30 June 2009

Bad habits never die

In these times of looking for the best lighting efficiency, “changing the bulb” for a low energy one is the predominant response to the issue. Additionally the idea that a “small” low energy bulb affects only marginally our general electricity consumption remain well rooted in the common mind.

The light reflected by the surfaces and that emitted by light sources interact to produce the spectrum that is perceived by our eye. Since colors and surfaces significantly affect the lighting of a space, good lighting can not be designed without considering the characteristics of the environment itself and especially the colors present in it.
Obviously individual taste in terms of decoration, such as wall colors and furniture, must be taken in consideration. But only as much as they do not end up multiplying “small” low energy bulbs, as, in the end, all these low energy light bulbs, plus some halogen in the hall, plus a pair of table lamps and a few spots, are capable of burning one third of our electricity bill at some times of the year.

Getting back to walls color, the first thing to understand is that the white is always the brightest color, or in other terms, that white is without exception always able to amplify the brightness of a space under natural or artificial lighting. Any other color subtracts a portion of the light that the walls are able to reflect and redeem to the surrounding. The idea, for example, that a yellow hue may increase the power of light’s reflection is utterly wrong. In reality, the luminance of a colored wall is always lower than the one of a white wall.

Furniture also impacts the brightness of a space. Not because of its color, but rather because of the quantity of furniture. How often do we see clutters of cabinets, ornaments, pictures, maps, tables, chairs and more darkening entire living spaces? Before you start filling every inch of white wall or every inch of floor you better consider how much this will cost you in terms of energy. And not only for lighting, but also for vacuum cleaning...

The proper rule is to use the light as a guide for the perceptual process, leveraging its ability to “underline” the space. The light becomes the channel between the object and its shape, adjusting the contours and dramatizing the space limits.

03 June 2009

Comparing apples to apples, at last...

In the vast background noise written on the subject of LED vs other light sources comparison, this post is a little gem. James Alexander makes an excellent job at summarizing the issue with easy to understand day to day examples. Moreover, the cited numbers are among the most up-to-date at this point in time.

Although I disagree with him on the subjective matter of using 5 mm LEDs as a "real ligh" source, this is definitively worth reading.

26 January 2009

Design without Art is Aesthetic's perdition

Art is about using a medium to change how we see the world. Whereas design is changing how we live in it.

I have no pretense at knowing what art is or is not, but it is easy to draw draw a clear separation line between art and design by looking at their differences.

Artists and designers both use formal, intellectual, or material strategy to “produce” something of value. However, the major distinction between the designer and the artist is about accountability. In effect, they operate in very different frameworks of “rules”: the designer’s rules are mostly external and imposed by the problems to be solved, whereas the artist makes up its own rules. Artifacts from either discipline can resemble one another; however they result from very different motivations. Designers try to bring solutions to others’ problems; artists solve problems they themselves invent.

From a business stand point, the word “design” always implies that someone has carefully created some “thing” of value and that much thought and planning has been invested in a calculated and defined process throughout the project. Designers and engineers are very similar in that respect, as they must adhere to very intricate functional specifications in order to meet the project’s objectives.

Art on the other hand is a completely dissociated activity. An artist is supposed to portray a feeling, convey a message or inspire an emotion. An artist can express itself in any medium and color scheme, using any number of methods to convey its message. It doesn't have to adhere to any specific framework of rules, but rather creates its own. No artist ever has to explain the reason it did something a certain way other than by saying it was the way it felt.

Most design projects contain instructions detailing how to produce the expected “thing”. An artist can never be given any specific instructions to create a unique masterpiece; the composition simply flows from its hand.
Whereas design is based on external trends and influences, emotions are driving the movement of the artist’s hands and imposing the usage of the medium. Art produces completely unique “things”, when design is always re-producible.
Art has a meaning. It delivers a hidden message on purpose. Art is by definition unusable. Design reveals meanings. It highlights functions. Good design is usable.

It just happens that commercialism has artificially created a drastic and somewhat pejorative distinction between art and design. I would object that by following trends and applying ready made recipes it has above all made many designs predictable and boring.

Designers looking to create the “next” trend would be inspired if displaying some unique artistic prowess. They only have to keep in mind that uniqueness comes from passion and from refuting any rules that force to make even one choice that was unintended.
Expressing a message or an emotion inside a design project’s framework is a real challenge, but if met, it certainly contributes to a harmonious balance between art and design.

25 January 2009

Minimal is not poor, it is essential

Less is more” has greatly influenced modern design since German Architect Mies van der Rohe original citation. It has gained worldwide acceptance, strongly influencing U.S. architecture, but it is in Europe that it has picked, perhaps as a reaction to the continent’s rich baroque architectural heritage. Designers and architects have quickly adopted the new idea as it was allowing breaking free from a long tradition of rich decorative arts and looking instead for expression in its purest form.

As I stated earlier, minimalism’s most prominent attributes are geometric shapes, light, natural materials, space. A successful minimalist design is a result of a good balance between these elements, but it comes at a higher cost that you may think.

Minimal is not poor, it is essential.

Essential is the planning in the concept phase, a necessary and expensive step. Because it is about concealing clutter, a minimalist design cannot stand approximation, and every detail must be perfect.
Essential are the few materials used to set the stage in the large surfaces, perfect angles, flat finishes and solid colors that this type of design favors. They all tend to emphasize any defect, be it in a cabinet, a table or a door frame.

The quality of materials and workmanship must be outstanding, which also means expensive.

Focussing on people: perception

I explained before that, when we step into a room, our eyes are guided by light, and the light tells us the story of the room. A good lighting makes seeing easy and pleasant. It is a treat for the eyes.

Remember how in the early days of artificial lighting a room was usually equipped with one lighting fixture hanging in the middle of the ceiling. We all know today that this is barely the best way to light a room. The room appears smaller, as all light is concentrated in the middle, and the wall surfaces receive little or none of it. Furthermore, as light naturally attracts people, all activities also become concentrated at the center of the room. It is definitively better to spread the light over several areas of the room, each of them determined by its particular function.

But our perception remains highly subjective. When asking people's preferences about lighting, the opinions are often divided almost equally between a gentle, soft, friendly, almost shadow-free light and a harsh, fascinating, but also aggressive and glaring light with sharp shadows.

The first lighting is similar to a cloudy day. The second lighting reminds of a sunny day. The later seems slightly more popular, maybe because the first impression when entering the room is stronger and more interesting.

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Form is the visual shape of mass and volume. Light makes form legible. There is no form without light.


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