what role do award programs play in design practice? can the projects recognized for citation be used as educational tools? How does one define an awards program's purpose, what does it measure? Are the formats of current programs beneficial for lighting design? These were some of the many issues discussed at the A|L Light & Architecture Design Awards Roundtable held September 15 at Parsons The New School for Design in New York. The evening's event was a collaborative effort with the Department of Architecture, Interior Design and Lighting. A panel of northeast area winners from this year's awards program, which included Francesca Bettridge and Stephen Bernstein of New York lighting design firm Cline Bettridge Bernstein, Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting also in New York, and Paul Zaferiou and Keith Yancey of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Lam Partners, were joined by A|L group editor in chief Emilie Sommerhoff, and Derek Porter, the new Director of the MFA Lighting program who served as moderator.
Drawing from a combined lighting experience of over 150 years, the panelists offered an informative, engaging, and honest discussion. All the panelists agreed that entering a design awards program is a huge commitment, both in terms of time and money, but is a necessary part of professional practice. Recognition of one's work through nationally and internationally recognized programs is a way to communicate with clients and obtain new commissions, is a way to gage one's own work, and is a means for gathering ideas.
When it came to the topic of design award program structures, there were strong opinions about formats, 'categories' and how projects are judged. Panelists were of different mindsets about whether or not 'unbuilt' work should be evaluated alongside completed projects. As Francesca Bettridge pointed out 'reacting to real world constraints' is completely different than a project that is developed as a theoretical expression. Stephen Bernstein noted that the judging evaluation process will completely change based on the jury and their interaction with each other.
One of the most difficult aspects of preparing an award submission is, as Keith Yancey explained, condensing down a project that represents years of work into a limited number of words and images. Panelists agreed; expressing the 'richness of a whole idea' said Francesca Bettridge, is difficult. Given that projects have one shot via a bit of text and a few images to make an impression on a jury, sometimes as Paul Zaferiou cited, 'if lighting is too good and becomes seamless, the lighting becomes invisible and gets lost in the evaluation.'
Yet, even allowing for this irony, the panelists were in general agreement that lighting can and should be evaluated and judged as its own discipline. It is the success of what Paul Gregory referred to as the 'interplay' between architecture and lighting, 'analyzing surfaces and delivering it back to the architect.' Stephen Bernstein concurred, 'There's a lot of pressure put on lighting, it has to be both an object and functional.'
As Paul Gregory stated, ultimately designers have to ask themselves and come up with their own answers for 'why do we do this? Why do we do the extra work?' Using the A|L Design Awards as a launching point for critical discussion suggests Derek Porter is a way to 'challenge matters of education, design conventions, artistic contribution, and representation.' The A|L program, even with its success in just two years, continues to evolve, thanks to input from the lighting community. If the positive response to the first roundtable is any indication, we are on our way to providing a unique forum for professionals, students and writers. A|L