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Posts tagged ‘Technology’

What Does it Feel Like to Be Immersed in Video?


projection light lighting design architecture video immersive environment experimental installation "Focus Lighting"

In honor of the arrival of Spring (at least according to the calendar, maybe not the thermometer), our office recently held a party for friends and family to debut an experimental installation we’ve been working on that immerses visitors in an ever-changing video environment.

As lighting and video become increasingly more intertwined in everything from theatrical design to architectural media facades to the mobile devices we carry around, this installation poses the question: what does it feel like to be immersed in an environment created entirely with video?

projection light lighting design architecture video immersive environment experimental installation "Focus Lighting"

For this particular event, the video content was thematically related to Spring (flowers, nature, landscapes, etc.), but occasionally branched out into other areas such as panoramic cityscapes, abstract moving backgrounds, and projected architecture.  I was responsible for finding and programming the video content using Dataton Watchout software.

The event, as expected, delivered many more questions than answers.  For instance, it was fascinating to see the ebb and flow of guests in and out of the room as the “wallpaper” changed from static images to moving video; although, since we placed food in one room and drinks in the other, it was hard to tell if the movement of people was due to the video content or their need for liquid refreshment!  Several of my coworkers and I tried to directly manipulate the movement of people by making the background of the room more, or less, attractive. While the results weren’t definitive it was certainly interesting to watch. Little did our guests know they would be subject to a sociological experiment at our party! (Insert villainous laugh here.)

A big thank you goes out to the friends and family who served as our “guinea pigs” for this trial event. We received a lot of helpful feedback, and we look forward to using what we’ve learned from this experience to continue to design beautiful and interesting environments.  Here’s hoping our “Spring Fling” will bring some actual warm weather soon!

projection light lighting design architecture video immersive environment experimental installation "Focus Lighting"


Sparks of Inspiration – Design and Designers

August 6, 2011


Every once in a while in my design work I come across something that really blows me away — something that drives me to work harder, try something new, or think in a new way.  It’s like a tiny explosion goes off in my brain, and then suddenly I snap back to reality, my focus sharpens, and my creative drive kicks into turbo mode.  It’s these exciting moments of inspiration that keep me going and push me to be a better designer — and I absolutely love when they happen.

Below are some of the people and ideas that sparked my imagination this week and really got my creativity and productivity flowing.  Hopefully you’ll find something that inspires you, too!


This documentary about Seattle-based architecture firm BUILD expresses beautifully of a lot of the things I love about being a designer – from being constantly “design conscious” to conceptions of people interacting with spaces.  It reminded me why I love what I do, and really motivated me to put extra effort into my work these past few days. If you’re at all interested in architecture or design, I would highly recommend reading their blog, too.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab has stopped in New York City! I’ve recently developed a new interest in urban planning and design in the course of my lighting work, and this mobile lab that has set up shop on Houston St. downtown sounds like the perfect place to indulge in that interest. The structure of the lab is also interesting in and of itself — it’s a traveling classroom, lecture hall, and workshop for solving problems in the city.  I’m thinking about heading downtown to a few events while it’s here. Watch the video to learn more.


I was fortunate enough this past weekend to have the free time to stand in line for over two hours to get in to see the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met — the verdict: totally worth it.  First, the clothing was simply out of this world — I’d never seen anything like it before.  Now I know fashion and lighting don’t seem like they have a lot in common, but the theatricality of McQueen’s style was absolutely an inspiration for me.  The colors, textures, and shapes were a visual feast to behold.  Here was a designer that stretched his ideas to their wildest ends — and people admired and respected him for it.  Second, the exhibit environment was almost as dramatic as the clothing.  Each line was showcased in a unique, I’d venture to say architectural, environment ranging from the concrete austerity you see above to environments incorporating holographs, mirrors, projections, turntables, and more.  I only wish the lighting had done more to showcase the vibrant color of the clothing (most of it was lit in yellowed halogen lamps), but the impact of the environments in combination with the fashion more than made up for it.  I’m sorry to say that it closes tomorrow, so if you haven’t been — GO NOW!


Finally, I ran across the website of Steven Harris Architects this week and I had to mention them for the stunning photography of their work.  Check out their portfolio photos — the lighting is fantastic in all of them! Really a great showcase of how architecture and light can work together in harmony. Check it out!

That’s all for now — I hope to bring together more posts like this in the future.  For more day-to-day inspirations and news follow me on Twitter!

Gadgets and Gizmos in the Lighting Factory

November 27, 2010


Ever wonder where all of those downlights, wall washers, and track lights come from?  Sure, they all show up on a job site assembled and ready to go, but where do those fixtures start their lives?  Our Luminaire Design class had the rare opportunity to find out this past Monday during our tour of the Edison Price Lighting factory in Queens, where we had the chance to observe some of the machining processes that the typical light fixture goes through before it leaves the factory for installation in projects all over the world.

"Edison Price" lighting light architecture architectural manufacture manufacturing factory

The factory itself is a clean, bright, modern facility, where most fixtures in the Edison Price product line are assembled prior to their delivery on a job site.  What this means is that each fixture is manufactured and assembled per order (a “Just-In-Time” business model), so there is no warehousing of large stocks of light fixtures here or at another location — the process is simply: you order it, they’ll build it (all within one to two days).  Surprisingly, this doesn’t require legions of employees to accomplish as one might expect.  The factory employs less than 75 people that can build hundreds of fixtures per product line, per day, which is due, in large part, to the amount of automated machinery used in the manufacturing process.  From automated laser cutters and punch presses to folding press brakes and even packaging machines, the investment in modern technologies in this factory has clearly paid off in efficiency, accuracy, and production.  Luckily our hosts allowed me to take some short videos on our tour, so you can see exactly how some of these machines work!

Despite all of the automation, however, a large part of the manufacturing process is completed by hand.  All of the assembly of the fixtures, for instance, is done by hand.  Some of the raw material processes are done by hand as well.  In fact, one of the most interesting processes we observed on our tour was the hand-crafting of an aluminum reflector.  The man in the photo below is “spinning” a curved reflector from a flat disk of aluminum by using a series of wooden sticks to push the metal against a form in the machine.  It was impressive to watch as he expertly formed each piece in a few fluid strokes.

light lighting manufacture manufacturing architecture architectural factory luminaire reflector

I find it very reassuring, too, that many of the processes in the factory are left to the human hand.  The fact that a company as large as Edison Price trusts in the skill and craft of their employees to construct their fixtures is evidence of a caring company that is concerned with delivering only the highest caliber of products.  As a lighting designer, I know that this is a company I can trust to take care of me and my work from the start of a project to its finish (and beyond), because I have seen, first hand, the care that goes into each product.

It’s surprising to me that most businesses like this don’t advertise these parts of their company.  Edison Price, for instance, hardly mentions anything about their manufacturing process on their website.  In today’s transparency- and social media-driven world, I think any business would benefit from promoting the fact that every one of their products is crafted and inspected by a well-paid American employee.  People like to feel a connection to the things they buy and the companies they buy from, and the more they know about the inner workings of a company, the more they are likely to trust and buy from that company.  I think if more people knew about what happens behind-the-scenes at companies such as these, it would benefit everyone involved.

Thankfully I can share these photos and videos with you, so now you know and can spread the word about the great work that this company is doing, and hopefully use this knowledge to your own benefit on your next lighting project!  Know of any lighting or related companies that promote their behind-the-scenes activities as much as their products? Share with all of us below in the comments!

Learning Lighting Controls at Lutron

October 30, 2010


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!

Big, Expensive Lighting Photometry Tools at LTL

October 28, 2010


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!

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!

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

October 3, 2010


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.