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Light Volumes, Dark Matters

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The slides with notes from our light studio seminar “Light Volumes, Dark Matters”- presented by Claudia Dutson from the Royal College of Arts.

The slides with notes from our light studio seminar “Light Volumes, Dark Matters”- presented by Claudia Dutson from the Royal College of Arts.


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  • 1. Two-year research project on light in the work-place, carried out at the Helen Hamlyn Centre, Royal College of Art and supported by the Megaman Charity Trust. Light Volumes Dark Matters
  • 2. The hypothesis of the project was that the workplace was over-illuminated and that this was both unsustainable and potentially detrimental to the well-being of employees. Light Volumes Dark Matters
  • 3. The investigation started with trying to understand why — even within the context of energy saving — why were average levels of light increasing, and why does lighting design begin at 500 lux?
  • 4. “ Open your refrigerator door and you have more light than the total amount enjoyed by an 18th century household.” Bill Bryson in At Home: A Short History of Private Life
  • 5. “ Why are all your designs so dark and nostalgic? With the new lamps you can have more light for the same amount of energy!” Visiting design critic, “Say Good-bye to the Incandescent Bulb” student project, RCA
  • 6. A mechanical idea of productivity, quantified in ‘lux’, established a very direct connection between brightness and productivity — the more light, the faster a task can be completed with accuracy.
  • 7. The logical conclusion of this method has been the lighting strategy of the office interior. And the evolution of electric light, and the design of the office-block, coincided with the architectural ideas of modernism.
  • 8. Just as the architecture of modernity released itself from the ornamentation, creases, folds and heavy materiality of the past — lighting also has discarded the things that it was attributed with.
  • 9. It has been the technological imperative to disconnect light from what are perceived to be its problematic associations — shadows and heat — to become a flat plane of luminance on the ceiling.
  • 10. How much does a cultural expectation of how the future should look influence technology and the form it takes? Before the technology existed to make this possible, there already existed the idea that light would become thinner, flatter.
  • 11. What is intriguing is that new developments in lighting technology — particularly LED or OLED — make it possible to have light in any shape, but light continues to be used in a very flat and diffused manner.
  • 12. research
  • 13. When a person talks about something being too dark or too bright, they are not simply talking about vision. How can participants in the research articulate these hidden cultural desires and influences behind light?
  • 14. aura aureate beam beaming bedazzle blanch bleak blinding bright brilliant chiaroscuro clear coruscate crepuscular flare flashy flaw flicker flood floodlight fulminate glad glare gleam glimmer glint glisten glitz luculent luminous lustrous melancholy murkiness murky nitid nuanced obscure obscurity opaque overshadow pale pellucid dark darkle darkling darksome dazzle dim dingy dull dusk effulgent elucidation enlighten epipolic Fade gloaming gloom glow glowering glum hallucinate hazy illuminate illustration illustrious lacklustre lighten lightweight lucid penumbra radiant ray refulgent rutilant scintillate shade shadowy shimmer shine sombre sparkle strobe stygian sullen tarnish temerity tenebrous tinselled translucent twilight twinkle umbrage vespertine wan whiteout whitewash zenith In the English language there are many words that have a relation to light and dark, used to talk about a broader range of subjects, not just simply about light itself.Despite this participants in the study struggled to talk about light.
  • 15. Borrowing from a well-known British radio 4 game-show, participants were asked to describe the way they felt about light in their workplace for 1 minute, without repetition, hesitation or deviation.
  • 16. When they weren’t thinking too much about what they were saying - participants revealed the dynamics that exist in the workplace around light - particularly issues around control, behaviour, productivity.
  • 17. Light Dark Language is used figuratively and words for light have a mostly positive meaning and those for dark have a negative meaning. This is much more than poetics.
  • 18. Light Dark In rethinking the opposition of light and darkness, by collecting words and diagramming them, it is clear that the obvious association of light with positive meaning is incorrect. beaming bedazzle blanch Bleak blinding bright brilliant coruscate dazzle effulgent elucidation enlighten flashy flaw flicker flood fulminate glare gleam glimmer glint glisten Hallucinate illuminate Illustrious lucid luculent luminous lustrous radiant refulgent scintillate Shimmer shine sparkle twinkle darkle darkling darksome dim dingy dull dusk fade gloaming gloom glowering glum lackluster melancholy murkiness murky nitid obscure obscurity opaque overshadow pale pellucid shade shadowy sombre stygian sullen Tarnish tenebrous umbrage vespertine wan
  • 19. Light Dark beaming bedazzle Blanch bleak blinding bright brilliant coruscate dazzle effulgent elucidation enlighten flashy flaw flicker flood fulminate glare gleam glimmer glint glisten Hallucinate illuminate Illustrious lucid luculent luminous lustrous radiant refulgent scintillate Shimmer shine sparkle twinkle darkle darkling darksome dim dingy dull dusk fade gloaming gloom glowering glum lackluster melancholy murkiness murky nitid obscure obscurity opaque overshadow pale pellucid shade shadowy sombre stygian sullen Tarnish tenebrous umbrage vespertine wan Some words that are associated with light do not have a positive meaning at all. Could the way that light is considered conceptually be rethought?
  • 20. value > low to high luminosity > dark to light If words are plotted diagrammatically on two axes; one for luminosity – dark to light, one for value – low to high, what would be revealed?
  • 21. value > low to high luminosity > dark to light
  • 22. switching on This enabled an understanding of light and dark as not simply equal opposites. Switching on a light is a different problem to switching off a light. This idea could be used to look at the complexities of human behaviour and energy saving ideologies. switching off
  • 23. Particularly useful to have a critical approach in the context of research into the physiological effects of bright light on the circadian system, since the task of lighting a space is far more complex than illuminating the visual field.
  • 24. The lights on in a building say “this company is ‘switched-on’ and at-work.”lights in buildings at night communicate activity – that the company is profitable and productive even if there is nobody occupying the building.
  • 25. If terms like ‘switched-on’, ‘plugged-in’, ‘bright-spark’ are so closely associated with ideas of a person’s productivity, imagination, enthusiasm and even energy, then one can see how powerful the emblem of the switched-off light bulb is.
  • 26. During Earth hour, energy reduction is symbolised by a mass switching off of light-switches. But it is communicated by live tweets and web-videos hosted on servers that run continuously – drawing energy from the power-grid.
  • 27. The research outcome is not guidelines, but a provocation for rethinking light. It encourages architects to question their approach to light, and in particular not to automatically resort to science and technology to ‘fix’ a lighting problem. In practical terms – how to avoid light-planning as an abstract exercise, disconnected from real-world scenarios and implemented before occupation. That the cultural significance of light often overwrites the intention of technology.
  • 28. [email_address] Light Volumes Dark Matters