with the second annual a|l light + Architecture Awards in print, the program seems safely established. Entries were up 17 percent over 2004, with more winning projects overall. The jury discussion was compelling, and delved into issues above and beyond the immediacy of the 2005 submissions. Do the magazine and the awards curriculum have a responsibility to issues like Dark Sky? Should lighting be honored for salvaging bad architecture? Do categories help the judging process or add another layer of criterion to wade through? What role does photography play in evaluating a project?
Coincidentally, the magazine also conducted a readership study in June that gathered interesting and timely data about the awards program, providing additional fodder for contemplation as the event matures in the coming years.
The first point for meditation is that a considerable number of respondents did not feel they had projects for which the lighting is a significant enough component to warrant the time and money involved in submission. Almost 10 percent of the respondents who had heard of the program, but had not entered, attributed it to the deficiency of their existing projects, with a few of the following comments: 'projects fairly mundane,' 'need a deserving project,' 'quality of projects,' and 'most projects are too basic.'
Though not entirely unpredictable, it is nevertheless noteworthy that, of those who were aware but had not entered, a greater percentage were architects (75 percent, versus 69 percent for lighting designers), with significantly more architects (37 percent) than lighting designers (14 percent) citing a lack of interest in a lighting awards program as the primary reason. While lighting designers will naturally have more appreciation for an event of this nature (designing exceptional lighting is their professional purpose after all), I found the percentage of uninterested architects troubling. The elephantine question in the room: Are those architects 'lacking interest' also designing substandard projects when it comes to lighting?
Going out on a limb, since this theory is based on a hunch rather than survey stats, I wonder if their lack of interest is, in part, a lack of confidence. Is it overly intimidating to enter their work, as lighting aware as it may be, into the ring with submissions from some of the best lighting designers in the country? That five of the twelve winning projects (all of which had a lighting designer on the team) have already been recognized by other recent industry awards programs-judged by entirely different juries with diverse experience, design philosophies, and skills-seems to confirm that, indeed, these are the best of the best, and formidable challengers. (It should be noted, however, that two of the twelve recent winners were entered by architecture firms.) If this is the case, would more architects be encouraged to submit relevant projects, and thereby promote the importance of lighting, if there were a lighting award available only to this group-like, for example, the many design recognition programs that exist only for students?
My suggestion is not intended to mollycoddle architects; rather, it provides additional encouragement to creatively and thoughtfully incorporate lighting into their projects, with or without the influence of a lighting designer. Moreover, such an event may not be an obvious awards vehicle for architects, but it does them well professionally to expand their thinking in this regard: Better lighting makes a better project, which presumably equates to more clients. That is a system of recognition we can all appreciate.
emilie w. sommerhoff
Design awards programs abound. Are there too many? What is the effect, positive or negative, of the number? Do they encourage design, or merely serve a marketing agenda? What kind of awards program-specific to architectural lighting design-would you like to see instituted?
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