December 20, 2010
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.
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!