“THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE more they stay the same.”—So the saying goes. This quote has stuck with me since reading through the September 1973 issue of Progressive Architecture (P/A) last spring. I was directed to this volume while doing research associated with my curatorial responsibilities for the installation of the Richard Kelly exhibit at the Center for Architecture in New York City. In particular, what is so striking about P/A's coverage, besides its obvious comprehensiveness, is the similarity of issues discussed—lighting design as an emerging profession, biological considerations in lighting environments, daylighting, energy conservation, the latest lamp sources, visual comfort—with the topics we address today. One is left wondering, has there been any progress in 33 years? Of course there has. Yet still, I find it compelling that the core issues facing the lighting design community appear unchanged, and are in fact probably only further complicated today by new technologies, increasingly stringent building codes, and the changing dynamics of design practice.
Discussing the role of light in the creation of spaces along with lighting's interaction with other building systems such as temperature, the P/A Editorial makes reference to a blackout of the period. Familiarly eerie, only just this past summer most of the United States was gripped in a heat wave of 100-plus degree weather. So precious was electricity, New York ordered a citywide mandate to dim lighting and reduce elevator usage. The lobby of the building where I work was noticeably darker, and 5 of the 11 passenger elevators were taken “offline,” yet everyone was able to continue with their daily activities with little inconvenience. The question, at least in my mind is, why does it take extreme circumstances to bring these pressing issues about energy consumption, global warming, and the environment to people's attention?
Last year in his keynote speech at Lightfair, Dr. David Suzuki addressed this very issue of the environment and the way in which the “global economy is using the planet as a consumptive product.” (A bit ironic that it was presented in Las Vegas, a city equated with excess, not necessarily conservation). Ten days later I sat in a presentation at the American Institute of Architects National Convention given by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaking about the same issues—the responsibilities we, as designers, have to create greener environments and promote emerging technologies that more responsibly interface with the environment. Beyond the call to arms, and the talking points of statistics, both men voiced a similar sentiment: In the absence of political leadership, design leadership can, should, and needs to step forward.
To some extent, this has already happened. For example, current AIA president R.K. Stewart has been instrumental in crafting the AIA's position on sustainable design, going so far as to issue a call for a “minimum reduction of fifty percent of the current consumption level of fossil fuels used to construct and operate buildings by the year 2010.” On February 20, 2007, Architecture 2030, a non-profit organization founded by architect Ed Mazria, to address the building sector's role as the single largest creator of greenhouse gas emissions, hosted an interactive web cast. Called the 2010 Imperative Global Emergency Teach-in, the program addressed “achievable strategies to transform the built environment,” and was seen by close to 500,000 students, faculty, deans and working professionals in the fields of architecture, planning, and design across North and South America.
The problem is, at this scale—the larger design community, and certainly the broader public arena—these activities do not stem from the voice of the organizations that represent the professional lighting design community, and they should. I do not mean to imply that the lighting community is not involved with these issues, it is, but its presence in and authorship of the discussion is missing, and with it colleagues' and the public's understanding of the active role lighting plays in sustainable design issues. I welcome the day when I can direct inquiries about the IALD and IESNA's specific positions on sustainable design, carbon emissions, and energy code regulations to a clearly stated platform. Until that time, the lighting community is foregoing a real opportunity to lead.