Lighting Zeitgeist- Culture, Light Levels and Economics- Part 3 of many
Over time, we have often seen a shift in requirements within a culture or people. In the United States in the 50’s and 60’s, the popular adage was “more light, better sight.” When the OPEC energy crisis occurred in 1973, it required a serious re-examination of light levels and prompted many research excursions to show that we could work as efficiently in much less light.In the last 50 years, as other areas of the world have found prosperity and technology has become more affordable, traditional constructs of light and darkness have been replaced by grossly overlit spaces. The flip in perceptions is best highlighted by the following two quotes taken from two authors from two different parts of the world, quoting 75 years apart in time.
The eastern world of early 20th century:
- “We Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable.
- But the westerner is determined always to better his lot…..from candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light – his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow” – Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, in praise of shadows, Japan 
- The popular adage “more light, better sight” dominated our approach to lighting
- Light levels: +1000 lux
Post-1973 opec crisis:
- Re-examination of required light levels
- Work more efficiently with less light
- Light levels: reduced to 500 lux
- “Some judicious use of shadow would help humanize our over-lit lives.”
- Darkness: basking in the dimming of the light
- Murray Whyte, Toronto Star, Canada (2008)
- Light levels: further reduced to 300 lux
Reflexively, as the ‘green’ movement gains momentum, it inspires the search for more efficient lighting solutions, which in turn leads to the development of halogen lamps, and eventually, light emitting diodes (LED’s). The emergence of the tiny, long-lasting, inexpensive LED’s is anticipated to dramatically change the lighting situations in many developing nations where, previously, people relied more on natural light and on planning activities during times when it was available. In the last 50 years, as other areas of the world have found prosperity and technology has become more affordable, traditional constructs of light and darkness have been replaced by grossly over lit spaces. The critique here is clear, that just because technology is affordable and easy to install it doesn’t mean that it should be implemented carte blanche. All technology is susceptible to environmental concerns, and although LED’s do provide superior lighting efficiency in energy of use sense, the current rate of production to fill the gaps aforementioned cannot be sustained in the long term to meet that demand. The reality of the industry is that we have an uncertain supply of both energy and materials which should be addressed not through techno-solving, but rather through simple ethical implementation into the design process, which starts with the simple question “do we really need this?”
The tide of the ‘green’ movements influence in expanding the implementation of ethically sustainable practices into design can be seen through several different certifications and policy initiatives undertaken in recent years. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification formed by the U.S. Green Building Council is the world’s leading certification in sustainable design for architecture in the United States. Developed by the 20,000 or so members of the council, the certification is won by adhering voluntarily to the standards developed by the council for that specific year. The standards evolve and are voted on by the council every year, with the certification goals becoming ever more progressive.
The same progression can be seen through the evolution of the United States congress bill, the 1992 Energy Policy Act (Epact), in which states had to review and consider adopting national model energy standards. In 2007 the Department of Energy updated the policy to improve energy conservation by 3.7%, followed by an update in 2010 to bring the total to 18.2%. The policy debate surrounding sustainability has a large influence on the discussion about light and how we use it. Though we do see change through initiatives like the LEED certification and the Epact, the zeitgeist still turns toward techno-solving as our chosen methodology for escaping our sins. Technologies such as wind power, hydro-power and nuclear power all contribute to the discussion about how we can make our energy production renewable, however the conversation surround how much we should need and how much we are really using is still too quiet.