This winter, the architecture and design community lost several leading figures—legendary designer Eva Zeisel, and architects Ricardo Legoretta, Yoshiko Sato, and Jacques Brownson. Closer to home, the lighting industry also lost some notable leaders—Marvin Gelman, founder of lighting company Lighting Services Inc, and William Blitzer, whose family founded lighting manufacturer Lightolier.
In all of these instances, their deaths represent profound loss for their families, friends, and colleagues. But it also signals an immense void for their professions. In the case of the lighting community, the industry lost two immensely talented individuals who in many ways helped to shape the lighting industry that we know today. So how do we ensure that their knowledge and experience about so many vital areas in the industry, from design to manufacturing to business, continues in today's discussions about lighting?
This is not always an issue that is easy to talk about, or that one wants to bring up, but the truth is that the lighting profession, while still very young, has lost many of its pioneers and founding members. I am often reminded of this when researching articles, and it was particularly acute while working on architectural lighting's 25th anniversary issue (Nov/Dec 2011).
"The larger question, really, is: How do we become the stewards of our own history? Addressing this question has never been more urgent than it is now, since the industry as a whole is currently experiencing a significant technological shift to solid-state lighting and we see new players entering the industry every day."
The larger question, really, is: How do we become the stewards of our own history? Addressing this question has never been more urgent than it is now, since the industry as a whole is currently experiencing a significant technological shift to solid-state lighting and we see new players entering the industry every day.
Part of the challenge in building a collective history of the industry, from the perspective of both design and manufacturing, is that there is no one definitive source of information. Yes, there have been several books written about the history of light, such as David DiLaura's A History of Light and Lighting (IESNA, 2006), but that covers only one aspect—the evolution of light source technology—of lighting's history.
Certainly, the various lighting design publications serve as an archive of the people, projects, and events that have shaped the profession. So do the milestone anniversary celebrations of lighting organizations such as the Illuminating Engineering Society or the International Association of Lighting Designers. Still, these are set moments in time that produce pieces of information that will need to be assembled later for archive purposes.
And what about the daily transfer of knowledge and project experience? How does this occur between firm principals and junior staff? Or between a product developer and his or her team? Or a teacher and student? I'm sure individual firms and manufacturers have their own processes for the sharing of information, and to some extent it is the kind of thing that probably takes place organically in the course of everyday discussion about work and projects. Still, it is something to be mindful of and not to take for granted.
This transfer of knowledge requires a certain level of diligence from us all. The practitioner with many years of experience must find the time to share that experience, no matter the pressures of practice. Younger designers shouldn't be afraid to ask questions and take notes. Industry conferences and trade shows serve as outlets for the dissemination of information; perhaps a history track, or something like it, should be added as a regular feature at Lightfair? And all entities in the industry—professional organizations, firms, publications—have to be more willing to share the information that they have gathered, with the goal in mind to create one central archive for a history of lighting design devoid of any specific organizational association.
Building a collective history of the architectural lighting design profession is not only in our interest, but it should be seen as a necessity. Without it, continuity of design and manufacturing processes will be lost, and future generations will be cheated out of a knowledge base that will provide them with the foundations for their own practices.