by Joachim Ritter
The City of London is rated as one of the world’s largest cities. Along with Paris, New York City and Tokyo, the British capital ranks as a trendsetter.
And this also applies to lighting design. Many designers are based in these huge cities, and work from there. Wouldn’t you think that means that there should be a sufficient number of professional people in London, for example, who have know-how and expertise when it comes to judging the quality of light and lighting?
The City of London recently launched a design competition to illuminate 17 bridges along the Thames from Albert Bridge to Tower Bridge. The competition finalists will be asked to conceive a design masterplan for the project, while providing a concept design for four specific bridges Westminster, Waterloo, London and Chelsea. The winning concepts resulting from the international design competition are to be realised by 2018. So far, so good.
What is rather strange about the whole set-up is that not one of the seven jury members can claim to be a lighting expert. That doesn’t mean to say that Lord Rothschild, Architect Malcolm Reading, Prof. Ricky Burdett representing Urban Studies, or Justine Simons, Head of Culture at City Hall in London, do not or should not have an opinion about light and lighting. But not to have any expertise at all when it comes to judging the quality, contemporary nature or feasibility of any of the design proposals submitted smacks of gross negligence to me. The design criteria stipulate that the design needs to display outstanding aesthetic quality, show innovation and incorporate energy-saving technologies, and feature interactivity. Who in the jury is able to address such issues when evaluating submissions?
This again shows that “people” are certainly aware of lighting design in architecture, but not aware of who lighting designers are and what their skills are. Neither associations nor education programmes have managed to establish themselves as an essential part of design competitions of this kind. Apart from the fact that in this Call for Proposals the boundary between lighting design and light art seems to be more blurry than it is helpful. The competition claims to be looking for a public art installation, while the strategic priorities contained in the brief give the impression that it is a lighting design they are looking for. To be honest, it is hard to decipher exactly what the expectations are.
All that remains is for the professional lighting designers (or light artists, who knows?) to use the competition to set themselves apart from other disciplines and to call attention to the difference they make.
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