Studiotech Swot Guest Blog; Why do Dynamic Lighting Installations Become Humdrum? by David Gilbey

There is an elephant in the room, so to speak.  A problem that we are all aware of and yet it is rarely discussed, whispered in the corners of lighting parties maybe, when we feel safe to discuss taboo lighting subjects, perhaps when we have imbibed in a little Dutch courage! 

I am talking about content, content of programmable lighting; whether phasing, colour changing, kinetic effects or animation. There seems to be an imagined complexity to control and the programming of content so that when a client is imaginative enough to go with a dynamic lighting solution, it becomes the antithesis of that as the content becomes stagnant and stale. Content should not be allowed to stagnate when it is inexpensive and easy to revisit and refresh. 

If we, as lighting designers, are not going to take responsibility for the content and drive the conversation then who is?

There are some forward thinking clients that have this under control, my mind goes to LAX Airport and their creative content media screens. In theory, you could be a regular traveller from Los Angeles Airport and never view the same content twice. (Though having seen it, some of it is worth a second view.)

I always feel that dynamic space works better when it engages with the locals;

  • The Electrabel tower outside of Brussels turned an ugly cooling tower into an object of beauty alongside a motorway, a dynamic landmark that celebrates seasons, celebrations and just being there: I have witnessed the joy of autumn falling leaves cascading down the facades of the tower. 
  • The 360 degree media screen at The Rotunda in Birmingham was sponsored and yet 90% of its content is cultural or artistic.

I was a planning permission lighting consultant for a proposed media screen close to an area of historic importance in London.  The council and residents were strongly objecting. I advised them to change their focus and look at content. They had three important theatres in their catchment area and numerous tourist attractions; although proposed for commercial purposes, why not change the content to 75-80% cultural and local interests and become a local feature?  To me this is more engaging and stronger advertising whilst also bringing the human element to the scheme. 

I know of many installations that are running on preinstalled sample data and many installations that were ill conceived and not thought out.  We all must have walked past installations that have shocked us and made us wonder why they bothered. They appear to have a problem in Finland where the use of outdoor media screens have flourished and to the point where a solution needs to be found, large overbright screens shining into apartments at all times of night. 

Whenever we design with such elements we must do so holistically, and considerately.

The use of colour and colour changing is one of our biggest responsibilities as lighting designers, designed well and related to the surroundings, it can be incredibly dramatic and visually stunning, however poorly designed installations can be visual noise. 

Classic whites, especially when combined with shadow and contrast are sophisticated and timeless. 

Colour, especially colour phasing, can become old hat very quickly, there needs to be some context in the thought process to content. 

There are endless creative opportunities for dynamic lighting solutions, too many to discuss here, but to name just a few, we could use dynamic content to send subconscious information to the peripheral vision, especially in transport hubs or retail environments, we can use content to engage our biophilic senses, to create content that delights and engages local communities so that an installation becomes a talking point as well as a local landmark. 

In my opinion, the complexity of control, whether of a façade, a bar or even a hotel room is not the client’s or the architect’s problem, it is my problem. My designed solutions in a space must be client proof, totally intuitive and pre-programmed. I am not saying that I always take sole responsibility for this, surround yourselves with great people (and I collect them all over the globe!) and share the complexity, share the ideas, and develop the solution together. Collaboration is key!

By David Gilbey DLighting