation came from Noah Yaffe, a partner at Steven Holl Architects. From Chengdu to Glasgow, each project showed a intuitive engagement with the indeterminacies of light and materials. In Chengdu, a massive office complex was carved according to the amount of light reaching the surrounding residential blocks (a requirement of at least two hours a day of direct sunlight).
In Glasgow, Holl has designed a new building for the Glasgow School of Art, at a site directly across the street from the famed Charles Rennie Mackintosh building. Its minimal façade's only ornamentation is a shadow cast by the landmark building to the south.
Slice Porosity, courtesy of Steven Holl Architects
During the panel discussion that followed, the theme of harnessing uncertainty emerged. Dr. Van Ee cited a fascinating experiment where he digitally recreated the light from a crackling fire and was able to control its flickering. At one end of the dial was a perfectly random fire and the other completely ordered, his discovery was that that the perfectly random fire was annoying, and the predictable one boring. The truly interesting fire was uncertain.
Both Norris and Yaffe agreed that occupying every possible moment of the day with photons is not necessarily a good thing. When asked, "What do you want to see more of in the future of lighting design?"
Norris provided a classic answer: "Darkness."
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