Light Fair International 2016 (LFI 2016)
San Diego Convention Centre
April 26 – 28, 2016. Report by Leela Shanker


Is this what Light Fair International 2026 will look like? Reflecting on this year’s LFI 2016, as well as LEDucation and Light & Building preceding, it is not hard to imagine some degree of evolution in the format and experience of lighting trade shows.

Having traversed 3 fairs in 2 months, I, along with many of my North – American colleagues, have seen 3 iterations of largely the same brands’ booths at different scales. From the highly curated staging of Light & Building in Frankfurt, to table-top real estate at LEDucation in New York, Light Fair sits somewhere in between. Having spoken with colleagues about all three events, there is definite support for the democracy and efficiency of LEDucation’s compact format – the products speak for themselves and people can circumnavigate the hall for updates and catch ups in a fraction of the time.

IALD Awards, Light Fair 2016, San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego


LEDucation 2016, the NY Hilton Midtown, New York

As the industry evidently values the succinct scale of opportunity LEDucation provides, it suggests cut-through on the trade show floor, as in an overcrowded market, is not only about the square footage of “performance space” an exhibitor occupies, nor the number of drinks they can pour from branded pop-up bars.


Many of us could not afford the time for more than a day or two at Light Fair, its extended opening hours this year giving even more justification for attendees to cram their Tuesday and Wednesdays, flying out without a Thursday appearance.

4_LFI space_odyssey

Even with this year’s record registration and exhibitor numbers, reported by LFI to be the largest in its 28-year history, RAB’s virtual tour prompted me to ask whether in future, a brand’s virtual presence will allow for more convenient and perhaps even more compelling opportunities to gain updates on new product offerings, allowing people to plug in from any point in the globe at their leisure. While nothing replaces the value of meeting face to face, is it possible some meetings may migrate to the virtual platform for scheduling and cost benefits? If so, it may not be the physical square footage of brand space that continues to draw attention, but the virtual.




In contrast to the usual range of booth designs, including that of Lumenpulse who were awarded Best Booth for LFI 2016, RAB’s “non-booth”, black box, held no product displays of any kind, the aim being, to design an experience that simply leaves people with a positive memory and brand association.


The queues of people waiting to find out what lay inside provided opportunity for company delegates to speak with potential clients. Once inside, guests were given their own Virtual Reality headset to then explore a 3D virtual tour of unbranded space, ultimately promoting a new 3d rendering service slated for offer by RAB in future. Knowing how difficult it can be to communicate light to clients who have limited experience or vocabulary for the medium, the 3d fly-through certainly provided a hugely seductive mock up.


As I sat in RAB’s darkened theatre, donning VR headset, I was able to drift far from the endless aisles of tradeshow flares, up and out over wide stretches of beach, through a series of imagined home and public spaces, and into the stars. Ironically, amidst the myriad electric light options surrounding us outside the black box, for many conference goers who took this virtual tour, seeing the stars, even in 3d simulation, was one of the most satisfying moments of the fair.

91_ Current pannel

It seems perhaps appropriate however, that a virtual experience was such a highlight at this year’s LFI. This is because the emerging technology we are currently talking about in conference sessions, press conferences and on the trade show floor is not about physical products; its about data. The more significant deals are being negotiated outside the tradeshow, and outside the industry, for partnerships to maximize utility of the infrastructure of light for a portfolio of purposes other than light itself. The success or performance of this technology does not lend itself to display, it’s measured by human impact and longer terms benefits in energy savings and other community outcomes such as security.

92_ GE Current stand

GE’s “Current, powered by GE” announced six new smart city partnerships, including CivicSmart and BreezoMeter, that will utilise its intelligent LEDs and Predix cloud platform to support data interactions relative to temperature, occupancy, ambient light sensing, pedestrian planning, parking, traffic and public safety.

CivicSmart, will use the infrastructure of street lights to improve its ability to track parking occupancy. BreezoMeter technology will use GE’s platform to gain intelligence around how traffic conditions impact the environment, giving planners actionable analytics to influence city mapping and climate-change initiatives.

John Gordon, Chief Digital Officer, GE, with Gary McCarthy,
Mayor of Schenectady, New York

Speaking at a panel on Intelligent Cities hosted by GE, San Diego COO David Graham, supported the business case for investing in intelligent lighting. Noting a 60% energy reduction, providing $250 million in savings, the balance of which could be used for cameras, data receptors and sensors that allow for better decision making and further innovation in other areas of public benefit.

The Mayor of Schenectady, New York, Gary McCarthy, supported the role of these technologies in creating healthier, safer, more sustainable communities, reminding us that we all have a responsibility to contribute to such change.


The success and uptake of GE’s platform, and similar systems offered by other large lighting players, may be determined in part by whether city municipals and enterprises are satisfied to use lighting product of one firm exclusively. Companies such as Leaf Nut of Harvard Technologies, who have provided such data and energy savings systems in London and around the UK for over 10 years, may continue to have unique advantage in allowing clients a convenient and adaptable system that connects to a range of luminaires irrespective of brand and type.


Given current industry focus, Philips’ theme, “Beyond illumination”, could have been a caption for the conference. One of its two key focus areas was also the use of light as a data gateway. The second was human-centric lighting, tunable to varying human activities and needs. This was mirrored by 2 new streams of conference seminars introduced at LFI this year: the IoT and Smart Lighting Forum and the Light and Health track.



Through the new IoT and Smart Lighting Forum, Brandon Davito, of Silver Spring Networks, outlined practical issues associated with tap fees for metering of individual assets connected to street light while also noting the need to resolve data security and management issues resulting from increased amounts and types of data on the utility, city and/ or consumer side.


Tom Hamilton from Ketra opened Wednesday’s Light and Health sessions to a full room (even at 8.30am) proving the height of industry interest in Circadian lighting. His session, Circadian Lighting in the Real World: Science, Sources, and Controls, covered recent designs, new metrics (including the Lighting Research Center’s circadian stimulus calculator) and consumer end issues deciphering the “wild west” of the IoT. Responding to a question from the audience about convincing clients of the value of circadian lighting, he shared that a more compelling argument for clients is often to make it a secondary benefit to reduction in installation costs.

Charles Stone, Fisher Marantz Stone, presenter of “Cultural Light”.

Addressing nature versus nurture in humans’ innate response to light, Charles Stone of Fisher Marantz Stone Inc presented a seminar on Cultural Light. Exploring ideas of our “indigenous” and “instinctive” response to light, he compared Oriental and Occidental tastes. In contrast to the approach in Asian cultures to celebrate the beauty of existing conditions, such as darkness, the Occidental approach has evolved to become a quest for “bright light that never ceases”.


Spinning through global examples, we were reminded of moving projects including work by Norwegian designer Erik Selmer on the Laerdal Tunnel. Programming sunrise moments along a freeway tunnel, change in colour temperature was used to assist with driver alertness.

James Carpenter, James Carpenter Design Associates, presenter of “The Substance of Light in the Public Realm”.

Under the sails of the Hub and Daylighting Pavilion, James Carpenter’s session on “The Substance of Light in the Public Realm” featured design of the Fulton Center’s Sky Reflector-Net. The project was also recognised with an Award of Merit at the IALD International Lighting Design Awards that evening accepted on stage by Matt Franks of Arup.



Other discussions at The Hub addressed practical issues of career trajectory and succession planning in the industry. In a session called “Oh to be Young and in the Lighting Industry”, moderated by Paul Tarricone, Editor of LD+A, Brienne Willcock of illuminart and Craig Casey of Lutron represented the emerging practitioners’ voice. Jennifer Jacques of Lighting Application Sciences (LAS LLC) and Lisa Reed of Envision Lighting Design presented the perspective of mentors and employers. Brienne Willcock challenged whether the pattern of young designers moving every few years was due to a lack of loyalty or lack of challenge and opportunity. Jennifer Jacques now approaches the investment of time and effort required to train new team members as an industry contribution, trusting that when young designers may leave, they will reciprocate the training investment in their new role.




In a sea of digital solutions, it was refreshing to stumble upon the analogue interactivity of textiles produced by Sensitile. Crafting light channels into the thickness of surface materials, they have created light responsive materials that animate without need for any kind of digital programming. Triggered by movement (or obstruction between light source and material), the range of applications, from activated concrete pave to interior vertical surfaces, the stand and products were intriguing a steady flow of designers.





Wednesday evening, the San Diego Air and Space Museum was the destination for the 33rd Annual IALD International Lighting Design Awards. Under the wing of former flying machines, 16 Awards of Merit were announced from a field of over 201 projects. The most prestigious Radiance Award for Excellence in Design was this year awarded to Tillotson Design Associates for the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York.

Radiance Award to Tillotson Design Associates for the Lincoln Square Synagogue, NY, accepted by Susan Tillotson.

Award of Merit for Sake, Double Bay to Electrolight, accepted on stage by Donn Salisbury. 

Beside the glitz of the gala dinner, few may have noticed a humble wooden box tucked away within the Museum’s special exhibition, Da Vinci: the Ultimate Innovator. Featuring recreations of Da Vinci’s most famous inventions based on his conceptual drawings and use of materials from the time, here was Da Vinci’s idea of the floodlight.


In leaving the Awards Dinner, and conference, I continue to wonder how Da Vinci may have re-imagined the potential of light given the technology we have at our fingertips today. As ever, we would do well for the art and science of light to be pushed and tested with the bold inquiry and painterly hand of the inventor.


Photography: IALD Awards Dinner Photos By Theresa Nissen

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