Modeling Light




IALD Enlighten Americas

In parallel to the electroluminescent revolution, a paradigmatic shift has occurred in the methods of designing with light. Representational techniques – including drawing, photomontage, or Photoshop  – have long been employed to explore luminous perceptual experience, layered over language to communicate intent. However, these devices create a distancing from light, reliant upon the mind’s eye, the architectural imagination. Semantics, diagrams, or calculations can only go so far as to illustrate visual stimuli; communicators may only hope that all recipients successfully imagine intended design concepts. 

Comparatively, we now work in virtual spaces on the thing itself, showing lighting effects in real-time, and moving through simulated environments that offer sufficiently high-fidelity visio-spatial experiences for unparalleled qualitative assessment and clarity of communication. Just as digital fabrication forever changed the architect’s relationship with construction, so too has the physically based renderer changed the lighting designer’s relationship with the luminous environment, moving us from the crutch of language and drawing notations to that of virtual world-making. This methodology supports the very essence of lighting design as championed by William Lam almost a half-century ago in “Perception and Lighting as Formgiver to Architecture.” If the intention of developing sustainable, long-lasting design solutions is at the core of lighting design practice, then understanding and communicating lighting intuitively through accurate simulation is an ideal means to achieve these goals.

This presentation situates current and rapidly developing digital visualization tools within a larger arc of discourse under the framework of modeling light. Part historical narrative, part technical exposé, this presentation will ground participants in today’s avant-garde lighting design practices, project near-future opportunities (including promises and challenges of artificial intelligence and the metaverse), and encourage listeners to think critically about the use of such tools in an era where client requests move at the speed of light.

Presented at the IALD Enlighten Americas conference in 2023