Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Parsons’ Category

Lessons from Architecture School – Separation of Ego and Debate

March 2, 2013


architecture crit critique school

Architecture school critique sessions, or “crits” as they’re lovingly known — love ’em or hate ’em, they were always a learning experience .  I found that there was something incredibly engaging and accessible about throwing all of your ideas and work up on a wall and having colleagues and mentors offer feedback.  It was a win/win: the presenters got got to practice their presentation skills and received fresh insights into their work, and the critics got to practice verbally articulating their constructive criticisms.  While nerve-wracking at times, I always came out of them with notebook pages full of interesting and exciting new ideas.

The challenge of crits wasn’t usually the presentation, though; it was the actual “critique” session, which, as the word implies, wasn’t meant to be a smile-and-a-pat-on-the-back affair.  No, architecture school crits are notorious for making stressed, overtired, vulnerable students bawl uncontrollably by their conclusion.  But that wasn’t the point.  Not even close to it, actually.   Read more

Announcement: My New Job!

August 28, 2011


Big news!

I have officially accepted a job offer at Focus Lighting in New York City!  After several months spent interning there this summer, I have made the decision to take a leave of absence from the MFA Lighting Design program at Parsons the New School for Design and pursue my love of lighting with the team at Focus Lighting.  I’m really excited about the opportunity and I’m looking forward to the experience of working with such a talented group of people.  I want to send my sincere and heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped me to get to this point (you know who you are).

focus lighting architectural design new york

Read more

A Lighting Design for a 24/7 Student Center

May 22, 2011


daylighting electric lighting light design rendering architecture architectural

After months of non-stop work I’m happy to report that I’m officially halfway done with grad school! Hooray! I present to you here the reason for my apparent disappearance off the face of the Earth, my final Lighting Studio 2 project, a daylighting and electric lighting design for a 24/7 student center. This was an absolutely enormous project that involved not only lighting a building but designing that building, architecturally, from the ground up.  The entire project was completed in just over 10 weeks.

Read more

The Importance of Handling Light

April 16, 2011


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my experience with light has changed since moving from theatrical lighting design to architectural lighting design.  I’m three weeks away from finishing my first year of two in the Parsons MFA program in Lighting Design, and after spending increasingly long hours in the studio working seven days a week to finish all of the work left before my final presentation I finally got the chance to get some perspective the other day by (gasp!) getting out into the daylight.

As a part of our final studio projects we were assigned to build a 3/8″ scale model of the student center for which we are designing the daylighting, so that we could take it outside and measure its performance under real conditions.  This past Friday, after several weeks of planning and construction, the model had finally coalesced itself into a coherent collection of foam and paper, and it was barking at the door to be let outside for a walk.  After the amount of time I had spent inside building the thing I was ready to do the same!

So, after awkwardly squeezing the loveseat-sized model through several tiny New-York-sized doors, being questioned by a park ranger in Union Square, and being photographed by several groups of passing tourists, the payoff finally arrived: a set of gorgeous photos perfectly capturing the daylighting design for the student center’s library.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was then that I realized just how much time I had spent indoors sitting at a desk recently.  Being able to see the effects of my design with my own two eyes out in the natural daylight made me realize that I had fallen prey to the plague of the architecture school student: sitting inside from the time the sun comes up in the morning until well after it goes down at night, designing from a desk and a computer with little time spent physically handling light.  It wasn’t the long hours that bothered me (in fact, I hardly even notice the time anymore), it was the fact that I hadn’t challenged myself enough to break away from the deadlines and the assignments and just spend some time in the light lab like I used to in theatre.

One of my favorite parts about studying theatre lighting in college was the light lab, because it was always an open opportunity to get hands-on experience with light, to learn what it can and cannot do.  I never chose colors or lighting angles for a show sitting at a desk — I would always book a few hours in the light lab and see exactly how my ideas would come together right before my eyes.  Then I would get to sit in a dark theatre during tech for a show and play with light for hours on end, mixing color, texture, angle, and intensity in long sessions that were ten times more effective in teaching me about light than any classroom session.  Standing outside in Union Square park with the building model I realized that’s what I was missing from my architectural education — the massive amounts of hands-on experience that I got during my theatre education.

An architectural lighting design, as you can imagine, doesn’t happen in a day, or even in a few weeks as a theatrical production might.  It takes incredible amounts of planning, coordination, equipment, people, and time, and as a result, most of the work we do in the classroom is theoretical.  Yes, we do have a light lab, and yes, I occasionally use it, however, I have to remind myself to spend more time experimenting there, or better yet, getting out into the city and observing light in the real world.  Artists don’t learn to paint by reading textbooks, and lighting designers definitely don’t learn to use light by sitting at a desk all day. If I’m ever going to improve as a lighting designer, I’m going to need to challenge myself to stand up and test my theories in person more often.  As these glorious (if I do say so myself) pictures prove, it’s definitely worth the extra time it takes to see how an idea can become a reality.

Daylighting on the Brain

February 7, 2011


Oh the irony!  It figures I would write a post about finding a healthy balance between life and work, only to find myself four weeks later mired in a state of 24/7 school work. With the limited free time I have right now, though, I wanted to briefly post an update about the things I am learning about at Parsons this semester, because it is really fascinating work that deserves to be shared.

This semester in the Parsons MFA Lighting Design program is all about daylighting.  Yes, we are learning spells to control the movement of the sun and the clouds with our magic wands.  It’s really not that difficult … it’s just Quidditch practice takes up so much of my free time that I can’t keep up with all the homework!

But I digress … Parsons, alas, is no Hogwarts.

Daylighting, briefly, is actually the use of natural lighting (from the sun or from the sky itself) to light the interiors of buildings, saving energy and improving the quality of the indoor environment.  It involves the study of the movement of the sun in relationship to a building in order to maximize the natural light available inside it, through the use of strategically placed windows, skylights, etc.  It’s the exact opposite of our area of study last semester, which was artificial, electric lighting.

Let me present an example to clarify:

"kroon hall" daylighting lighting design green sustainability leed architecture

Kroon Hall at Yale University in New Haven is an example of a recently completed project (in 2009) that was designed to maximize daylighting.  Notice how, in this photo, the building is completely bathed in sunlight — this is because the architects (smartly) oriented the building on an East-West axis on the Yale campus.  The positioning of the building drenches the building (and the 100kW solar array visible on the roof here) in sun throughout most of the year, minimizing the need to use the electric lighting on the interior of the building and creating a pleasant environment inside.  Interior photos offer an even more dramatic illustration of the capabilities of the daylighting design of this building.

"kroon hall" daylighting lighting design green sustainability leed architecture

Here, on the fourth floor, the long East-West skylight allows direct sunlight into the building and the stairwells below, negating the need to use the electric lighting (which is turned off in this photo) for most of the day.

Daylighting design is really a fascinating topic, but it’s ten times more complex than it might appear on the surface.  The complexity lies in the amount of scientific data that needs to be analyzed in order to effectively design a daylit building.  Let me offer an example of one of my recent small projects as an illustration:

daylighting lighting design green sustainability architecture

In this project we are analyzed the daylight available to a room in the Parsons building (visible here as the small yellow area inside the large purple building in the center of the image) as if the room had no front window or ceiling.  Here’s a closeup of the room:

In order to find out what times of the year direct sun is available to the room we created a virtual 3D model of the city (and the room) in a computer program, then inserted it at the proper longitude and latitude on the Earth to analyze the path of the sun around it.

daylighting lighting design green sustainability architecture

This diagram, generated by the computer program, allows us to see exactly what times of the year a point in the room will be in the shadow of other surrounding buildings (hence it’s name: an overshadowing diagram).  The blue lines indicate the path of the sun, from sunrise to sunset, at every day of the year.

daylighting lighting design green sustainability architecture

This diagram, called an illuminance grid, allows us to see exactly how much light would fall on the floor of the room at a given date and time.  This diagram, for example, represents the light available on February 17th at 3:30PM in the afternoon.

insolation daylighting lighting design green sustainability architecture

Finally, this diagram allows us to see how much radiant heat from the sun will penetrate into the building at a given date and time, allowing us to analyze how our design will impact the need for cooling/heating systems in the building.

These are just a few examples of some of the types of data that we have been asked to analyze in our first two weeks of this semester.  Of course, there is a lot more where this came from, but more news about that in another post.

I’m really excited to learn more about this new area, especially since I know so little about it.  Our professors really know their stuff, though, so we’re in good hands.  It’s exciting to be on the cutting edge of building design since sustainability and environmental responsibility are becoming such important factors in our lives today. Hopefully, with this knowledge, we will eventually be able to design zero-energy buildings that are both highly sustainable and pleasant to live and work in.

Now off to lighting studio to work on my daylighting design for my next project!

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

An Architect of Light: Louis Kahn

November 9, 2010


In the spirit of some research I have been doing lately on architect Louis Kahn for my architecture class, I wanted to pass along some quotes of his about light that are thought-provoking, inspiring, and poetic.  I will not even begin to try to attempt to describe Louis Kahn and his gift for incorporating natural light into architecture, but I have included some photos of his work here so those who don’t know it can get a sense of his style. Enjoy!

“I sense Light as the giver of all presences, and material as spent Light.  What is made by Light casts a shadow, and the shadow belongs to Light.”

louis kahn light lighting architecture design

Kimbell Art Museum, Forth Worth, TX

“I sense a Threshold: Light to Silence, Silence to Light – an ambiance of inspiration, in which the desire to be, to express, crosses with the possible … Light to Silence, Silence to Light crosses in the sanctuary of art.”

louis kahn architect architecture light lighting design

Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA

“I gave myself an assignment: to draw a picture that demonstrates light. Now if you give yourself such an assignment, the first thing you do is escape somewhere, because it is impossible to do.  You say that the white piece of paper is the illustration; what else is there to do? But when I put a stroke of ink on the paper, I realized that the black was where the light was not, and then I could really make a drawing, because I could be discerning as to where the light was not, which was where I put the black. Then the picture became absolutely luminous.”

louis kahn architect architecture light lighting design

National Assembly, Dhaka, Bangladesh

“Architects in planning rooms today have forgotten their faith in natural light.  Depending on the touch of a finger to a switch, they are satisfied with static light and forget the endlessly changing qualities of natural light, in which a room is a different room every second of the day.”

louis kahn architect architecture light lighting design

Exeter Library, Exeter, NH

“Today, shadows are black.  But really, there is no such thing as white light, black shadow.  I was brought up when light was yellow and shadow was blue.”

louis kahn architect architecture light lighting design

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

“Even a room which must be dark needs at least a crack of light to know how dark it is.”

louis kahn architect architecture light lighting design

Esherick House, Philadelphia, PA

“Also marvelous in a room is the light that comes through the windows of a room and that belongs to the room. The sun does not realize how beautiful it is until after a room is made. A man’s creation, the making of a room, is nothing short of a miracle. Just think, that a man can claim a slice of the sun.”

Luminaire Design: Constructing a Reflector

October 5, 2010


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!

Parsons, Week 4: Eyes Wide Open

September 23, 2010


I’m definitely one of those lighting designers that spends more time looking up than looking forward.  It’s a potentially dangerous habit, yes, but I can’t help it.  I don’t see spaces, I see lighting environments.  I need to look up to figure out how my environment is lit, and to analyze how other designers’ minds work, so that I can file that visual information away for the next time I run into a similar design challenge.

Since I am of a theatrical background, I do this automatically whenever I walk into a theatre.  I look up at the front-of-house positions, catwalks, box booms, and any other exposed lighting positions, and I generate a picture in my mind of how I imagine the show is going to look based on the number and positioning of the lighting instruments, the visible gels and accessories, and the presence of certain types of equipment.  Experience tells me what to expect out of each lighting instrument: having focused thousands of theatrical instruments so far in my life, I can fairly well predict what will happen.  What most excites me, though, is when something unexpected happens in a design; something that I can’t draw on experience to explain.

I was particularly excited one night this week, then, when I went to see the first preview of “A Life in the Theatre” starring Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight at the Schoenfeld Theatre (lighting design by Ken Posner), and was surprised, twice, by the lighting.  It wasn’t only an effect in the show that surprised me, though; one of the effects caught my eye before the show even started!

The Schoenfeld Theatre, New York, NY

The effect I noticed immediately when I sat down in the rear of the orchestra was the sparkling, but glaring, crystal chandeliers hanging from the underside of the balcony!  They were nice to look at, but they were either lamped too bright or designed with too many open spaces between the crystals because the glare from the lamps was overwhelming the sparkle factor, causing them to become huge distractions in my field of vision as I tried to see the stage … hold the phone. Listen to me!  I’m dissecting the architectural lighting design of the theatre!

I must be learning something in grad school after all!

I’ve started noticing more of the details in architectural lighting designs because I am quickly learning the terminology, theory, and technology behind how it all works.  Take Wednesday’s Principles of Lighting class, for example.  We spent the entirety of our three-hour class learning about incandescent lamps.  I thought: how much more can there possibly be to know? Well, a lot, apparently.  We learned about the physics and chemistry of the lamps, the reasons for the different shapes and sizes, and I finally learned the difference between standard incandescent and halogen lamps.  I’ve been using halogen lamps my entire theatre career, but I never actually knew what made them unique!  I love learning practical information!

It’s amazing how the new things I am learning are impacting my eye for design, too.  For instance, the other effect I that surprised me in the theatre that night was all due to the color temperature of a light source.  Before grad school I never would have made an observation about color temperature, but now I have a whole new vocabulary to discuss lighting in more accurate, technical, terms.  Learning the physics behind lamp technology has also helped me to better understand how light and color work together, which is the only reason I noticed the effect that I did.  I’m excited because I can now use that information to really make an impact with my designs.  I can use the physics of light, in conjunction with the physiology of the eye and the brain, to create powerful lighting effects that operate on the viewer’s subconscious.  It’s like being a lighting ninja!  (Too far? Nah.)

Long story short: I’m learning a ton, and quickly too.  So much so that I need to write down my thoughts all the time, because there’s just so much useful and interesting information flying at me.  The blog helps a lot with that, so don’t expect me to give it up any time soon.  I just wish I had more free time to write, because I could probably do a new post a day with everything that’s going on here.  So, stay tuned, and thanks to everyone for all of the positive feedback so far; it definitely keeps me motivated!