When you’re designing a commercial or residential space, lighting might be the last thing on your mind. However, it can have a profound effect, on the people living or working there and, for businesses, on the potential customers coming through your door. And the lighting industry is just as ripe for innovation as any other sector. Breakthrough Magazine asked Bruce Weil, Director of Lighting Design Studio, about his light bulb moments.
Bruce, tell us something about your background as a lighting guru...
About ten years ago my Co-director Luke LockWheaton and I worked together at iGuzzini, an Italian lighting manufacturer. We were junior designers, fresh out of university and we stayed in touch after leaving there. I came back from a stint of travelling about five years ago, set up as a freelance and Luke joined me about three years ago, although he was always there, helping with designs and getting plans together.
Traditionally we seem to be getting more projects in the residential sphere, but also commercial - we love doing hotels and projects like that. Both sides have different challenges. With residential jobs we’re often working with husbands and wives, which can get quite political.
There are a lot more lighting companies around now, although the discipline itself is probably only about 30 years old, in terms of companies specialising in lighting. The need has been dictated by the changes in technology and the speed of that change.
I think people who aren’t necessarily involved in the industry struggle to keep up with it, so having a specialist helps to keep them current with what’s going on in that world. Architects, for example, can just concentrate on what they’re good at, planning the overall structure of the building.
Where will we have seen your work?
At the London Olympics 2012 and also at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 - so I have quite a diverse portfolio.
Should businesses really be worrying about their lighting?
It’s crucial in a commercial space. You’ve got two elements of lighting specifications. First, the decorative side with the pretty pendants, which is what most people associate lighting with. But we get much more involved in the architectural side, which entails doing very detailed calculations and analysis.
In an office environment, we could work out exactly how much light they’re getting from the artificial light, which then has a correlation to the amount of energy usage in the space. So you have a knock-on benefit to having the right lighting in the right place. In terms of energy efficiency and reduced running costs, the impact can be huge.
Also, there’s the issue of people’s comfort and wellbeing. If you’re working for eight hours under compact fluorescent light, it’s horrible and you don’t feel valued. Also, your physical and mental health is affected by light. It’s a subtle thing but it has a massive impact. People might not think it’s very important, but we feel it should be their number one priority for a project.
What’s the most challenging project you’ve taken on?
They all have their challenges, but the most unusual was for Jaguar Land Rover. They have an area in their design office where they display life-sized clay models of their cars. The idea was that the designers are on the mezzanine, overlooking 16 models that show the evolution between the designs, so that they’re reminded of the connection between their work and the ultimate creation.
They wanted perfect light conditions for every car so there were no shadows. Over each car there needed to be a little arch of LEDs, with light washing over the model at all angles. But the challenge was the scale of it - the room was 60m long and no one had ever made something that big before.
We didn’t know if it could be done, so we worked closely with a manufacturer to get it right. We had to get the design to work and also make sure the lights weren’t misaligned, which might be noticed over a longer period. But Jaguar Land Rover were really happy with it.
You mentioned that technology is driving lighting forward - where do you see it going? What should manufacturers be concentrating on?
It will be interesting to see where Bluetooth enabled devices will take us. The tech seems to be being slowly picked up by a few manufacturers. Traditionally, if you were looking at creating an automated control system for a home or business, you’d need a central control board. All your lighting circuits would go into this box and then spur out to your switches.
With Bluetooth the idea is that each individual fitting can be controlled so you don’t need this central hub and you could just control it from your phone. Also, each one could speak to the other fittings and also other devices like fire alarms.
The Bluetooth mesh is probably the concept that most people are interested in. The technology is there but not many people are adapting it. Potentially, it could be huge but it’s only come out recently, so I’ll be very interested to see what happens with that.
Do you like to collaborate with manufacturers?
We like to innovate whenever we can. We’re really interested in connecting with architects and also with manufacturers – they drive us and we drive them. If we say we need a particular item, they’ll help to come up with something. Similarly, they’ll create a new product and we’ll have to find the application for it in a project. That can often happen when manufacturers have a good idea but aren’t sure where they can actually use it.
Lighting Design Studio has worked with Breakthrough funding, a company that helps UK SMEs achieve R&D tax credits - a government scheme created to enhance and reward innovation amongst UK businesses. Could you be eligible? Click here to learn more.
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