Thanks to the United Nations, 2015 was the International Year of Light (IYL) and Light-Based Technologies. The U.N. General Assembly proclaimed the initiative at its 68th session, which met in December 2013. And in making the proclamation, the U.N. recognized the importance of “raising global awareness of how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture, and health.” U.N. resolution A/RES/68/221 designated UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as the lead agency to oversee the program.
Many in the lighting design community were excited for what the year would bring. Professional lighting organizations such as the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) and the Illuminating Engineering Society got on board as patrons and partners, as did lighting trade shows such as Lightfair, and manufacturers such as Philips, Axis Lighting, and iGuzzini. A calendar of events on the IYL website listed all sorts of activities and meetings taking place worldwide. It should have been a great year, right?
But the IYL fell short of expectations. In many instances, it seemed no more involved than a cursory use of the IYL logo. And while all the photo competitions and art installations on the IYL agenda were a fun way to talk about light, they missed a larger opportunity to have a substantive conversation about the contribution of architectural lighting designers and the role that light plays in our built environment.
The IYL was organized by scientific groups working in the areas of photonics and optical technologies as a way to celebrate the science of light and the important milestones that took place last year, including the 1,000th anniversary of scientist Ibn al-Haytham’s Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics); the 200th anniversary of French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel’s first work introducing the theory of light as a wave; and the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
The architectural lighting design community entered the picture after the main IYL agenda was established—a lack of discussion about design shows that. Associations such as the IALD served as patrons of the IYL, the IALD even stating on its website that it has “been instrumental in the establishment of ‘light and the built environment’ as a key pillar of IYL.” The 2015 IALD president, Barbara Horton, spoke alongside lighting designer Gustavo Avilés at the opening ceremonies on Jan. 19–20, 2015, at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. The 2016 IALD president, Victor Palacio, spoke at the closing ceremonies on Feb. 4–6 in Mérida, Mexico. But these sessions were invitation-only and, despite live streaming, the majority of the lighting design community was not aware that they could view the ceremonies. At the IALD’s Annual Enlighten Americas Conference in Baltimore in October, only brief mention was made of Horton’s January speech, and it wasn’t replayed to the membership.
The IYL could have been a tremendous opportunity for the lighting community, but it doesn’t seem to have had any impact on the day-to-day work of designers. Throughout 2015, I didn’t hear a single lighting designer mention it.
I wish the architectural lighting design community would realize that it doesn’t have to rely on other institutions to initiate important conversations about the role of light and the lighting practitioner, or to engage with architects, government officials, and policy makers. This year, architectural lighting celebrates its 30th anniversary and three decades as the lighting community’s advocate. I say let’s make 2016 the International Year of Architectural Lighting Design. •