There are times when the dark is so complete you need to remember where you parked the car, because there is no chance of seeing it - I have the bruised shins and ribs to prove it.
Since moving to the countryside I have begun to appreciate the natural rhythm of life that the city disguises; and the wonderful dance of the seasons is the most poetic of all.
All of which brings me to this point: artificial lighting is not always a force for good.
Here is a real problem. Melatonin is a brain hormone that controls the body's natural day-night cycle and, in effect, sends you to sleep. Daylight switches off the melatonin so that we can get on with our work. But the turn of the seasons alters that production, and a marked increase in call-centre shift working means many more people are not working with their natural rhythms.
As far back as 1980, studies were beginning to show that the suppression of melatonin production was a causal factor in the development of tumours and, in particular, breast cancer in women. Two new studies in Sweden and Finland confirm these findings and another recent report has shown higherthan-normal incidences of breast cancer in women working shifts in 24-hour control rooms. Studies continue, but the tragic evidence is already there.
We know that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is somehow connected with the production of melatonin. Shorter daylight hours during the winter prolong melatonin production into our 'working day' and are, therefore, a bad thing for the economy, according to business. So, the logic goes, if you can control the melatonin, you can improve the individual's ability to function.
Why not just hand out the amphetamines?
Why do I feel the chill hand of hubris in all this? Once again, we see a Victorian opportunity to boost business by means of making people more productive in their labours. But in the same way that we no longer employ child labour or chain workers to their machines (except maybe in call centres), it is now time to shift our employment mindset. It is time to accept that we are all part of the rhythm of the planet we live on, and that connection is inescapable.
We have seen a rising trend in the promotion of 'light therapy' to counteract SAD, and there are some very effective lighting units available to help individuals fight their way through this debilitating syndrome. I believe these to be a good thing. Where I start to get worried is with the promotion of lighting systems that can make 'workers more active, more sensitive and more attentive'. That is a straight lift from a manufacturer's catalogue.
We have been here before. Psychological tests back in the 1960s apparently found that higher lighting levels meant higher productivity, so up went illumination levels - to 1,000 lux in some offices. During the 1970s, the Electricity Council (of blessed memory) promoted these kinds of illumination levels, and I did my bit to help. Nothing to do with selling electricity, of course. Oh no.
It was later found to be nonsense but that did not stop the sales of fittings. Now, hiding behind the dubious benefits of combating SAD and helping shift workers, the same argument is being rolled out again. More light (which means more fittings) is supposedly the answer. No, it isn't: the answer needs to be far more radical.
The fields around me were still lying dormant when I started writing this, and many of the mammals were in hibernation.
We have to learn that we are part of the same life pattern, and listen to our body's messages. Commerce is happy to acknowledge the existence of the body's circadian (daily) rhythm, because we have made it fit into the nine-to-five routine. But the existence of an annual body rhythm, which is what we are talking about here, creates all kinds of issues around the subject of work, so it is best to find ways around it.
Have you noticed that no one ever goes to the doctor in June complaining of summer SAD; how unnaturally energetic and lively they are at 6am and how they feel they can go on working all day? No, of course not. The answer to SAD is simple. I call it the 'duvet cure'. Take a nice warm duvet, cover yourself up, and stay there until you feel better. You know it makes sense.
And another thing There is great sport to be had watching the fallout over the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers' (CIBSE) new guidelines for office lighting and those pesky computer screens. (Obviously, this is sport after the fashion of lying on the sofa with a doughnut and a cup of tea, not running about. ) The CIBSE carries the burden of producing design criteria for all sorts of lighting applications, not least trying to keep up with office technology. And it has become really ticked off with lighting manufacturers and engineers trying to shortcut its efforts. I quote: 'Because of the high tendency among some in the industry to always specify Cat fittings without any thought to the actual working environment into which they are to be installed, the Category system is withdrawn from the LG3 guidance.'
So what happens next? At the moment it is a bit like upsetting an ants' nest. Lots of apparently aimless dashing about wondering where the next leaf is going to come from.
This is really quite serious because the CIBSE is forcing everyone to come to the table at a far earlier stage than has previously been the case. In order for an office lighting design to be compliant with the new CIBSE Lighting Guide 3, proper assessments must be made of things like windows and window screens, room decor, colours of furniture and orientation of workstations. Then someone has to sign it all off with a Certificate of Compliance. Let's see how the engineers get on with asking interior designers for a colour spec on the curtains.
It also means that the manufacturers cannot simply advertise an LG3-compliant fixture. So how are they responding? Browsing through a couple of recent magazines comes up with: 'To assist with the compliance of LG3 amendments 2001' (Future Designs); 'To help designers meet the requirements of the LG3 Addendum' (Lightform). I particularly like, 'with sensitivity to the latest addendum to LG3' (Fitzgerald Lighting). Please be aware that when lighting manufacturers start using words like 'assist' and 'help', what they really mean is, 'it's nothing to do with us; from now on you're on your own'.
Architects and clients need to realise that we may be witnessing a whole new visual language for office spaces. The days of clean ceiling lines and invisible luminaires are gone, hopefully never to return. The days when a developer could just whistle for a lighting layout have also gone. Questions will be asked. Brows will be furrowed.
Indemnity insurances will be checked. And the world will be a happier place. Provided, of course, that it is not too bright.
Many of the manufacturers have been dabbling around with wingy, wedgey bits bolted on to their usual recessed fixtures, looking for ways to put more light on to the ceiling. But some manufacturers have grabbed the bull by the horn and come up with some interesting answers.
My prize for best effort goes to High Technology Lighting and its Luensis luminaire. Thomas Holgeth and his intrepid team have started from scratch, asking what they need to do to produce a fixture that gets as close as possible to what CIBSE is looking for within a single housing. They have looked at the issue of how to produce a luminaire that does not just put light on to the containing surfaces of a space (the walls, floor and ceiling), but treats the entire volume with equal consideration. Their solution is elegant and visually discreet. Which is important when it represents a new generation of luminaire likely to be seen in every office near you for months and years to come.
I still don't understand why the photograph in their brochure is upside-down, though.
The wonder of LEDs LEDs continue to demand attention, like very noisy neighbours. Yesterday, I had one of those weird calls. It went something like this: 'Would it be okay to put a fan into the downlight?'
'The new LEDs will be running too hot and need either a fan or a heat sink.'
'Who the hell puts a fan in a downlight?'
'An LED designer.'
'A h .'
Yes, indeed. Computer nerds have invaded the lighting industry and now we are in trouble. I don't know if anyone else reading this gets the wobbles just trying to imagine a ceiling full of 'silent' fans, but I know I do.
The fan in my computer used to be loud enough to drown out the fighter jets that examine our roof tiles on a regular basis.
I am finding myself intrigued by the LED development process. Is the architectural lighting market a key player or just a distant relative hanging around for a free meal? Why can't I find any decent photometric information on the sources? Why are manufacturers surprised when I ask about colour rendering quality? Will someone tell me one more time about operating voltages, because it's all getting a bit confusing?
The burgeoning LED luminaire market is a wonder to behold. LEDs have entered at all levels of the lighting market and you are as likely to find luminaires in a DIY store as in an architectural lighting catalogue. The issue for designers like me is keeping a hold on the technical end of things. I can't think of any precedent for what is happening. In my experience, a lamp manufacturer launches a new source to great acclaim (or, more likely, a confused buzz of 'what's it for again?').
Eventually, the luminaire manufacturer responds with a new, exclusive, state-of-theart range of fittings that does the same thing as everyone else's.
Maybe this is a kind of democratisation of the lighting process. Perhaps we will all get LED home-making kits for Christmas, one of those 'watch-it-grow' things involving a glass of dirty water and a 'dark place'.
So, as LEDs are getting brighter, they are also getting hotter, and that means some of the benefits are going to slip away. I still think these things may become the best thing since organic wholemeal bread, but we are in unknown territory and I suspect those holding the map are not quite sure which way is up.
With flying colours Of course, the great fun that LEDs bring to the party is this colour-changing business. I know this has been written about before, but please humour me for a few lines.
As someone who cut his teeth on the architectural white-out of the 1980s, I am still bemused by the way colour lighting treatments have become the lumieres de nos jours. We can't just blame all of this on Philippe Starck and his Drury Lane hotel rooms, although it would be convenient, and I don't really mind poking him with a stick. I think there must be something in the water, or maybe it is just the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Colour is providing a wonderful outlet for all that anal retentiveness that the English and our architects have become so proud of. Er, of which the English and our architects have become so proud.
(See, I can do it too. ) Some of these lighting systems are wonderfully, theatrically, pointless, but they are so much fun that it is good to have them around.
Why do we need walls and ceilings that change colour? Does the Se'Lux Colour-Change Wall really belong in some grim-faced northern European city with all its wintry gloom and unyielding grey? No, not really, but it warms my heart to see it out there. And Zumtobel Staff 's Active Wall Light installation at the Debenhams store in Basingstoke! At this level, we experience a wonderful blurring of the edge between art and the mundane. Art is about things like having lights going on and off in an empty room, or backlit coloured ceiling panels; whereas the mundane just means walls that change colour for no apparent reason. Hoorah.
And here's one I prepared earlier. What does colour really mean to us? Why do I generally respond well to blue/orange/yellow light in architecture but find red or green floodlighting absolutely toe-curling? More importantly, why does a single poppy in a cornfield or a drift of bluebells in a wood make me want to sing?
I mentioned earlier about light therapy.
Colour therapy runs alongside it like a partner in a three-legged race. At one level we have the pioneering work of Thirty Engineer in Kew, using the Monocrom Light Dome developed by Swedish psychologist and architect, Karl Ryberg. The dome uses monochromatic light and works at a cellular level, and is a powerful healing tool. But colour is also being used as a more gentle, holistic, environmental tool. I have recently used colour-changing in a new health spa at Pennyhill Park Hotel in Surrey. The spa includes superbly appointed therapy rooms where clients can order from a broad menu of massage treatments. The rooms use light, colour and sound to sustain the desired ambience during the course of the treatments, some of which last for more than an hour.
What started as a conversation as to how to coordinate mechanical services with the ceiling design has resulted in a fine interior feature. A central lighting fixture provides colour washes to the room, either static for the duration of a treatment, or timed to work with the therapist.
The fixture is a 'rooflight', with laminated glazed panels, made by Goddard & Gibbs.
The panels incorporate antiqued-finish glass, which gives an important texture to the surface of the material. With a 'white' light behind it, the glass - which has streaks of blue and white within it - creates an abstracted sky appearance.
This time around, I decided to use fluorescent lamps, rather than LEDs, fitted with theatrical gels. The gels offer an opportunity for fine-tuning colours at a later date if necessary, and mean that the light source is a standard product, readily available. The fixture is 1,500mm in diameter and that would have added a hefty cost to the unit. The luminaire was manufactured by Lighting Force and dimming control is by iLight.
The light sources are red, blue and yellow.
There is no place for green here. There cannot be many clients who would welcome a wash of soft green light over their bodies.
This is not a 'therapeutic light' in any sense other than as a mood enhancer. I don't expect anyone to become addicted to it, but it does have a delicious effect on those who experience it, either as client or practitioner.
There has been an inevitable knock-on through the project thanks to the success of the therapy-room lighting. Coloured light is seen as a possibility everywhere, which presents me with a bit of a problem. I believe that colour in light works because it is contained, it has boundaries. There is a focus and an intent, whether it be in a shop window in Basingstoke or within the envelope of a therapy room. If it is allowed to spill out and the boundaries become blurred, then its impact is lessened. This is an important factor in using colour in lighting design.
The first time I experienced the Monocrom Light Dome, I was looking forward to being washed in intense tones of blue and purple (what does that say about me? ). Of course, the simple physiological fact is that the longer we are exposed to a single colour, the more the cones of our retina bleach out until we can't see it any more. It is still there, but at the most basic level of seeing we lose it. Colour is best seen by not seeing it, by meeting it momentarily as we sweep through the spectrum.
As we move into the next phase of the project, I will be rationing the use of light colour as best I can. I am fascinated by stained glass and by the movement of light within water, and there will be plenty of opportunity for exploring these aspects.
Glass and water are both seen within 'frames', either of a window or the edge of a pool. So both make visual art statements within the broader architectural context of the building. We will see how we go.
John Bullock is a freelance lighting designer Elstead Lighting 1401 Fitzgerald Lighting 1402 Future Designs 1403 GE Lighting 1404 Goddard & Gibbs 1405 High Technology Lighting 1406 iLight 1407 Lightform 1408 Lighting Force 1409 Modular 1410 Se'Lux 1411 Woodhouse 1412 Zumtobel Staff 1413 Enquire at www. ajplus. co. uk/ajdirect