A Week of Seeing the Light

Last week I spent my time studying Lighting at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. I am one semester away from getting my Graduate Diploma in Lighting, after which I start my Masters of Lighting. I am really looking forward to focusing my undivided attention on daylighting design in architecture.

While an improved understanding of daylighting design is my real aim for doing the course, I first need to understand the art and science of light in a variety of applications, including how the human eye sees light and colour.

The full week intensive at QUT provided me with a lot of insight. The program had some great sessions that explored host of lighting applications and aspects of light that I had not been previously exposed to. In a very short time we covered topics as diverse as ‘Lighting for the Aged’, ‘Lighting for Galleries’ and ‘Retail Lighting’.

We also had some sessions that explored the technical advances in lighting, such as the fast developing LED lighting sector. LED lamps are very different to incandescent globes – LED lights are usually made up of a bank of LED lamps rather than a single light source. Managing the heat that is emitted from an LED is critical, as is controlling the glare and making sure that there is consistency in colour temperature. Nevertheless, it seems it will not be long before LEDs become the main light source in most applications as their cost drops and their efficacy increases.

The program also included a session on the relatively niche topic of ‘Street Lighting’. Until I had completed this session, I didn’t realise how complex this topic is. I didn’t understand, for instance, that it is the reflectance from the road surface (bitumen) – not the direct light from lamps – that allows us to make out objects in the distance as we travel at high speeds at night. I was also surprised at the fact that Australian roads and streets are lit to about half the brightness of similar roads in both the US and Europe. Currently there is a push in the industry to reduce the energy consumption of streetlights by introducing LED lighting and by reducing lighting levels during certain hours. It’s still early days, but I think this is a great idea and I look forward to seeing some progress in this area.

Finally, the group participated in an excursion to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) and the Queensland Art Gallery with our very enthusiastic lecturer Doug Brimblecombe. I was simply amazed at the number and variety of theatre lights that it takes to run a major theatre complex. The storeroom of change-over lamps was impressive in itself. Changing the old incandescent lamps to LEDs required the lighting designers to be really careful about colour rendering and of course the heat the lamps generate. Even the lights around the mirrors in the change rooms have to be carefully selected so that actors can put their make up on with confidence. The energy consumption of a major arts complex like QPAC is huge and the level of thinking and design that goes into each and every show is simply amazing. The nearby Queensland Art Gallery, designed by Robin Gibson, is really beautiful building and incorporates a lot of daylight. It features an impressive reflective space where sunlight is reflected through a concrete roof structure onto a shallow pool of water at the very heart of the building. The space connects to courtyard areas outside and makes for a relaxing reprieve.

I came away from my intensive week at QUT inspired by the all these applications of lighting design that go well beyond architecture. It was an intense week, but I returned with a lot of excitement and looking forward to starting on our first pure lighting design commission. It will be interesting to be able to apply my newly expanded knowledge of lighting to a showroom space.

Combining architecture with lighting design makes perfect sense and in perhaps the two disciplines should become one, with both being considered together early in the design process. The possibilities are endlessly exciting and I am looking forward to seeing where my journey takes our design direction in the near future.