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Perception-orientated lighting design

Perception-orientated lighting design

The perception-orientated lighting design of the 1960s no longer considered man and his needs as a mere recipient of his visual surroundings but as an active factor in the perception process. The designers analysed what was the significance of the individual areas and functions. Using the pattern of meaning thus established, it was then possible to plan the lighting as a third factor and to develop an appropriate lighting design. This required qualitative criteria and a corresponding vocabulary, which in turn allowed both the requirements placed on a lighting system and the functions of the light to be described.

Richard Kelly

Perception-orientated lighting design

Richard Kelly (1910-1977) was a pioneer of qualitative lighting design who borrowed existing ideas from perception psychology and theatrical lighting and combined them into a uniform concept. Kelly broke away from the rigid constraints of using uniform illuminance as the central criterium of the lighting design. He replaced the question of lighting quantity with the question of individual qualities of light. These were designed according to a series of lighting functions, which were in turn geared towards the perceiving observer. In the 1950s Kelly made a distinction here between three basic functions: ambient luminescence, focal glow and play of brilliants.

Glass House

Architect: Philip Johnson
Location: New Canaan, Connecticut, 1948-1949

It was on this Glass House project that Kelly developed the basic principles of indoor and outdoor lighting which he was to later apply to countless residential and business properties. Kelly avoided the use of blinds for the sunlight because he found they obscured the view and impaired the feeling of distant space. Instead, to reduce the harsh daytime brightness contrast between inside and outside, Kelly used dimmed lighting on the interior walls. For the night, he designed a concept that works with the reflection of the glass facade and retains the spatial feeling. Kelly recommended candles for the interior as this would give sparkle and add an exciting atmosphere. Several lighting components in the outdoor area augment the view out of the living area and create spatial depth. Projectors on the roof illuminate the front lawn and the trees beside the house. Additional projectors highlight the trees in the middle ground and the background, thereby making the landscape backdrop visible.

Photos courtesy of the Kelly Collection.

New York State Theater

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Architect: Philip Johnson
Location: New York, New York, 1965

For the New York State Theater Kelly explored the use of crystalline structures for the design of the chandelier in the auditorium and the lighting of the balcony balustrades in the foyer. The chandelier in the auditorium had a diameter of about three meters and consisted of a number of smaller "diamonds of light". In the foyer, the luminaires on the balustrade were designed to look like jewels in a crown, thereby underlining the grandeur of the room. The light sources were shielded towards the front side of the balustrades, but on the inside their multi-facetted structure produced impressive reflections. This results in brilliance effects comparable with the sparkle of precious stones. In addition, Kelly also conceived the lighting in all the other areas of the Lincoln Center, except the interior of the Metropolitan Opera House.

Seagram Building

Architects: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson
Location: New York, New York, 1957

The vision behind the Seagram Building was to have a tower of light that would be recognisable from afar. Working together with Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, Kelly achieved this aim by having the building shine from the inside out. This was done using luminous ceilings in the office levels, whereby a two-stage light switch for the fluorescent lamps enabled energy to be saved at night. The illumined area at the plinth of the building gave the impression that this multi-storey building is floating above the street. An impressive view into the building at night is afforded thanks to uniform vertical illumination of the building’s core, produced by recessed ceiling luminaires. A carpet of light starts in the indoor area and continues onto the forecourt. To achieve a uniform pattern of solar protection on the facade during the daytime, the blinds on the windows only have three settings: open, closed and half-open.

Yale Center For British Art

Architect: Louis I. Kahn
Location: New Haven, Connecticut, 1969-1974

Louis Kahn teamed up with Kelly to design a system of skylights for the illumination in the Yale Center for British Art. The design brief from the museum was that on sunny and overcast days the pictures were to be exclusively illuminated by daylight. Artificial lighting was only to be mixed in when there was very low daylight. The domed skylights feature a permanently mounted louvre construction on the topside, allowing diffuse northern light into the building while avoiding directly incident light on walls or floors when the sun is high. The skylights are made of an upper Plexiglas dome with UV-protection and a sandwich construction consisting of: a translucent plastic plate for dust protection, a mirror-finish light diffuser and a bi-laminar, acrylic, prismatic lens underneath. Tracks on the undersides of the domed skylights hold wallwashers and spotlights. The design process utilised computer calculations and full-scale models.

Kimbell Art Museum

Architect: Louis I. Kahn
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, 1972

The clever use of natural light in the Kimbell Art Museum originates from the teamwork of Louis Kahn and Richard Kelly. Kahn designed a series of North-South orientated galleries whose vaulted ceilings featured a skylight running along their apexes, while Kelly was responsible for the daylight reflector system made of curved aluminium plate. Perforations allow daylight to penetrate through this plate, thereby reducing the contrast between the underside of this reflector and the daylight-illuminated concrete vaulting. The central section of this dished aluminium is kept free of perforations so that direct daylight is shut out. In areas with no UV protection requirements, such as the entrance or the restaurant, a completely perforated reflector is used. Computer programs were used to calculate the reflector contour and the lighting properties that were to be expected. The underside of the daylight reflector system was fitted with tracks and spotlights. Kelly suggested putting plants in the inner courtyards in order to tone down the harsh daylight for the indoor areas.

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