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Architectural Lighting Calls vs. Theatre Lighting Calls

December 21, 2010


Remember that time when I haven’t worked a theatrical lighting call in a year?  Well, I got a taste of those late-night hours again on Sunday night/Monday morning at my first architectural lighting focus call with Focus Lighting, where we aimed, accessorized, and reprogrammed almost all of the over 150 lighting fixtures at a new bar/restaurant on the Lower East Side between the hours of midnight and 8AM. You know, no big deal.

Despite the odd hours I was thankful for the experience because it was a huge opportunity to observe and learn first-hand how architectural lighting differs from theatrical lighting.  Plus, it really was a ton of fun!

The story was that Focus had been briefly consulted (read: called at the last minute) on the lighting design for this space, and the purpose of this work call was to follow up to ensure the space looked its best with the equipment that was installed.  The restaurant had already opened during the first week of December without having any of their massive number of adjustable accent lights aimed or accessorized by a lighting designer, so, since we couldn’t work during business hours (or during daylight, for that matter, due to the large skylight in the main dining room), we had to start at midnight.

We started to work just as the last few guests were leaving for the night, pulling all of the recessed accent lights out of the ceiling and adding diffusion, color, and louvers to them before replacing them and properly focusing them in their intended locations.  As we found out, almost all of the over 100 of these fixtures were mis-aimed, making the space feel unbalanced and underlit.  We fixed that problem quickly.  Other tasks on our list included refocusing all of the track fixtures in the main dining room, adding color to the effects niches in the same dining room, adding color to the lighted liquor stands behind the bars, and properly readjusting all of the lighting levels with the new colors and accessories in place.  It may seem like a short list, but when you have to maneuver a tall ladder around tables, sofas, and liquor bottles, it takes a bit of time.  We ended up finishing the focus portion of the evening at around 6AM, leaving just enough time before sunrise to reprogram all of the light levels in the restaurant.  One of the Focus staff trained me on the lighting controls and by the end of the night I was setting light levels like a pro!  We ended up leaving the restaurant at 8AM, just as the sun was lighting up the sky in the dining room skylight.

It certainly was a long night, but I learned a ton from the experience, including that architectural lighting focus calls aren’t that much different from their theatrical counterparts.  Aside from the fact that we aren’t responsible for hanging or circuiting the lights, we go in, add color and accessories, aim the lights, and set their dimmer levels — the same types of activities you’d find at a theatre lighting focus call.  They happen in very different venues, obviously, but are otherwise very similar.  The change of scenery, for me, was fun though.  It was fun to know that the changes we were making would be seen by people every day in a venue that wasn’t a theatre.  And look at the pictures — who wouldn’t want to spend a few hours working in a space as nice as that?

Many thanks to Focus designers Josh and Victoria for bringing me along and teaching me throughout the night!  It was great to finally get a hands-on experience that I would never find at school.  Like I’ve told a few people, you need to observe and experience light in a real space to have the knowledge to design with it — theories and principles are great for school, but they won’t develop your eye for design nearly as effectively as will manipulating light firsthand.  I hope I can continue to tag along and assist more in the future!


FRINGE – A Wayfinding Luminaire

December 20, 2010


light lighting luminaire design wayfinding path step recessed wall lamp architecture architectural

Behold, the last project of my first semester of grad school — a recessed wayfinding/path light nicknamed “FRINGE!”

Yes, the name is in all caps for a reason.  Look at it!  It doesn’t just blend into the wall, it screams style and taste! (Or maybe it just screams for attention.) Anyway, for those wondering what a wayfinding/path light is — think step lights on your deck or patio, or those low-voltage stake lights in your garden — it’s a light that evenly illuminates a path indoors or outdoors when there is very little other light present.  This one just happens to be recessed into the wall at about 15 inches off the floor to provide a low level of light for a path or corridor.  So, like I was saying, “FRINGE!”  I think it’s clear that this project is a merger between my theatrical and architectural sensibilities.  When I started the project I knew I didn’t want to design a fixture that just put out an amorphous wash of light; I knew I wanted strict, theatrical control over every lumen in order to deliver something you can’t find anywhere else.  It’s a Ryan Fischer specialty!

The way I went about my design was 100% opposite from the way I did my last luminaire.  Instead of starting with a clear idea of the form of the fixture and then working out the optics from there, I started the design with an image of the light beam and the effect in my head and then designed the light fixture to create that beam pattern.  In a sense, all I’ve really done here is create a theatrical projector.  The light source is a low-voltage 10 watt clear halogen T-3 lamp that is designed with a very small filament, so in essence this lamp provides a  point source of light that can be used to project an image.  By ray tracing the light beam I wanted to create back to the point at which I wanted the filament to sit, I was able to define the aperture of the fixture and then create the rest of the housing from there.

light lighting luminaire design wayfinding path step recessed wall lamp architecture architectural

This project wasn’t about creating an attractive light beam, though; it was about creating a functional, performance-driven luminaire that could be manufactured and used in real situations.  As such, we were required to design the fixture to provide a certain even light level across the center of a path, as well as design it to work indoors or out in a variety of wall materials (wallboard, brick, stone, tile, etc).  We even had to write up installation instructions for it!

It may sound odd, but all those requirements were what made the project fun — we were forced to design a 100% complete fixture that could go into manufacturing and production purely based on the set of drawings and documents we generated.  We were held accountable for listing every piece of metal, knowing how that piece was manufactured and formed, and diagramming how it connected to all the other parts in a logical series of steps.  It was a complex project, but I think the end result was absolutely worth it.

Thanks to my knowledgeable professors I am now thoroughly comfortable with the complete process of designing a luminaire, and I know these skills will be valuable well into the future in designing custom lighting installations.  I think I’ll continue to design fixtures in the near future, too.  It’s a fun skill to have, to be able to develop and fabricate something that can be used to (pun pun pun) light up someone’s day.

In fact, I’ve already gotten a couple of requests from friends to design some custom lamps … and I can’t wait to get started!

Wallpaper* Magazine – An Office Lighting Design Concept

December 10, 2010


Well, after countless concept meetings, critiques, revisions, and long hours in the design studio, I can finally present a collection of renderings of my final Lighting Studio 1 project – an office lighting design! So, let’s get started! For the project, each design team was responsible for choosing a client to design for from a short list developed as a class.  The client my co-designer, Patricia, and I selected was the international design, art, architecture, fashion, and lifestyle magazine, Wallpaper*.

The Concept:

Wallpaper* is a high-style magazine that features design and designed objects from all over the world, so we as the lighting designers wanted these designs and designed objects to take center stage in the company’s theoretical new offices. Read more