Though ethereal, light is one of architecture’s most important materials. Whether natural or artificial, light can accentuate architectural genius, mask mistakes, grab attention, make a place feel sacred or safe. New lighting technology and educational programs are keys to keeping architecture’s spark alive.
LEDs, the Latest Frontier on Architectural Lighting
LEDs are everywhere, and not just in traffic lights and digital alarm clocks where they started several decades ago. LEDs, short for light emitting diodes, have been steadily making their way into architectural applications around the world. Until recently, LEDs were considered impractical for widespread use in large environments but the technology has improved dramaticallyythey’re smaller and brighter, use less power, can be computer controlled, and cycle through all the colors of the rainbowwenticing more and more architects and designers to integrate them in their work.
Many manufacturers (even those that only recently incorporated the technology into their lines) have now made LEDs, if not a core component of their product offerings, part of their R&D. We consider implementing LED technology for every new product under development,, said Ted Chappell, president of New Jerseyybased Erco Lighting, which did not bring LED-based products into its line until its 2002/ 2003 catalog.
|Left and below: UN Studio and Arup Lighting, both based in Amsterdam, teamed up to give Seoul’s Galleria West fashion mall a dazzling, Paco Rabannesque makeover. Concealing a nondescript 1970s concrete building is a layer of 4,330 frosted glass discs, shielding an equal number of LED luminaires. Each disc acts as a giant pixel; the building becomes a vast display screen. With Dutch company Xilver, Rogier van der Heide of Arup developed an RGB LED fixture that improves the color tone of the LEDs.|
|Courtesy arup lighting|
The most common application of LEDssmany would argue to a faulttis in color-changing scenarios and as decorative details in a larger environment. If I need a saturated color, I look to LEDs,, said lighting designer Jim Benya, principal of Benya Lighting Design in Tigard, Oregon, who is currently creating a midnight sky scene for a hospital MRI room with blue LEDs. Another lighting designer, Ken Douglas, principal of Illumination Arts in New Jersey, is embedding the light source into the faaade of dark red brick building that lost its presence at night. In our designs, we are using it mostly as a secondary aesthetic element, to add a little flavor or as a highlighting element,, he said.
|Courtesy arup lighting|
Color-changing capabilities exist with other lamps like metal halide, which was used by Horton Lees Brogden to light the Met Life building in New York City with stunning results. But Douglas noted, With those lamps, there has to be a physical component moving around, or glass moving back and forth, or a color wheel, and every time you have a part that moves, you have a part that fails..
RGB fluorescent has traditionally been the source behind color-changing effects, and is still being used very successfully on certain projects, such as on the faaade of the 41-story Deutsche Post tower in Bonn, Germany, designed in 2003 by Helmut Jahn. However, more designers like Darren Nolan, an architect with Peter Marino + Associates, which recently completed an eight-story building for Chanel in Tokyo, turned to LEDs to illuminate its faaade. We made comparisons between fluorescent and LEDs, but issues of maintenance, heat generation, and consistency of color temperature convinced us to go with the latter,, he said. The architects were also charmed with the ability of the LEDs, imbedded on the modernist glass and metal faaade, to change light patterns each night, simulating for example Chanel’s signature tweed. While the upfront costs of LEDs were higher, said Nolan, in the long run the architects felt LEDs would be more cost effective.
|Chanel’s new Tokyo headquarters, designed by Peter Marino, has a triple-glazed facade featuring view-controlled glass and LEDs that enable the building to be completely transparent by day and lanternlike at night. The building has art director who programs different patterns for the facade.|
Courtesy peter marino + associates
The extremely long life of LEDs makes them a particularly sound solution in situations where fixtures are hard to maintain. Paul Gregory, principal of Focus Lighting in New York City, specified LEDs for the new Semiramis Hotel in Athens, Greece, for example, for areas where limited space would have made it hard to replace other lamp types. Gregory, who collaborated with Karim Rashid on the project, felt confident in the choice, having used LEDs on the Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia four years before, which he says has been extremely low maintenance and still looks good. The questions is always, Can you do something complex and still have it look great in four years,, he said. Not with Par cans [theater lighting]; not with MR16s..
While the overall lumen output from available LED sources remains low, there are extremely bright LED products for small-area applications, such as display cases or enclosed spaces. The technology is also ideal for low-light-level outdoor applications, like step lights and pavers, because the technology operates under a wide range of temperatures, unlike fluorescents which do not respond well to cold, and HID lamps, which do not start or extinguish immediately. Also, since they use few watts, LEDs can be solar or battery powered, which makes them appropriate to situations where uninterruptible power is important. Erco Lighting began its foray into LED-based fixtures with products dedicated to this application. We marketed them as orientation’ luminaires,, said Chappell. They serve as excellent marker lights for pathways as well as safety lights for entrances and step applications..
Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting worked with David Rockwell on FAO Schwarz’s renovation, which features a ceiling with 80,000 LEDs that can be programmed into different patterns
J. P. Lira / courtesy focus lighting
Since they do not radiate heat, LEDs work well in environments where heat may damage the object being illuminateddart or chocolate, for example. For this reason, task lamps are incorporating the technology, since users are generally in close proximity to the light source and can therefore be burned by it. The Arketto lamp, which Luxo released in 2004, produces virtually no apparent heat and has a 50,000-hour life, according to the company. That LEDs do not produce any heat is a myth, however, according to Benya. An LED does not radiate heat, which actually means it cannot cool itself in this way, but still has to conduct the heat away from the source. The higher the wattage, the bigger the heat problem.. If an LED source is not cooled, he notes, it negatively affects light output and longevity. He believes this problem is the Holy Grail for the industry; if it can be resolved, then LEDs will enter more standard architectural applications like downlightsand spots.
This and other shortcomingsslow overall light output, cool white range (lacking the warmth of incandescents), high priceehave kept LEDs out of mainstream architectural applications, but have also been the focus of manufacturers’ research. For example, Color Kinetics recently introduced IntelliWhite, which offers an expanded range of temperatures. And, according to Dave Shepard, national sales manager with lighting manufacturer Luxo, which recently released an LED task light, the price of LED components seems to come down every six months or so. He notes that the industry is currently in the middle of a pronounced decrease.
|Gregory also worked with Karim Rashid on the Semiramis Hotel in Athens, where LEDs work with colored glass for decorative effect.|
Jennifer alexander / courtesy focus lighting
>I’ve never seen a technology in our field evolve so much over so short a period of time,, said Benya. Every time you stop and take a snapshot, remember that what you specify today is going to become obsolete faster than the computer you just bought.. This is in direct conflict with what Benya considers the purpose of architectural lightinggto design something permanent and durable. We call them light fixtures for a reason,, he said. He maintains a healthy skepticism toward LEDs, pointing out that when the source does fail, it often means the entire system must be replaced, not just a bulb.. The diodes need to be soldered or otherwise connected to a complex electrical system; when one goes, the entire lighting system may have to go. It’s a monumental paradigm shift,, he said. A luminaire is now a throwaway wrapper around an expensive light-bulb, as opposed to the other way around..
Perhaps indicative of how far LEDs have come is that primary complaint about the technology from designers is not about their performance, but about their architectural applications. My criticism is about how the technology has been used in the last few years,, said Douglas. In the early 1990s, everything had to be MR16s; it didn’t matter whether they were the right fixture or not. LEDs are like that. People are making things flash and dance even if it isn’t a building that should be doing that..
Emilie W. Sommerhoff is the editor-in-chief of Architectural Lighting.
A Lighter, Brighter Jets Stadium
As the battle over the development rights of the Hudson rail yards enters its next phase (March 21 was the MTA’s deadline for competing bids), the most prominent contender and mayoral favorite, the New York Jets, unveiled a revised design for its proposed New York Sports and Convention Center (NYSCC) that brightens and softens Kohn Pedersen Fox’s (KPF) original scheme.
KPF’s first try was a clunky, closed box plunked down between 31st and 33rd streets, split by a central axis that ran down 11th Avenue. The Municipal Art Society (MAS) put its carefully considered two cents in, and the architects listened. In the revised design, the structure’s height is reduced by 120 feet. The wind turbines that were supposed to line the rooftop were also eliminated. Shrinking the structure improved it, but it was still a big awkward box.
|courtesy l’observatoire international|
>One of the initial driving forces in the new design was the Municipal Art Society’s desire to create a strong axis on 32nd Street,, Bill Pederson said. They felt that the plan would be strengthened by a strong east-west orientation.. The architects responded by creating an asymmetrical faaade and reorienting the complex toward a new pedestrian-friendly entrance plaza on 11th Avenue, a planned retail corridor.
The most dramatic revision by far, however, involves the skin of the building. The designers have wrapped the core volume in a translucent glass veil, giving the structure the appearance of floating.
Toronto-based graphic designer Bruce Mau, originally brought in to develop wayfinding and graphic imagery, got into the collaborative design spirit and contributed by conceptualizing the entire 60,000-foot exterior surface as a single image, with each 6-by-12-foot pane of glass dotted alternately with translucent and transparent film. If you think about a pane of glass as a pixel, you can make an image that reads on an urban scale,, Mau said. From far away, it’s very soft, light, and diaphanous; on an intimate scale it’s very pop and graphic..
The Jets’ desire to make the project less monolithic and more appropriately scaled to the neighborhood is furthered by the contribution of lighting designer Hervv Descottes, founder of New Yorkkbased L’Observatoire International. We wanted to work with different degrees of transparency,, said Descottes, discussing the wrap-around LED screen to be installed at the structure’s ground level. The lighting designer envisions seven distinct lighting schemes that can be deployed, changing the building’s profile from day to night and event to event. At times, the stadium would reflect the Hudson River, while at others it would shoot two beams of lighttone straight into the sky and one right into New Jerseyyto communicate game-day excitement. It’s subtle but strong signage,, he noted.
Will the NYSCC’s inventive use of media and light be enough to win over its objectors? Time will tell. Eva Hagberg is a New Yorkkbased writer.
Parson’s MFA in Lighting, the Nation’s First to Incorporate Design
When Peter Wheelwright took over as chair of the architecture department at Parsons in 1999, he also inherited an ailing Masters of Arts program in lighting design. Shortly thereafter, the proverbial light bulb went off: Why not take advantage of the inherent synergy between the three fields in the departmenttarchitecture, lighting, and interior designnand at the same time extend the depth and breadth of the study of lighting design, which historically has lagged behind as an academic discipline?
Parsons has been a leader in lighting design since 1975, when Jim Nuckolls, a pioneer in both the practice and education of the discipline, launched the first incarnation of its MFA. Originally, the program was an appendage of the continuing education department. In the early 1990s, it joined the architecture program, yet after a decline in student enrollment, the school decided to turn it into a vocational one-year Master of Arts degree in 1998.
|Lighting study by Azusa Yabe|
courtesy parsons school of design
Wheelwright began the revamp by hiring the program’s first full-time director, Joanne Lindsley, who had been the president of the International Association of Lighting Designers, and then resolved to transform the degree back into a two-year MFA with a fresh slant. The resulting program, which kicked off its first semester last fall at full capacity with 24 matriculated students, puts lighting design and architecture students in the same studio space. They share faculty as well as history and theory courses, and even work in tandem on the same design projects. It’s radical for an architecture program to have such a strong relation to lighting design,, said Wheelwright. Although they think they do, few architects today really know how to design with light..
Key players in launching the new MFA are David Lewis, director of Parsons’ graduate architecture program and a principal of Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis, and lighting designer Linnaea Tillett. The program’s advisory board includes lighting designer Paul Marantz of Fisher Marantz Stone. Since Lindsley left the program in 2004, Wheelwright has served as acting director, while talks of a search for a new head are in development. Said Wheelwright, The new MFA needs an academic to run it, someone who understands the relationship of design to social practice..
|Lighting study by Jung Eun Park|
courtesy parsons school of design
Extending his theory that cooperation yields greater benefits for related disciplines, Wheelwright has widened his students’ access to educators and facilities by networking with Parsons’ main competitor in the field, the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). RPI is doing something very different,, he said, explaining that their Master of Science is focused more on scientific research and development. They’re inventing light bulbs; we’re designing. So we’ve begun to strategize linkages.. Students from Parsons have already visited Rensselaer, and RPI faculty members have given lectures as Parsons.
Most other lighting design programs in the U.S., such as those at Illinois State, Florida State, and Carnegie Mellon, are concentrations within their schools’ theater design departments. Wheelwright believes that Parsons is embarking on a program that is unique. I hope [this year’s class] will be the first batch of students trained in the history and theory of lighting design, who will look at light from a phenomenological point of view, as well as learning its mechanics and techniques. If we do that,, he claimed, We’ll be doing what no one else does.. Anna Holtzman is a New Yorkkbased writer.