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Learning Lighting Controls at Lutron

October 30, 2010

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Lutron Light Lighting Control

We’ve certainly come a long way from the simple on/off light switch.  Our class visit to Lutron, known for their switches, dimmers, and daylight control systems, in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania proved that controlling the light in your home or office is just as important as having light there in the first place!

Fun facts about Lutron:

  1. Joel Spira, founder of Lutron, invented the first sold-state (energy-efficient) household dimmer in 1962!
  2. Lutron develops controls both for electric lighting – switches, dimmers, etc. – and daylighting in the form of motorized shades and curtains.
  3. If you don’t believe fluorescent lights are dimmable, just ask them — they’ve been doing it for 35 years.

I’m sure if you’ve ever been to a Home Depot or other big box store you have seen their wall-o-dimmers in the electrical aisle.  You might even have some installed in your home or office right now.  What you may not know, though, is that their newest dimmers and controls can turn your home or office into a sentient being — yes, I’m talking about smart lighting! (Dun dun dunnnnnn.)

Imagine every light fixture, light switch, or dimmer being able to talk to every other one in your home or office. Imagine that you can press one button to turn on the lights in your home — before you even pull into the driveway.  Imagine that you can set “moods” with your lighting, for dining, parties, or watching a movie.  Imagine being able to close all of the window shades in your home at the same time.  Imagine controlling all of this from your phone or mobile device.  This isn’t the future — they can make all of this happen today!

Lutron home light lighting control

The representatives at Lutron demonstrated all of this to us in their Residential Experience center, a life-size model of a high-end home, complete with kitchen, bedroom, living room, and home theatre.  Remote controls, wall button panels, a cell phone, and even an iPad were used to control all of the lighting in the house.  At one point we were all set free to explore the house and play with the controls.  I wish I had taken a video — lights were turning on and off, window shades were going up and down — it was like the house had a mind of its own!  One of the more eye-catching “toys” we could play with was an iPad application that allowed you to turn lights on and off in a room by touching a photo of the room — touch the pendant light in the photo of the living room, and the pendant magically turns on — maybe a bit overkill, but very futuristic.

After the Residential Experience center we were taken over to the research and engineering building to the Commercial Experience center — it was like visiting different rides at Disneyland!  There the representatives demonstrated for us the systems Lutron has engineered to control whole commercial buildings, while at the same time providing significant energy savings.  Did you know, for example that by installing occupancy sensors to turn off the lights in your office after everyone goes home for the night, you can save over 50% on your company’s annual electric bill?  Occupancy sensors, then, in combination with other Lutron offerings such as daylight harvesting, personal lighting control, controllable window shades, and lighting scheduling can save you even more!  Lutron’s systems also allow building engineers to fine tune the lighting system throughout a building by, for instance, dimming all of the lighting in the building by a small percentage.  Most people won’t consciously notice a change of 5-10% in intensity over an entire lighting system, and the benefits can be substantial — huge energy savings and double the lamp life for every lamp in the building (yes, you heard that correctly).  Who wouldn’t want those kinds of benefits, especially today?

So, after all of the time we have spent learning about light sources and lighting design so far this semester, it was very helpful, and fun, to learn something about lighting controls, especially since they are so crucial to the success of any design.  The same can be said of theatre, too, where controlling focus and intensity is crucial to the mood and flow of a show.  The Lutron rep, in an explanation of the residential control system told us that the idea to program certain “presets” or “scenes” into a lighting system is actually a theatrical concept, however, for most residential clients they prefer to use less technical terms in favor of ones like “moods” or “feelings.”  How fun would it be to program the lighting in someone’s home to behave like a play or musical — fading lights up and down at just the right moments, accentuating the mood and rhythm of daily life?  I know one thing — when I buy a house and you come over to visit, you’d better be prepared for a show!

Lutron Lighting Control Lamp DimmerFor now though, I’ll have to settle for lighting on a much smaller scale in my New York City apartment.  On the bright side (no pun intended), everyone in our class walked away from the visit with a free Lutron plug-in lamp dimmer — the perfect start to setting the mood at home.  Hey, I’ve gotta start somewhere, right?  You’d be surprised how much impact one small dimmer can have on a room, though.  This one works perfectly for my bedroom plug-in pendant lamp; I can now fade the lights up or down in my room without even getting out of bed!  Now that’s what I call energy savings!

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Big, Expensive Lighting Photometry Tools at LTL

October 28, 2010

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Lighting designers — ever wonder where those photometric reports, that tell you the intensity and light distribution of a lamp or luminaire, actually come from?  It’s all done on this machine: a goniophotometer.

light lighting photometry goniophotometer luminaire testing

It’s one of a select few located in the United States, and our lighting studio class took a field trip to Allentown, PA, to the offices of Luminaire Testing Laboratories (LTL), to find it.  In simple terms, this machine measures the light output of a lamp or luminaire in one direction by bouncing light off of this enormous mirror (that rotates 360 degrees around the light source), into a photosensor at the opposite end of the room.

Why so complicated, you ask?  Well, the rule for photometering (measuring) the output of a light source is the measurement must be taken from a distance of at least five times the length of the source.  That way, to the photosensor, all of the light appears to come from one point on the mirror.  Without this machine the testing lab would have to be five times as large to accomodate that distance for some of the bigger luminaires.

At any rate, it’s a very expensive, heavy duty machine that’s fun to watch as it spins around.  Here’s a video:

Apparently this lab only conducts five to seven tests on it per day.  As this is one of the primary lighting testing labs in the country, I can only imagine what their calendar looks like!

The other large piece of equipment in the lab used to photometer lamps and luminaires is the integrating sphere.

Light Lighting Photometry "Integrating Sphere" Luminaire Lamp Testing

It measures all of the light emanating from a lamp or luminaire in every direction at once — this defines the lumen output of the source.  A lumen, for those who don’t know, is a measure of the power of light perceived by the human eye.

The sphere is perfectly round and coated with a highly reflective white paint on the inside.  Each lamp or luminaire, then, is rigged in the center of the sphere, the two halves of the sphere are rolled and locked together, and since all of the light bounces evenly around inside of the sphere, a measurement can be taken from a single photosensor mounted in the side of it.  The number of tests done on this machine in a day varies, because each lamp has to heat up to a stabilized temperature before it can be measured.  Depending on the type of lamp this can take anywhere from minutes to hours.

Sadly one of the lab’s spheres was damaged due to one luminaire that leaked grease on the inside of the sphere after heating up.  The sphere is so big that they had to cut a hole in the drywall to get it out of the room to ship it out to be re-coated.  That’s one costly mistake to repair, as a single integrating sphere of this size can cost as much as $25,000!

The trip was certainly a learning experience in the more technical and engineering sides of lighting.  A special thanks to the staff of Luminaire Testing Labs for letting us visit!

“Broken Window” and “Scattered Light” — Light Installations in Madison Square Park

October 26, 2010

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Jim Campell Broken Window Light Installation Madison Square Park New York NYC

As much as I may gripe about Manhattan and New York City, there is one distinct advantage to living here — the artistic community.  There are few other places in the world where one can observe such an impressive collection of art of all kinds.  Yes, the museums are a tremendous influence on the art scene here, and are one of the reasons such an active art community exists; however, my favorite kind of art on view here can be seen by just walking down the street.  The public and outdoor art of New York City is such a treat to run across.  It infiltrates the environment, it catches you off-guard, and it makes you stop – a small feat in itself in this city – and think.

The newest additions to this scene, and to the twilight landscape of the city, are courtesy of Jim Campell, a highly-awarded new-media artist from San Francisco.  His first work, “Broken Window” sits near the South entrance of Madison Square Park.  It is a low-resolution video wall, only about 7 feet high, faced with frosted glass bricks, displaying video of what appears to be one of the adjacent streets during the day, with pedestrians, cars, taxis, and trucks intermittently crossing the field of view.  Although the scene is immediately familiar, the the juxtaposition of the daylit scene against the nighttime landscape immediately pulls the viewer in, and the slight blur makes it seem almost dream-like.  I stood watching the scene for a good few minutes, just waiting to see what crossed into the frame next.

Scattered Light

Continuing on deeper into the park, floating delicately above the Oval Lawn, “Scattered Light” is not nearly as bright or compact as “Broken Window,” but it has just as magnetic a pull.  The nearly 2,000 LED bulbs suspended in space quietly twinkle against the darkness while the city roars on just beyond the treeline, creating a peaceful nighttime spectacle to enjoy on a cool fall night.  Approaching from the North or South, or at any angle to the installation, the points of light appear to float in a random order in space, twinkling like the stars in the sky.  Move around the sculpture to the East or West, however, and order suddenly emerges from the chaos — the twinkling patterns are formed by the shadows of people crossing through the sculpture as if it weren’t there at all!  The random patterns of light and dark become defined by the random patterns of Manhattan foot traffic, reflecting the surrounding landscape and echoing the sentiments of “Broken Window” at the entrance to the park.

These are complex effects to describe or try to capture in a photograph, so I have included a short video of both installations for those who can’t see them in person.  If you live in New York City, though, I highly encourage you to visit, even if Madison Square Park is a bit out of your way.  It energizes and inspires me to see a lighting installation in such a prominent public setting — I hope the trend continues!  Enjoy!

Forced Perspective: A Lighting Design and Installation

October 20, 2010

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Voila — my lighting installation for the second lighting studio project of the year!

Welcome to the Parsons Gallery, a multi-function space in the Parsons building that serves as a gallery, lobby for the School of Constructed Environments, and, after hours, a reception area for lectures and events.  Our mission for this project was to design at human-scale, given that our last project was on a much smaller, theoretical scale, by reimagining the lighting design for a small area or corner of the Parsons building.  My partner, Kyle, and I chose this space for the challenge of addressing all three situations, focusing on the situation of the after-hours events during which the space relies completely on electric lighting.

We noted that the existing lighting for the space, as demonstrated in the photo below, was not well-maintained or appropriately planned for evening illumination.  The existing track fixtures, for example, each had a different type and wattage lamp installed — completely inappropriate for a display space.  In addition, the fixtures were cross-focused to the opposite wall, creating glare for anyone viewing the projects from the center of the room.

Also, the kitchen area at the end of the room had been especially neglected by the existing lighting scheme, leaving it in almost complete darkness compared to the rest of the space.  Due to the fact that this kitchen is not only a primary gathering spot during receptions but an art piece in its own right (designed and built by an alum, it folds up and rolls away during the day), this deficiency had to be remedied.

In devising a solution for these problems, we also wanted to address a few others along the way.   Usually, during after-hours events, a lecture is held in the adjacent classroom (directly behind where the photo is taken from), and afterwards everyone adjourns to the this space for food and drinks.   Aside from the food waiting in the kitchen, we wanted to provide another motive for people to move down the long, narrow room as well, to increase circulation through the space and to ease traffic flow at the kitchen — all using light.  Our intervention would have to be subtle enough not to detract from the projects in the gallery but still have enough impact to move people through the space, all while enhancing the social atmosphere of the space — hey, it’s a party space, people should look good while they’re in it.

Our design concept was twofold: 1) to evenly illuminate the display walls and eliminate their glare factor (by unifying their lamps and spinning them 180 towards the appropriate walls), and 2) to install a low intensity, graphic line of light down the center of the space to draw people down the length of the room and direct some focus towards the kitchen area.  The catch was that this line of light was going to descend in elevation towards the windows, forcing an increased illusion of perspective and depth, pulling people into the space while making it seem more intimate by lowering the perceived ceiling plane.  This effect would work double duty, too, as this would draw people down the hallway during the day as well, towards the main SCE offices at the end of the room on the right, or, inversely, propel them towards the entrance studios when entering from the elevator at the end of the room to the left, directly across from the main office.  This “division” of the space, I theorized, would also force approaching visitors entering the space to look either left or right towards the projects, the line of light forcing the brain to make a decision.  It would be essential, however, to keep the intensity of this graphic as low as possible so not to provide excess illumination in the center of the room where it would pull focus from the walls.

After finalizing our intentions, we began to flesh out our ideas in sketches and preliminary renderings.  This is an early rendering of our concept I created in Photoshop using the “before” photo, conveying a general sense of our concept and the sense of focus we wanted to bring to the space:

We then spent a great amount of time taking fixtures and equipment into the actual space, trying out different ideas and observing what worked and what didn’t.  Of course, we wouldn’t always have this luxury when working on a real design project, but it was helpful in this case to observe how certain luminaires would behave in our space.

Eventually once we progressed further in our designs, we took our ideas into the 3D realm using the lighting rendering software AGI32, building a 3D model of the space and inserting our ideas into it using actual fixtures.  Once we generated a few renders with the software I then took them into Photoshop for a bit more cleaning up:

Finally, then, as it came down to crunch time and our ideas began to be finalized, we began to start constructing our fixtures for the actual installation.  We ended up deciding that we would need to build custom fixtures for our design in order to achieve the specific look that we wanted, so I dove in head first, cranking out a total of ten fixtures in two days.

We set a bit of an expedited schedule for ourselves, aiming to have everything installed for one of the evening events the Thursday before the Monday that the project was due.  Why?  That Thursday’s evening guest lecturer was going to be none other than Jonathan Speirs of the highly-decorated UK lighting firm Speirs and Major (whose visit I wrote about last week) — we really had no choice, we had to get it done by then.

It was a close race, but this was the final product as it appeared a mere half hour before Mr. Speirs’ scheduled lecture:

I learned a lot from the process, especially because it was technically my first “architectural” design — I learned more about how the design and review process works, I learned a bit of software (and its limitations), I experimented with some gear (pardon the theatre term), I implemented some things I learned from my Luminaire Design class, and I learned how to think about designing for a space that wasn’t a theatre!  Ironically my partner, Kyle, also had a theatre background, so we had to fight some of those urges, but I will definitely take what I’ve learned here on to our next, and final, project of the semester, which will be on an even larger scale!

As a special treat for all of you who have made it to the end of this lengthy post, here is a brief video tour of the project.  Enjoy!

Light and Storytelling

October 15, 2010

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I’ve figured it out.  A month and a half into grad school I’ve finally realized what’s been missing from my lighting education (and my life).  I’ve felt something has been missing from my lighting studies ever since I arrived here in New York.  I don’t know why I haven’t been able to pinpoint it until now, but now that I have I feel such a sense of clarity! It all makes sense!

My lighting has been lacking a story.

I first noticed a glimmer of this a few months ago as I was sitting in a dark auditorium at The New School, listening to convocation speeches from notable alumni.  This particular group of alumni had been gathered to commemorate the start of classes at the School of Constructed Environments (which includes the architectural, lighting, interior, and product design programs) through a presentation of their career successes and notable projects for the faculty and new students.  The catch, which was cleverly designed to prevent marathon portfolio presentations, was that the evening was going to follow the Pecha Kucha format, with each presenter being limited to 20 slides, each displayed for a maximum of 20 seconds.  I had never heard of such an event before, but the idea intrigued me, so a few of my lighting classmates and I decided to attend.

An hour and a half later in the auditorium, having heard from only five out of the ten presenters, all of whom so far were architects or architectural consultants, I was supremely regretting that decision.  Apparently none of those five people got the “20 seconds” memo, and so they sat on each slide, dryly discussing the work on it in overly-elaborate detail, for at least five minutes (and usually longer).  Lesson learned: never give an architect a microphone.

As drained as I was by that time, though, I was determined to sit through the presentations long enough to hear one speaker in particular: Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting in New York City.  I had already done a good amount of research on the award-winning lighting design firm in the past because of its connections to the theatrical lighting design community, so I was determined to hear from its founder and principal designer.

Let me tell you, Mr. Gregory did not disappoint.  He was not only the first (and only) of the presenters to adhere to the strict presentation formatting challenge that night, his presentation was the most compelling, informative, and fun!  It ebbed and flowed, quickened and slowed, instigated laughter, and elicited emotion, flying by quicker than the blink of an eye but lasting ten times as long in the memory. So what made his presentation so different from the others (aside from the pace)? He told a story. He told the story of how he came to love lighting and the theatre at an early age and how he used the skills he learned as a theatrical designer to successfully transition to the world of architectural lighting, succinctly, with passion and a great sense of humor!

I remember thinking to myself, “thank God theatre people know how to tell stories!”

Fast forward a month and a half and I find myself sitting in another dark room, staring at a projection screen, awaiting a presentation from an industry professional – only this time I know exactly what I’m in for.  I’m awaiting a presentation from Jonathan Speirs of the internationally-ranked, highly-awarded UK lighting firm Speirs and Major about lighting design and some of his firm’s recent works. Again, I wasn’t disappointed.

Jonathan began his presentation, “we like to tell stories with light.”  At first I was surprised, as his background was primarily in architecture, not theatre.  He certainly proved himself atypical of the architect-type, though, illustrating and describing each project for the audience beautifully, telling a story of how each project came to fruition, and demonstrating for us the exact slides he used to present the story of the proposed lighting design to the client. At every turn, too, he would stop to tell a small anecdote about a meeting with a high-profile client, or a design decision that changed dramatically on short notice, all the while progressing fluidly through his images and photos, keeping the audience engaged and entertained for over 90 minutes.

Just to give you a taste, the design for his concluding project, The Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi (for which his firm won one of the most prestigious awards in lighting design, the IALD Radiance Award) was impressive not only for its sheer massive scale, but for its use of storytelling in illuminating the structure.  The exterior illumination of the mosque, opting against a uniform appearance, has the unique textural quality of clouds slowly drifting by, a feat accomplished by thousands of projectors covering the entire surface of the mosque.  The clouds are not just flowing in any direction, however; they always move in the direction of Mecca, the holiest of all Muslim sites and the direction of prayer for Muslims.  In addition, the color of the clouds flowing across the structure mirrors the phases of the moon (a highly important element of Muslim religious tradition), fading from a pristine white during a full moon to a deeply saturated blue as the moon waxes and wanes over its 28-day cycle.  Thus, the illumination of the building is constantly in motion, telling a story of the mosque, it’s location, and the Muslim faith.  It’s quite a moving project (no pun intended).

After Jonathan’s presentation it hit me like a ton of bricks – I’ve been missing the chance to tell a story with my lighting, like I used to when I was designing for theatre.  Lighting is such an integral part of the story in theatre that its storytelling abilities are often taken for granted; yet having spent the past seven weeks in architecture school I realize just how much it really is taken for granted in the often conceptually-static world of architecture.  I’ve somehow lost that storytelling mindset in favor of a static, single-shot thought process.  I need to remember where I’ve come from.

Lighting for architecture can reveal a form just like lighting for theatre or dance.  It can fade in and out, reveal a detail here, a form there, entice you inside, make you take a second look, or simply open your eyes and your mind to the feeling of being alive.  There’s no reason a design can’t have an elaborate story behind it – in fact, I think it results in a stronger outcome.

From now on I’m going to make it my duty to remember where I’ve come from and how my background can inform my design process.  I want to bring the same passion and energy to my architectural lighting as I have when I’m cueing in a tightly-choreographed lighting sequence in a theatre.  I want to live in the moment that the light first hits your eye after the house lights dim out, and the moment after the final lighting cue has faded to black.  I want to hear the music and see the dance in my work, and I want others to see it too.

I want to tell a story with light … because that is what makes me happy.

What makes you happy?

Luminaire Design: Constructing a Reflector

October 5, 2010

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I was reminded this morning during class that, in the rush of everything going on in the studio last week, I forgot to write about the reflectors we designed and tested in Luminaire Design last Tuesday!  I just had to share this project because it was such a great learning experience, and a unique one at that.  I promise I won’t get too technical … I just wanted to share our results because it was such a fascinating insight into something that you run across almost every day, probably without even realizing it.  Have recessed lights in the ceiling of your house/office/apartment?  Each one has a reflector specifically designed to direct the light into your room!

I’ll start off with a picture of something shiny to keep your attention – my group’s finished reflector.  We spent a total of one class (that’s three hours) two weeks ago learning how these reflectors work in downlights (recessed lights) from the VP of Engineering at Edison Price, a man who is not afraid of formulas, calculations, and spreadsheets.  He started off class at 9AM by explaining how to mathematically derive the profile curve of a reflector using said formulas, calculations, and spreadsheets – most of which flew over our heads at such an early hour of the morning – and before we knew it the class was over and we were assigned to design our first downlight reflectors on our own!  Luckily, he left his lecture notes behind for us to follow as we all individually designed our curves to distribute light evenly on the floor.

Fast forward a week, and we all have our reflectors analyzed by our professor, Scott, learning where we can improve, etc.  Next, we are all divided into groups to choose one person’s reflector to design and test for the next class.  Our group chose a design based on a lamp type and reflector design that was drastically different from the other groups.  Needless to say, it wasn’t mine … I chose the good old fashioned A lamp (the common “light bulb”). Oh well!

Our group reflector design was now based around a 20W G4 Bi-Pin Halogen (a bright little lamp about the size of your thumbnail) with an aperture opening of 4 inches.  Thanks to our trusty friends AutoCAD, CNC laser cutters (so cool), and adhesive mylar (the shiny, reflective material), our group printed and assembled our design in less than three hours, and you saw the results of our labor in the photo above.  How did it perform, you ask? Well, that was the most interesting part of the whole project: testing our prototypes.

For the testing we temporarily turned the Parsons light lab into our light metering facility.  You can see the basic setup here, where we positioned a light meter approximately five feet away from the reflector (we would compensate for the short distance with simple math), and measured the luminous flux (lumen output) of the reflector every 10 degrees radiating out from the center line of the reflector (imagine that the long metal beam holding our light meter rotates on a hinge positioned directly above the reflector).  We entered each value into a chart and then rotated the reflector onto a different axis to do the same thing, ending up with three axes of data for our designs (0, 45, and 90 degrees).  Scott then entered the data into an analysis program to generate charts like these for each group.

In short, this luminance distribution curve (values along the top are in lumens) tells us is that we have designed a narrow beam spotlight (most of the light is generated between zero and 20° off-axis), and that we still have some work to do to create a symmetrical reflector.  If our reflector had truly been symmetrical, the three separate curves would all be lined up, however, most of this was probably due to our manufacturing and assembly processes, which were less than … precise.  At any rate, it’s incredible to have this kind of factual data to support our design, as this is the same kind of data available for any other kind of reflector or lamp out there.  For those who are not as fond of reading charts (like me), here are some photos of the final results.

In the end our design was quite successful, despite some heat management issues (hot lamp + cardboard = sad Smokey the Bear).  Scott pointed out that to improve our design, we could have cut off some of the direct light from the lamp (seen above as the dimmer “halo”  around the bright, center beam) by placing a smaller aperture opening in front of the reflector (a donut, in theatrical terms).  We, then, would have had a very bright, narrow beam spotlight!

Overall it was a fantastic experience, if not a bit of trial-by-fire, learning how the optics of a reflector work and having a chance to design and test our own, as that information informs the basis of almost every type of commercially-available fixture out there! Heck, it even applies to theatrical fixtures!  How cool is that?  That’s right: pretty cool.

Hopefully I didn’t lose anybody along the way in my most technical of posts so far; but if you nodded off I won’t be offended … I’ll just shine a bright light in your eyes!  You know I can do it!

Light Art in NYC: Nuit Blanche Festival 2010

October 4, 2010

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Here’s a quick video tour from the first-ever NYC Nuit Blanche festival, set on the industrial waterfront of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  “Nuit Blanche,” literally meaning “white night” in French, is an annual all-night arts festival that has its roots in cities such at Paris, St. Petersburg, and Berlin, typically involving light as one of the main artistic mediums.

New York’s first festival, entitled “Bring to Light,” was well attended, turning the small neighborhood of Greenpoint into one large, open-air nighttime gallery.  Neighboring craft and artist workshops opened their doors to the festival as well, providing venues for some of the larger light installations as well as a unique look into the local arts community.  Most displays could be found outdoors, however, lining the closed-off streets (and engulfing a local playground).

The main attraction this year seemed to be projections, with over half of the displays involving a laptop computer and one to four projectors.  Given the availability (and portability) of the technology, it wasn’t really a surprise to see, I just wished that there had been more exhibits utilizing other light sources, to give the festival some variety.  In my opinion, one of the installations (shown in the video above) really transcended the technology and light source behind it to create a visually interesting, thought provoking display.  I’ll let you guess which one it was!

I certainly hope the festival is revived again next year, but on an even larger scale.  New York City has such a large artist (and lighting) community that an event like this could be ten times bigger if planned and advertised well in advance.  After having had a chance to see the installations this year I might even consider displaying something next year!  I could have brought my first studio project to display; it would have fit right in!

A Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Met with IESNY

October 3, 2010

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You’d think that as a student of lighting design that I live and work in the best possible lighting conditions every day, and that I don’t mind working for long periods of time because of my perfectly illuminated surroundings.  That’s what I thought would happen too.  Moving to New York, I thought to myself: no longer will I have to spend hours upon hours in a dark theatre for weeks at a time!  I will finally be able to enjoy the sunlight and fresh air!  Well, you can see where this is going.

I will say that I have made every effort to light my home environment as well as I possibly can, and I’m actually quite happy with it.  The design studio I work in is also, for the most part, well lit.  A problem arises, though, when those are the only two environments I see during the week, and I see no more daylight than the stagehands working on Broadway.

Needless to say, whenever I get a chance to get out of the design studio and explore the city, I jump at the chance!

On Friday night I got that chance, when the Illuminating Engineering Society of New York (IESNY) offered Parsons lighting students the chance to attend a tour of the American wing of the Met given by the lighting designer, Eileen Pierce of Renfro Design Group, in exchange for a bit of volunteer work checking people in at the event.  Meet new people in the lighting industry and visit one of the top museums in the city? Yes, please!

I was put in charge of holding up the IES sign in the foyer to indicate to members where our group was meeting for the tour.

Of course I did an excellent job doing so, although a few of my classmates and I thought that our sign needed to attract a bit more attention, so we quickly provided it with additional illumination.  Next time we’re making a better sign, and you’d better believe it’ll light up like an airport runway!

Anyway, after I was relieved of my signpost duties the group of about forty of us divided into two, with half going to the bar first while the other half took the tour with Eileen.  As luck would have it, I ended up at the bar first.

After a few laughs and some good conversation with some new (and some familiar) faces, and with everyone loosened up a bit, we finished our drinks and met with Eileen in the American Wing Courtyard.

For those that have never been, the American Wing Courtyard is an enormous six-story tall open indoor gallery space housing some of the larger sculptures, a few stained glass windows, and the complete facade of a Neo-Classical bank building.  It’s an impressive space to say the least, and it was fascinating to hear Eileen speak about the challenges of lighting it.

One of the features she spoke of was how she accomplished lighting the new cafe space on the ground floor, which was created by the addition of an intermediary level of the gallery between the ground floor and the second (now third) level.  Apparently, during the construction phase of that new level, workers hung a white sheet above the cafe to simulate the height of the new space for museum staffers.  One day, while Eileen was visiting the site, the setting sun hit the sheet in such a way that it brilliantly lit up the cafe space below, and the idea stuck (or struck)!  Now the ceiling of the cafe is illuminated with color-changing LEDs that match the colors of the sunlight throughout the day until sunset.  Amazing how that works, isn’t it?

Another design challenge Eileen spoke of was how to light the many statues situated in the middle of the courtyard, with only five stories of air between them and the glazed ceiling.  The solution for this challenge was actually quite interesting, as it involved a combination of architectural and theatrical gear.  The fixtures most up to the task of the long throw turned out to be Very Narrow Spot (VNSP, for those in the theatre lingo) PAR64 fixtures, which aren’t all that uncommon in architectural settings.  The real challenge was figuring out a place to hang them that was elevated enough to provide the appropriate lighting angles, but still accessible enough for the Met staff to relamp and refocus them.  The solution came in the form of a truss system that can be lowered to the ground on electric winches so the staff can change lamps.  How do they refocus the lights once they have returned to their lofty perch?  Well, each fixture is mounted on an Apollo Right Arm, a DMX-controlled yoke (and common theatrical lighting accessory) that essentially turns each lamp into a moving light, controlled by an ETC theatrical lighting console.  It was a simple solution for a very complex problem using primarily theatrical gear.  I guess it’s not so bad to know something about theatre in this business after all!  I’ll have to drop off my business card at the Met the next time I visit …

After the tour was over we had a chance to explore the galleries on our own, to see more of Eileen’s design firsthand.  Personally, I could spend days there just wandering through everything, which I hope to do at some point in the future.  Unfortunately we had to move quickly before the museum closed for the night.  Here’s one fun room that I managed to discover a few minutes before closing: the open storage rooms!

If I had to pick one thing, I would say the most exciting part about the night was just getting to meet new people with similar interests and goals, sharing some drinks, fine art, architecture, and lighting.  It was fascinating to listen and participate in the discussion that unfolded during the tour as well, because I could tell, from the form of their questions, that every other person in the room, regardless of their experience level or place of work, was just as passionate about lighting as I am — and that’s a very good sign.  I’m very much looking forward to more events like this in the future; more chances to explore the city, to meet new people, and to learn what about lighting inspires them.  I can reassure you, that’s never a boring conversation.