An Introduction to Lighting Design
In October 2021, Cecilia Lester joined the QODA Light team. Here she reflects on how and why she decided on a career in Lighting Design.
I didn’t start my university career with the aim of becoming a lighting designer and to this day, I frequently have people commenting, “Oh wow, lighting design, that’s very niche, isn’t it”.
But when you think about it, lighting isn’t that niche because lighting is everywhere, and as our world changes more and more, we see the value of people who specialise in these specific areas. We need lighting in all our built environments, but we also find it lining the streets when we walk at night, strewn across motorways, and littered across many landscapes.
At university, I completed a degree in interior architecture, craving something that was both creative and structured. I enjoyed the more conceptual projects, but they often posed the question, how is this relevant to actual people? I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to do work that impacted people and their everyday lives.
When working on a project that challenged us to think about how we could renovate an art gallery, a large glass skylight was an issue of concern because it was the main source of light within the gallery but also caused solar gain and solar loss. It made the gallery feel much more comfortable than other galleries, where I couldn’t wait to get out of the dark, contextless environment. So, the prospect of losing the large skylight felt wrong. I was curious to develop a proposal that could simultaneously reduce heat loss, avoid causing damage to any paintings or art on display, and maintain the pleasant environment the skylight had created.
In searching for a replacement for the skylight I began to learn the impact that colour temperature, illuminance levels, and the natural cycle of daylight had on our human behaviour. These were the reasons the skylight had such a positive effect on visitors, including me. Colour temperature is important because it naturally changes throughout the day, and so do Illuminance levels, as the quantity of light changes from when the sun rises until it sets. This means the artificial lighting that is visually very different from natural levels can make us feel uncomfortable. i.e., the jarring effect of walking into a dark, windowless art gallery on a sunny day. By adding adjustable colour temperature, illuminance levels, and lighting distribution, it becomes possible for a fitting to mimic the natural cycle of daylight. Within our gallery project, all these factors came together to create a LED version of a skylight that could mimic the features of natural daylight yet avoid solar heat loss and the damaging effects the sun can have on a painting.
It was then that it all began to click; that lighting, which so clearly could influence a person’s physical and mental health, would be the best way for me to impact others positively. This began my journey in the lighting world.
Suddenly, I couldn’t stop noticing light everywhere, much like the phenomenon ‘frequency illusion’. This is where a person begins to believe that something they have recently become aware of starts to appear much more in their life. The item in question had always been present it just became more noticeable in their environment. When I reached that point, I finally began to realise the impact that lighting has on our environment: when you can’t quite place why a shirt looks different at home than in the store; entering a restaurant with beautiful interior design that doesn’t quite feel right; or the office space that looks excitingly modern but makes you feel anxious. These all happen because lighting can impact our spaces and our experiences inextricably.
My challenge to others who are not a part of the lighting industry is to start looking around in your normal environments to find where light is coming from. Sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge because the goal of many lighting schemes is to make the fittings discrete, but you will become amazed by how often you didn’t notice or think about the light fittings, and how the light helps you perform the tasks you need to do.