NATURAL LIGHT FIRST!

LESS ARTIFICIAL, MORE NATURAL, PLEASE! At the Lights in Goa seminar, lighting architects appealed for more sustainable use of artificial light to reduce modern civilisation’s carbon footprint. In the picture are Joaquim Ritter with KJS Events’ Kapil Surlakar, Sacheen Pai Raikar and James Andrade

Talk of sustainable light, education in lighting and the future of lighting at the 

5th edition of ‘Lights in Goa’ at the International Architectural Lighting Seminar

By Tara Narayan

IT doesn’t occur to many of us that there is something called healthy and unhealthy light which plays a vital role in our long-term wellbeing. Most of us say, let there be light and are romantic about it, and leave it at that. But now that our civilisation has taken to turning day into night and night into day in many ways, we need to look at all aspects of how light affects us, be it natural or unnatural.

There were an estimated 250 concerned delegates from 12 countries to discuss the pros and cons of various kinds of natural and artificial light at a two-day 5th edition of the Lights in Goa seminar in Panjim on February 3 and 4, 2017. We may have a lot of wonderful natural light all year in our tropical climate to draw on with expertise and technology in India, but it is a plethora of artificial lights which continue to make inroads in our real estate and construction industry boom!

Is it because natural daylight is harder or more expensive to tap even if our ancestors did it very skilfully with common sense? There were few choices then and people made the most of daylight, with all lifestyles revolving around this natural phenomenon. In our mod con times post-industrial and urban revolution, there are several options in which artificial light lights up our lives in private and public spaces, such as street lighting.

ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING

ARTIFICIAL lighting plays an important role in the building industry and there is a growing community of lighting architects whose advice is sought in the business. Needless to say, lighting is often abused as we see when buildings touch the sky with ugly, arbitrary single or multi-colour lights fixed beyond reason or concern for urban avifauna and flora. In developed countries, there are laws vis-à-vis lighting in public and how it may not infringe on the environment, but apparently not in India.

The Lights of Goa seminar had speakers talking about the  pros and cons of natural and artificial lighting around the world. Italy’s Ricardo Andrea Marini’s presentations and talks on designing spaces for people and human scale lighting in the public realm were eye-opening and well received. His bottom-line was if lighting can be transformed for the better in New York, it can be done anywhere else in the world regardless of how messed up the scene is!

His talk was lyrical as he focused on how we wake up to light and how it impacts the quality of life around the clock. Civilisation has come a long way, shifting from natural to artificial light. In Europe light is linked to  the sun, while in India it is also linked to the moon. He observed that there is always a cultural aspect inherent in how we use light, but in the last 50 years or so digitisation has been playing a vital role in how we perceive it. “It can be efficient, but it may be not good.”

HURTFUL LIGHT

HE HAS heard about how our town planners and municipalities have taken a shine to strong dazzling lights. One lighting architect had pointed out that one of India’s oldest heritage places – prime minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi –  has recently been transformed, with the riverside ghat now featuring ghastly lights! These have changed the entire atmosphere of the traditional ghats where so many activities take place by the riverside. This kind of bright lighting can ruin the charm of ancient Varanasi, or Benaras as India’s oldest city is also called.

Even in Delhi, the subject of lighting enjoys scant respect. There is no sensitive thinking on the usage of artificial lighting at night in public places in India. As Mr Ricardo took pains to explain, there is light for different purposes and contexts – light for day and night, for socialising in a night club. Think of the 24-hour call centres where so many employees work. “The human pineal gland is affected by uniform lighting.” The kind of light we bask in, day time or night, has a bearing on human wellbeing. Light is at the heart of our bio-rhythms and if we turn these upside down it takes a toll on our moods, behaviour patterns and finally our primary wellbeing. Research is linking constant exposure to artificial lighting at all hours to some forms of cancer.

For Marini, “Quantity is not quality!” His talk briefly traced how his company dealt with lighting up problems in public spaces in various places including New York. It makes one realise how in India, our planners tend to go overboard with lighting and its usage given the many options available today. Natural is always best, but when that is not possible there is artificial light which has to be graded for the purpose and context in which it is designed.

NO ONE ANSWER

THERE is no one answer for lighting problems and planners must take into consideration those who will be affected by their designs. Unfortunately, as Marini observed, “Very few people understand the light we design for humans including natural and artificial light.” In Europe and North America, light professionals like him make people aware of light and its role in day-to-day living.

Somebody else who endorsed and summed up the deliberations of the seminar is Joachim Ritter, managing director of VIA Veriag and editor-in-chief of Professional Lighting Design magazine. To quote, “What’s important to understand is that quantity is not quality. Lighting differs for specific needs. We’re historically programmed to understand that ‘on’ and ‘off’ are the only words linked to lighting, but it goes much beyond. There is an immense body of research which has gone into architectural lighting. As humans, our bio-rhythm is linked to the kinds of light we are exposed to beyond natural light. The kind of lighting best suited for our homes, offices, public spaces, streetlights differ and impact our life in many ways.”

Mr Ritter said that in Germany even they make the most of the little sunshine they have and are hoping that “by 2022-2023 we will be able to close down our 12 to 15 nuclear power plants. We don’t want to be dependent on nuclear power!” Consider that as real progress. The history of light has progressed from natural to sodium vapour lamps to incandescent filament bulbs to gas fluorescence and now the latest is LED, but he says, “the challenge now is to get to a better quality and better control in LED.”  

The seminar discussed a gamut of topics related to the abuse of light and the conclusion that light has the power to facilitate activity, but it also has the power to rejuvenate! If only light designers pay heed to the basics be it India or abroad in Sri Lanka, UAE, South Korea, Austria and USA. Participating in the deliberations on the Goan and Indian side (and the organising group) were architects Kapil Surlakar, Sacheen Pai Raikar and James Andrade of KJS Events. Surlakar said it is of utmost importance that we in India endeavour to educate and motivate decision makers into having an ambitious first ever architectural lighting master plan for India, Panjim and Goa.

Active Citizens

SOMEBODY commented in an off-the-cuff aside that it is not above our town planning authorities to hire foreign experts to drawn up expensive master plans, but good or bad, these are then superimposed upon and re-touched to meet the needs of economic priorities! Perhaps this is because there is no educated, informed scrutiny up front from citizens who ultimately pay the price vis-à-vis how the public kitty is used to the detriment of public health over time. Citizens need to play a key role in how their city, town or village should be lit up instead of leaving it to planners, bureaucrats and politicians who haven’t a clue, or if they have they are not interested for reasons unknown.

 

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