Lighting: Course Summary

 Jessica Jae Ainsworth-Truong

| ID3425 Lighting | Course Summary |

This summary reflects my personal approach to the course and is based on the course description and competencies outlined by The Art Institute International Minnesota.

In this course, I am responsible for introducing students to the qualitative and quantitative properties of lighting.  The students have little prior knowledge of lighting before entering this class and are expected to have a good grasp on lighting design and the technical drawings associated with lighting, such as reflected ceiling plans and switching and wiring diagrams.  I approach this through four phases of education; the luminaire, the technical, residential application, and specialty application.  Although we are focusing on different aspects of lighting in each phase, I have three overarching goals for the class.

Overarching Course Goals

Students need to understand the significance lighting plays in the quality of the interior environment.  A space can be wonderfully designed, but if it is poorly lit, it will not be well received.  The direction lighting comes from and its intensity affects our mood, our ability to perform tasks, and our overall comfort.  Students learn to assess this in others’ work through the sketchbook assignment and apply these ideas through the various design projects they execute.   I stress the execution of quality lighting through having them repeat these simple steps in their projects:

  1. Light the tasks
  2. Fill with ambient light
  3. Finish with appropriate sparkle

Lighting affects our perception of the world around us.  Brightness, contrast, and color are all components of lighting that influence our behavior.  Once students realize how light is related to behavior, they can begin to manipulate light to create more effective environments.

Students work on the development of volume through manipulation of the ceiling plane.  The ceiling is the forgotten plane in interior design; students often don’t address it at all.  I use this class as a way for them to exercise spatial organization, the art of expansion and compression, and emotional response through changing the heights and forms of the ceiling.

Phase I.  The Luminaire.

Phase one focuses on the basic unit of interior lighting design, the luminaire.  Here, we learn about housings, light control methods, lamps, and human behavior through one major assignment; the design of a luminaire.  This is a very quick process through research and construction, because I intentionally do not want them to think too much.  I’ve found that the students worry too much about if they are doing it “correctly” and spend less time observing and analyzing what they are doing when they have too much time with this project.

The students start with light control experiments.  Here they manipulate materials they find around the house in front of a standard incandescent or florescent bulb and record the images with a camera.  From here, we analyze the photos as a class and discuss the successes and failures in control and the perceptions each material provides.  They then use the most successful experiments to design and build a luminaire.  This assignment takes a total of ten days.

While they are working, we spend class time lecturing about and discussing the different types of luminaires and the different ways we control light.  We begin to discuss lighting and behavior through looking at contrast, brightness, and color.  We also learn about the different types of lamps, how they produce light, and their properties.

This is probably one of the most successful assignments I have ever created.  The students learn a lot, and they learn about a lot more than lighting.  They learn about the importance of light and the feeling it creates.  They learn to play and explore, because interesting things happen when you eliminate preconceived notions, and they learn that making is a lot harder than they think.  These are all good lessons for interior designers to learn, as we are always working with light, looking for creative solutions, and trying to create spaces and custom features that are buildible.

Phase II. The Technical.

We spend the first two and a half weeks of the quarter playing and experimenting with light.  With phase two, we do a complete 180 degree turn into the technical components of lighting design.  Here we learn how to create reflected ceiling plans (RCPs), RCPs with lighting plans, and switching and wiring diagrams.  The students start these drawings with a small office project and will repeat the process of developing these drawings two more times in two different applications.  We spend a brief time going over lighting calculations and laying out lighting in a classroom.

We also begin to explore daylighting.  I lecture on and we discuss how the natural rhythm of the sun and the seasons can be taken advantage of in design.  I then have the students build small study models and photograph them at an improvised daylighting station to see how openings in the wall and the ceiling, materials, and partitions affect how light comes into a building.  This is a section of the class that I would like the time to expand.  I would like to have the time to look at energy savings and the many ways an interior designer can use daylighting to advantage.

Phase III. Residential Lighting Design.

Now it is time for the students to combine their conceptual and technical skills in the realm of design.  Like most curriculums, I start with a residential project because that is the building type students know best.  We spend time discussion best practices in residential lighting design and unique ways to address common problems, and they explore these ideas in a small project for a Manhattan studio apartment.

The studio apartment project serves many purposes beyond residential lighting technique.  I give them a furnished floor plan that consists of an open living/sleeping area with enclosed kitchen, bath, and closet.  The other purpose of this assignment is to discover the ways the ceiling plane and volume can begin to organize space.  Often, the students first reaction is to light for the furniture plan, and they do not consider the room.  In this small project, volume begins to create spaces or “rooms” instead of walls or furniture arrangements like many of their previous projects.

I hold a rendering workshop to refresh the students’ perspectives on rendering.  I go over how I hand render, especially the attention paid to electric lighting, crispness of shadows, color of shadows, and location of texture.  I then do a brief overview of PhotoShop.  I spend time going over how to manage layers, use filters, and the dodge/burn tool.  I find that this brief workshop frees them up to try new things with their rendering and helps them discover their own style.

If I could add another week to the course, I would love to cover lighting and color, and I think the residential project would be an appropriate place for this.  It would be nice to look at how different lamps affect our perceptions of color, but also how high and low value hues affect the amount of perceived light in the space.

I also introduce the sketchbook assignment during this phase.  This assignment is more closely related to the specialty phase, but I want to give them ample time to complete the assignment.  They are required to sketch vignettes and RCPs of restaurants, bars, and lobbies in and around the Twin Cities.  They also write a short description of the lighting, how it was achieved, and their analysis of how well it works.  Here they are really relating lighting design to personal experience.

Phase IV.  Specialty Lighting Design.


The last phase, specialty lighting design, is focused on using lighting as a concept generator, designing with light, and the analysis of lighting.  The assignment is for an airport bar.  The students are given four set concepts to choose from and they are to interpret them with lighting.  I provide the concepts because they have only three and a half weeks to complete the assignment and I want to give them a head start.  I find that limiting the concept has had a positive effect on the class, as each student interprets the concept differently and they learn a lot from each other’s thought processes.

During discussion I show them images of different restaurants that focus on the lighting.  I then ask them to examine how the lighting is done, assess is success/failure, and give a critique of the space.  I do not comment because I want them to see how much they have learned about lighting throughout the quarter and I also want them to realize how much they can learn from each other.

The idea of learning from each other continues into the desk critique.  I do partner critiques, so each student can comment on the other’s work and also see how I assess other ideas.  Exposing them to each other’s work while it is in process enriches their own.

In this class, I focus most of my attention on creating quality light through light layering, lighting effects, and understanding behavior.  I address the scientific process of calculations, but I find that this is a sterile and often unsustainable approach to lighting design.  I would much rather have my students approach light carefully and with consideration that be able to reflexively draw a lighting plan to achieve a uniform fifty footcandles in a room.




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