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The Importance of Light Sources in Architectural Lighting Design Choices

I have a very interesting view from my apartment.  As you can imagine, since I’m typically only home after the sun goes down to appreciate it, I spend a lot of time gazing at the city, Oklahoma City.  I have a great view of most of downtown from my 13th floor city view condo, and I have large windows that open to air, allowing me to get great unimpeded shots of the entire area.

I take a lot of pictures of downtown Oklahoma City – it is so interesting to me to watch the city go from sunset to artificial light, almost as if it has a beating heart that only comes alive at night.  To watch the buildings flicker alive with their exterior illumination is like watching a giant living, breathing, feeling being come into its own each day as the sun goes to bed.

There is one thing that of course I would notice over all other beauty in my downtown view – poorly maintained architectural lighting.  As such a fan of great design in lighting and architecture, when I see a building that generally has aesthetically pleasing features, and then I see those features slaughtered by poorly maintained exterior lighting.  It’s kinda like falling in love with someone and getting dumped on your tukus for no reason – a major disappointment.  That example might be a wee bit extreme, but I think I get the point across – bad architectural lighting makes a city look ugly.

I think this really comes down to light source choice when planning the exterior illumination design.  As designers, we are responsible (at least in MY head) for choosing lighting that is going to not only support the architecture, but to accentuate it as well.  This comes down to many things overall – and I think one of them is being well versed in the lamp life and longevity of both lamps and fixtures that we choose to add to buildings.  If you choose poorly in your exterior lighting fixture and lamp choices, then your design is going to become the victim of maintenance.

Case in point:  Oklahoma City’s Museum of Art – I have a clear view of the building from my apartment.  What really sucks is that I don’t have a picture of the building with all of the architectural lighting working.  I’ve lived in my apartment since mid-July 2010.  Check out the building illuminated at night:

I’ve been on top of that building – changing the lamps in the architectural lighting atop the museum is not difficult because you can literally walk around and access most of the bases.  However, there have to be several thousand lamps in that design (the lamps are a bit bigger than C-9’s), and changing them what seems to be at least bi-weekly seems to be the only way to have them all work.

Would you say that this lighting design is efficiently using maintenance’s time?

Here’s another look at the structure, this time less of them are burned out:

And another with more lamps out:

Another building in town that has interesting potential (and has a pretty good record for upkeeping the architectural lighting) is the OG&E building in downtown Oklahoma City.  The OG&E building has a large swath of red fixtures lining the top of the building itself – I don’t know if they’re neon or just fluorescent with a red diffuser, but it’s generally an interesting look:

Now here’s the OG&E building when some of its fixtures are out:

Just doesn’t quite look the same, huh.

When you make design choices, always try to take into consideration what your work will look like when it’s not maintained.  I think that the aspect of a poorly maintained lighting design isn’t always taken into consideration – which leads to bigger problems in the end.

Chew on THAT!

Vesa Honkonen’s Lecture at KTH

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Last Thursday I was in attendance at a lecture given by Vesa Honkonen, an architect and lighting designer in Finland – Vesa came to KTH Haninge and gave a lecture on several topics, including art and the commercialization of design.  He was gracious enough to talk to us about several of his projects in recent past, and show us his process – including process sketches, notes, and images of projects in various stages of completion.

I have to admit that this lecture blew my mind open into little nondescript pieces.  We hadn’t started classes yet (we officially started lectures for the first course module last Monday), so it was an incredible start to our program.

The lecture was fantastic, I cannot say that enough – Vesa talked about many topics, but there were two that really rattled the inside of my cranium.  As lighting designers across the world in our respective industries we must consider what is mainstream and what is avant garde.  As ideas and designs that are new and different propagate in the industry and all around us, they’re considered avant garde.  This idea isn’t limited to any industry – it’s about art, design, and anything else subjective.  For example – my wife does amazing things with cascading style sheet programming, and I always consider her ideas and her understanding to be so far above the mainstream thinking that it amazes me every time she tells me about her projects.  At what point does her thinking about CSS become how everyone thinks?  At some point in every industry, in art, and in design, the mainstream thinking is replaced by what was once considered edgy, different, and not mainstream.

Thinking outside of the mainstream and going against the flow is how we progress.  This is not to say that everything mainstream is crap and that we have to find new solutions for everything in existence, but when you create, create.  Do what is best for the solution in your eyes, even if it is different than everything else you see.

This is a small bit of how the whole afternoon lecture with Vesa went – it was great.

He also told a story about Evert Lundquist, a painter and etcher from Sweden.  One day a poor engineer friend of Evert’s discovered him sitting in the dark, alone, in his studio.  The poor engineer friend had come by to visit Evert, and was curious as to why he was sitting alone.  The friend asked Evert, “why are you sitting alone in the dark?”

Evert replied, “I am simply waiting for the light.”

Thank you for your wonderful lecture, Vesa.  Please visit Vesa’s website, Vesa Honkonen Architects – His work is riveting.

Toyo Ito and the Za-Koenji Public Theatre in Tokyo

Toyo in Tokyo – has no one else seen that?  Come on, people.  We can’t let little obvious bits of comedy escape like that!  That’s really where it ends though, because Toyo Ito and his work are both pretty awesome.  He just designed that beautiful fully powered solar stadium for the World Games 2009, and now he’s done a public theatre in Tokyo.  Meet the Za-Koenji Public Theatre:

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From the Za-Koenji Theatre website:

ZA-KOENJI Public Theatre is a theatre for contemporary performing arts. The theatre is funded by the city of Suginami in Tokyo and managed by Creative Theatre Network (CTN), a non-profit organization led by president Ren Saito. The theatre produces, presents and supports a wide range of cultural activities for the community of Suginami, enabling people of all ages to see and take part in many art forms from drama and dance to music and storytelling.Director and playwright Makoto Sato, is the Artistic Director. His vision is for ZA-KOENJI to become a forum or Agora; a meeting point where the communities of Suginami can come together with local, national and international artists.

That daylighting shot in there is amazing to me. Using the available resources (ie, THE SUN) as an architectural and artistic form is exactly what we should be doing.  More pics:

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koenji theatre tokyo toyo ito

Check out the Za-Koenji Public Theatre’s website.

Thanks, Coolboom!

An Architect’s Perspective On Rendering?

I just read a post at Young Architect about rendering – more specifically, the article was stating that rendering is something that should be “avoided at all cost.”  I am a bit shocked by the post – not because of the concept that rendering is difficult, but because you wouldn’t render your design or architecture because rendering is time-consuming and difficult.  Being a lighting designer, for example, I cannot imagine going to a client with a light plot and telling that client their project will be illuminated. I doubt I’d get any clients if I couldn’t (or just refused to) communicate what a design looks like without showing them through some kind of rendering.

I learn things about my design when I render – I fix things when I create renderings.  Most times I am able to perfect and clarify my design through doing the renderings.  Communicating, whether you’re a designer, architect, engineer, or some other derivation of these, is part of your job.  Communicating and collaborating.

I won’t launch a diatribe about this subject – but I am really, really curious about your thoughts on it.  Read the article at Young Architect, and let me know what you think – post below in the comments, please!

The Paperfold Lamp Series

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These lamps come in some live colors.  A Swedish  architecture firm, Kjellgren Kaminsky Architecture, has created the Paperfold Lamp series – a series of lamps made from a simple folded paper design, with other simple alterations made to the fold.  The lamps come in CMYK colors (K means black, in case you didn’t know, or couldn’t discern it from the pictures) and have a few forms – desk lamps, floor lamps, and table lamps.

The story behind the Paperfold Lamp is just nice – it’s a grandmother story:

It all really started with a strong woman, my grandma. Astrid was one of Sweden’s first teachers in sewing. She sewed the first clothes I wore and introduced me to form and design, she told me how to make beautiful clothes out of simple paper templates. The Paperfold series comprises six lamps each deriving from the same idea. They come in black and three primary colors; cyan, magenta and amber.

The designers of the Paperfold lamp are Fredrik Kjellgren, Daniel Andersson, Joakim Kaminsky and Ola Frödell.

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Thanks, Yanko and Kjellgren Kaminsky!