Secret Scotland

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Were feature lights a bad design idea?

It’s not often that technology moves fast enough to render your thoughts almost redundant as you are having them, but that could be the case with this observation – and why the post is ‘Were feature lights a bad design idea’, rather than ‘Are…’

Designers have often tried to use lighting to emphasise features and make otherwise plain structures look more interesting and engaging, and that’s no bad thing. Carefully positioned lighting, well positioned, not dazzling the observer or shining straight into their eyes, but used to pick out or emphasis a shape, or introduce a point of interest can add to the appearance of a design element. Let’s not even go to the dark side – it’s often self-evident because you just don’t want to look.

In the past, one of the main failings of this technique has been the short life of the bulbs used, meaning that unless the owner is prepared to keep on coughing up the cost of ownership, and maintain the installations by renewing the bulbs before, or as, they fail, them the original vision will always be lost, as there will always be failed bulbs on view.

The two pics I caught recently show this effect quite well.

The first was taken in GoMA, Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art. Here we have some wooden disks apparently stuck into the stairs with no obvious reason, but regular visitors will know that these cover the holes left behind when the lamp fitting were removed from the stairs, presumably when the owners got fed up replacing the bulbs when the died, or got fed up with the dead and dark light fittings, which were ultimately seldom to be found with working bulbs installed.

I don’t know if these were ever a good idea (at the time). While they cast a nice glow and pattern on each step, they shone in the eyes of anyone looking up the stairs (so count as fail under my rules) , and were probably kicked by those of lesser intelligence, just ‘for fun’, which would have reduced their life.

So now they’re history.

GOMA stairs

GoMA stairs – no lights now

The second example was spotted on the same day, but is not as old that seen in GoMA.

Leaving the People’s Palace, the early onset of dusk meant I could see how many bulbs had failed in the steps leading to the restored and relocated Doulton Fountain, restored in 2005. 36 fittings had only 18 were illuminated.

This would look really nice if all were lit, but sadly, half of them are dead – and when we have dark evenings too, which would the best time to have them all working.

Glasgow Green Doulton stair lights

Glasgow Green Doulton stair lights

The interesting thing is that today, in 2014, we are in the middle of a lighting revolution.

LED (light emitting diode) technology has matured in the past few years, and gone from being something that was promised to something that has been delivered.

LEDs can be delivered in any colour, or colour temperature, and at brightness levels that are the equal of anything they might be used to replace. Power consumption (dependent on application and type) is anything from 50% to 20% of old technology, and service life can be anything from 20,000 to 50,000 hours.

Even as I write, I have bulletins arriving on my desk which announce new design that provide even brighter replacement for specialist bulbs, and yet more improvements in output and service life for ‘ordinary’ replacements. The only downside is that of initial cost, but even that is falling, as the initial R&D costs are rolled into increasing production numbers. Buyers just have to beware they are not suckered, and are ripped of by rogue designers who make silly claims, and price their lamps as if they were unique.

So, the problems of the stairs I happened to come across on the same day are really a thing of the past.

GoMA could refit its stairwell lights with LED fittings that would not burn out a few hours after being fitted, nor would they suffer almost instant death if kicked by brainless neds (since they have no fragile hot filaments), and for that type of fitting, 20-50,000 hours would mean little maintenance needed. And we have not even touched on the vastly reduced power consumption.

The Doulton Fountain steps could benefit similarly, as they are not high power lights anyway, so once fitted would last for thousands of hours and need minimal maintenance.

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March 22, 2014 - Posted by | council, photography | , , , , ,

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