THE ART OF LIGHT
Hold the line

Financial pressures could open the doors to an army of amateur lighting designers, and that will cost clients dear, as Jill Entwistle observes

Independent lighting designers have burgeoned and blossomed like nobody’s business in the past two decades (economic hiccups aside) and the good lighting gospel has spread all over the shop (except Foot Locker).

Office workers glance up from their screens, gaze at bright ceilings and all that visual interest on the nearest pillar, sigh softly and return to work. Diners bask in the concealed cold cathode glow of their banquettes and admire that sharp bit of pinspotting on the artfully niched objet. Shoppers (unless they’re in Foot Locker) see fashions in their true colours and pedestrians tread more lightly on dappled shadow foliage in their jujjed-up public spaces.

Well almost.

The thing is though, we’ve got to the stage where there is a sufficient number of good lighting examples around for non-lighting people to think they could maybe get the hang of this. Conceal a bit of fluorescent in a coving? How hard can it be? Boring bit of wall? We could do that scallopy thing and cheer it up.

Half-arsed interpretations

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and the results, inevitably, are some seriously half-arsed interpretations of perfectly kosher lighting practices. People may have clocked that blasting sodium floodlighting all over the church façade was a bit naff, but they have yet to appreciate that a lurid LED number is not necessarily an improvement. The shadow gaps, the scallops that lurch from bosomy fullness to nail parings, the arbitrary highlighting and the pointless uplighting – the litany of lighting sins is only too evident.

Value engineering

Some of it, of course, might well have been originally conceived by a knowledgeable practitioner. That’s before it went through the Chinese whisper process of value-engineering, spec breaking and some clown up a ladder who has no business anywhere near a screwdriver let alone anything electrical. And, of course, the more elaborate the technique or the technology, the more potential there is to cock it up. A recent case in point cropped up recently at one of Britain’s more revered museums. One of the curators, clearly a man of formidable personality and the sensitivity of a Chieftain tank, insisted that he knew better than anyone how to light his ceramics, including a lighting designer of some repute. The upshot is a display case that combines cool white LEDs and halogen fibre optics with some overhead fluorescent backlighting for good measure. It is unspeakably awful.

Lighting nirvana

We will never achieve lighting nirvana, obviously, because there will always be people with a misguided sense of their own ability, as well as the bean-counter client, the contractor on the make and, of course, the maintenance crew (or lack of it). But especially in this era of austerity when lighting expertise is potentially one of the first things to be lopped off the budget, it’s going to be essential to hold the line.

The estimate for putting that ceramics display right is around £20,000. As the old saying goes, ‘If you think hiring professionals is expensive, try hiring amateurs’.

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