Opinion: Where Are We Now?
by Monica Llamas + Leela Shanker

1 Westminster Bridge

In mid July, submissions closed on a competition to change the face, and personality, of one of the world’s most recognised cities with light. Issuing a brief to transform the River Thames, the Illuminated River International Design Competition offers one of the highest profile opportunities this year (along with a £20m budget) “to create an elegant and charismatic light art installation of world-class quality for London’s celebrated bridges between Albert and Tower”.

Seeking concepts for 17 bridges along the river, the call out is positioned as a public art, specifically light art, commission. The installation is focused on “architectural lighting of the bridge structures” rather than “operational lighting” and includes objectives to revitalise the after dark character of the river; enhancing the use of public space along its length and adding to the public’s appreciation of the heritage built and natural environment: all exciting challenges and addressable with core skills of the architectural lighting designer.

2 Westminster Bridge

While the callout encouraged applications from cross-disciplinary teams including artists, architects, and lighting designers, the absence of a lighting expert on the selection committee prompted initial dialogue within the lighting industry. (The jurors are respected in their respective fields of art, architecture and urban planning). For such a significant project, London’s vibrant and internationally renowned lighting community should have no shortage of experts who could provide meaningful input to the review of submissions.

In their response to illumni, a spokesperson for The Illuminated River Foundation advised lighting experts were approached, though none could be found who did not want to apply for the competition. Instead, lighting expertise will be included on a supporting technical and specialist panel to advise official jurors. This suggests the lighting industry is still so young and small in size that the most experienced and qualified practitioners remain active in studios and are not in a position to forgo such rare opportunities for major installations or critique the work of their peers. Is it so?

3 Vauxhall Bridge from Millbank

Without dwelling any further on the specifics of this competition, it has provided cause for us to step back and reflect more broadly on the visibility and maturity of the lighting industry. A year on from the introduction of Certified Lighting Designer (CLD) certification and six months since the International Year of Light, it raises several questions:

  • How effective are we as an industry at communicating the value of our practice beyond the lighting community?
  • How would our urban environments look and feel different, better, if light was recognised as a critical design variable and lighting designers brought into concept design earlier?
  • Is the medium of light and its impact on society understood more by the public and city planners in the form of light art than architectural lighting design?

4 From left to right London Bridge

illumni and Monica Llamas took this opportunity to extend the conversation to some of our respected peers to consider the extent to which we are recognised and valued by our collaborative design partners, city officials and the public. Over the coming days, illumni will share their thoughts on how far we have come and how we may continue to raise the profile of the lighting community. A common belief echoed in their responses, that we also share at illumni: light has such potential to enhance the quality of life of people that it is our shared responsibility to advocate and educate the public and decision leaders in this regard. It will serve us well, as an industry and a society.

illumni invites you as colleagues and peers to contribute to the dialogue. Please blog your thoughts in the space provided below

Writer: Monica Llamas
Editor: Leela Shanker

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