Light is the most flexible building material at work in the constructions of the world around us. Variable, transient, and flexible – lighting has the capacity to change its character and the manner in which it inhabits and defines space with infinitely greater flexibility than the brick and mortar which compose physical boundaries.
Light is also perhaps the most critical component of architecture; not because it builds, but because it reveals. It is a part of the material of a space, but is not material in nature. Light renders our experience and reveals our environment both in the way that we use and move in the space, but also how we feel about the space. Perception informs how we understand the beauty and poetry of a place, the harmony of forms or the grandeur of scale, and light is the lens through which we perceive that beauty.
Light also, is the substrate through which information and experience is transmitted to us through the variety of screens that we use throughout our day. Our digital environment is revealed to us through light and many of our social, cultural and professional interactions now happen within the light from that digital environment. Much of how experience a "place" is augmented by the digital experience and this interaction of ones and zeros can come to define our physical reality through the lens of narrative and shared experience.
Opportunities for new kinds of experience
It is in this intersection of edifice and experience where the art and application of lighting design offer a unique opportunity to connect our digital and physical environments and to foster a new experience of space. Light is the common element which is manifest in both the physical and digital experience and is the medium that will connect the two. In world where we increasingly live and interact with each other through the ever-changing digital space of mobile devices and social networks, architectural lighting systems and lighting design offer a unique opportunity to create experiences that bridge our physical and digital lives.
More screens are NOT the answer, but the solution will be found in how we apply this kind of digital thinking to lighting design and to the use of light in space. Lighting is uniquely human and responds to unique human inputs as we modulate the light through our use and experience of a space. In this way, light in the greater space becomes a manifestation of people’s use of the space altering the space to fit the experience. Lighting systems are an untapped resource of human data and a visual manifestation of bio-interaction. Our needs, movements, feelings, emotions and mood are all actively translated into lighting environments which can be interpreted, integrated as data. Lighting systems are a required component of building and these systems can do more.
How can Lighting Design bridge the divide?
As we consider the nature of light in design, we can start thinking about how light informs both ambiance and experience, the balance between what light is required with what is variable. Lighting technology lets us think about controls as protocols, inputs and touch points and lighting systems as networks. Our needs, movements, emotions and mood are all actively translated into lighting environments which can be interpreted, integrated as data.
But as we consider how can architecture be revealed in a way that connects us to our digital interactions we must also consider how can we avoid the negative impacts of a hyper-digital world. Technology and illumination are evolving at ever-faster speeds, but the human eye is not. As experts in the understanding of light’s interaction with people, the lighting designer sits at a critical junction between these forces. It is our responsibility to find beauty in the great well of opportunity and to use technology to create new human experiences.