TIME TO BRIDGE THE LIGHTING GAP
Russian oligarchs, financial traders, Arab sheiks and ‘high net worth individuals’ have
access to it.
Those on the local housing project don’t.
I’m talking about well-executed, life-enhancing lighting. It’s an unpalatable fact to us in
the business – rarely spoken about – that quality lighting design is often a luxury good, the
preserve of the wealthy, the design-literate and the corporate.
After 25 years in this business, I’m still a bit taken aback and awed by the time, care,
attention and expense sometimes paid to a detail in someone’s second home. Often these
beautifully lit buildings are occupied by few people, and infrequently.
Meanwhile some of the busiest spaces in our towns and cities are lit with inferior equipment
in a thoughtless design.
It’s not just lighting, of course. Half a century ago the economist JK Galbraith coined the
term ‘private affluence, public squalor’ to describe the increasing opulence of private space
while the public realm was starved of funds.
Things weren’t always like this. Victorians spent fortunes on civic amenities, and believed
passionately that technology was for everyone.
True, there have been laudable efforts to bring light installations and art works to town and
city centres. But sadly, starved of maintenance, many have atrophied into sad and puzzling
constructs that will be removed when the collective memory forgets their original purpose.
The truth remains that there’s a large disconnect between lighting at the top end and the
In 2009, the French designer Roger Narboni declared that ‘architectural lighting is dead’.
He meant it was time to move the focus from what used to be called city beautification to
Sadly, Roger Narboni was wrong. Declaring that architectural lighting is dead doesn’t mean
it is so. I haven’t noticed a lot of pro bono work (unless it’s for a wealthy member of U2). I
haven’t noticed a revolution in the illumination of public housing. I don’t see the return of
Victorian values on our streets and public spaces.
Despite all the well-intentioned words you’ll hear at lighting conferences about bringing
our mojo to the masses, we rarely make down to street level.
Yet, apart from minority-interest coffee-table books (I’ve written one myself), there’s been
little effort to educate the wider world about design basics.
My sincere hope is that the events planned for the International Year of Light 2015 will start
us on the journey to making well-designed lighting truly democratic.
Ray Molony, Editor