We at Metropolis have a longstanding interest in lighting design for obvious reasons. Without lighting excellence—be it subtle, dramatic, tech-savvy, or just plain old fashioned, depending on what’s being lit and for what purpose—our appreciation of the built environment would be primitive indeed. From the urban street to the building’s form and facade to the interior—and all details and scales in between—expert lighting is always at play, yet its importance to the designed environment is often ignored, though its subjects like great architectural form or a seductive interior, are celebrated. As the industry’s annual trade show/conference is about set up shop at the Las Vegas Convention Center (May 7-11), I consulted one expert, Kevin Theobald, who runs a lighting design practice in the UK and is the current president of International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), an organization whose vision statement promises things like “leadership and excellence” and an “appreciation of the power of light in human life.” And when I saw that the Lightfair keynotes plan to explore technology, entertainment, and energy efficiency, I emailed my questions to Kevin in London to learn more about his views on lighting design in 2012. What follows are his decidedly low-key, refreshingly modest, observations.
Susan S. Szenasy: There will be lots of talk this year at Lightfair about technology, entertainment, and energy efficiency. Let’s take these topics one at a time, starting with technology. What, in your informed opinion, is a game-changing technology that is either on the market or in development now?
Kevin Theobald: Improved quality and performance of solid-state lighting is going to be game changing because the major manufacturers are investing heavily in it.
SSS: Do you think technology is key to advancing lighting design to a new level of performance and aesthetics?
KT: Actually, I think that lighting design is technology agnostic. Good design is about visual effect and is not dependent on the source.
SSS: Hollywood and Broadway (and London’s West End, of course) have certainly done a great deal for our expectations about what lighting can do to create unique moods and memorable environments. Can you share with us some recent highlights, in film and theater lighting that have lifted the top of your head off? Something that made you rethink the possibilities for lighting and why?
KT: War Horse, lit by Paule Constable, did not depend on excessive technology. The beauty of the piece was the quality of light delivered.
SSS: Efficiency has become a mantra to lighting designers as well as architects and all other designers. If you could encapsulate the most recent advances in lighting performance, where do you see the most important breakthroughs? If you don’t see important breakthroughs, what’s holding them back?
KT: Obviously efficiency is important but lighting control is the key. Even the most efficient sources, left on 24/7 regardless of building usage, are not as good as less efficient sources that address daylight levels and occupation.
SSS: When you go to a show like Lightfair, what do you look forward to seeing as the most interesting, exciting, memorable thing, people, event there?
KT: Apart from the chance to see new developments I would have to say the IALD lighting design awards.