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Parsons, Week 2: Designing With A New Set of Tools

September 12, 2010


Let’s just say that I have been coloring with crayons all my life – over the past ten years of my life I’ve become an expert color-er and have successfully mastered the fine art of the crayon. Then, one day, I move to a new city, start at a new school, and someone hands me a box of markers and says, “now color with these!” … That’s about where I’m at right now.

My classes over the past two weeks, particularly Luminaire Design and Principles of Lighting, have opened my eyes to the plethora of new tools I have at my disposal when it comes to lighting design. No longer am I restricted to just theatrical luminaires – I now have incandescents and fluorescents, low voltage and HID (High Intensity Discharge), as well as the newest class of solid-state lighting, LED’s (Light-Emitting Diodes). Did I lose anyone? Hang in there, I’m just as overwhelmed as you. Luckily, all architectural lighting fixtures fit into one of these five major categories; unfortunately, however, within each category there are thousands upon thousands of fixtures, from hundreds of manufacturers worldwide, from which to choose.

I realize my shock probably stems from the fact that I am, essentially, starting from scratch to learn about a brand new industry. Yes, I have a lighting background, but theatre is an entirely different animal. I have spent years learning which theatre lighting fixtures, manufacturers, and suppliers to trust, and now I have to start that process all over again. The same goes for lighting leaders – notable professionals – in the industry. I have gotten to the point in my theatre career where I have a decent knowledge of who to watch and who to work with, but again, the field of architectural lighting has ripped the lid off my tightly-sealed container of contacts. I have already joined a number of industry organizations, such as the IES and the DLFNY, in order to try to narrow down the field, but even those are a bit overwhelming. I have to look at these as challenges, though, not as barriers. I’ve just got to start meeting people and learning names, which I’m already making plans to do!

Despite these challenges, though, I’m learning a lot from my classes so far. I’ve started learning how different sources (lamps) are designed to turn electricity into the visible energy we call light, how our eyes react to light in different quantities and environments, and how luminaires are designed to evenly distribute light. As a result I’ve already started noticing light around me even more than before. Now that I know how everyday architectural fixtures are designed to work, I can really analyze: is that the best source for this application? Is that fixture in the right position to maximize its distribution? Does that luminaire produce too much glare? Why hasn’t someone changed that lamp!?

Another interesting lesson I’ve learned from classes is how much more precise architectural lighting is than theatrical lighting. The other day in Principles of Lighting we broke out the handy-dandy light meters to learn how to measure light. Imagine that! I’ve been using my eye all this time to judge the brightness of a scene, when I could have had a small computer with an attached photosensor do it for me! We learned how to measure (prepare yourself) luminance, illuminance, luminous flux, luminous intensity, and reflectivity in lumens, lux, footcandles, candela. I promise I didn’t make any of those words up. Yes, apparently light can be measured in mathematical terms, and apparently we require different amounts of light for performing different tasks, depending on our age. Fun fact: a 60-year-old requires 40% more light than a 20-year-old in order to see the same task. Long story short, grad school is slowly resuscitating my math skills one day at a time, which I guess isn’t a terrible thing.

As far as my design education is going so far, the jury is still out on that one. As I learned this summer, studio classes are very much a trial-by-fire experience, and since my first lighting studio project isn’t due until Wednesday, I haven’t had a long enough trial period to examine what I’ve learned so far. I’m excited about the project though. It’s unlike any other lighting project that I’ve done, which is refreshing, and it’s more of an exploration of light than a statement about it, which leaves it very open to our own personal interpretation and examination. Stay tuned for pictures and updates about that later this week!

I think that’s all for now. Despite having very few classes due to holidays it was still an exhausting and educational week! Again, please feel free to leave comments (or just say hi) in the comments section below, or contact me via my Twitter account (@fischerlighting) or e-mail address ( Hope everyone had a chance to get outside and enjoy the beautiful fall-like weather this weekend!


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