Where Are We Now?
Victor Palacio, IALD President +
Director Of Ideas En Luz, Mexico,

picture Victor Palacio

In response to recent events raising questions around the visibility of the architectural lighting design industry, illumni + Monica Llamas asked some the world’s top lighting practitioners how they feel the industry is perceived today both by peers in the wider design community and the public and what needs to be done in future to progress the way lighting designers’ contributions to architecture, wellbeing, the environment and more can be better appreciated. The answers are very thought provoking. 

To what extent do you think architectural lighting design is understood as a profession and valued by our collaborative partner industries and the wider community today? (e.g. architects, clients, government, urban planners)

Good question! I would like to say that practitioners of lighting design around the world have done an amazing job by raising the profile of the profession with their quality work; and also that several lighting designers’ associations, including the IALD on a global reach, have been able to support practitioners in this endeavor. Although, we are just dealing with a tiny tip of the iceberg of projects that actually require a professional lighting design approach and are still missing it.

For those who have incorporated lighting design in their projects, either clients or government or architects, I am confident that they have understood the value that it brings to the design process and also to the final outcomes. Our challenge is to develop awareness about this value among a wider set of decision makers and of course the general public.

How often do you find yourself educating new clients and design partners about the role of lighting designers and advocating the value of lighting design (e.g. scope of brief, timing of being brought into design conversations)? 

Every day, this is an endless effort that needs to be addressed by all practitioners with lots of energy. Just this morning I was in a taxi going to the airport after a meeting and the driver asked me what I do for a living. I found myself answering that I am a lighting designer and explaining what it is about. On the daily work with clients, it doesn’t mean that one needs to give a lecture about lighting design every time there is a meeting, this is about teaming up with the client and demonstrating along the design process the relevance of light for the architectural environment and its impact on the human experience.

A year on from the introduction of the Certified Lighting Designer (CLD) certification, the world’s first, international, evidence-based certification in architectural lighting design, and 6 months since the UNESCO International Year of Light, during which the industry gained some spotlight, is it just a matter of time until the profession is better recognized for the specific skills we contribute to the design process?

An important lesson learned from the International Year of Light celebration is that our perspective about lighting needs to address the general public’s concerns. Yes, it gained a good degree of awareness about the relevance of light and lighting in the life of people, and this is good news for our profession. Fortunately, it also made us aware of what people, institutions and other professionals think about lighting design.

While we are usually focused on explaining those special skills that we contribute to the design process, the general public is concerned about other things. While as lighting designers love to say and explain the ‘cool’ things that we do; people are demanding we explain how we address the impact of light on health; the way we can use daylight as a natural and sustainable resource; light pollution; the effects on the environment produced by the energy taken to power light, as well as the need to address lighting as a factor of wellbeing.

From my personal perspective, and also as a concern in the IALD, we practitioners need to re-phrase and re-focus the message that we are giving to the market about the value of lighting design; society has changed and the profession is evolving, we need to speak of quality lighting and its positive impact on people’s major concerns.

Regarding the Certified Lighting Design CLD program, there has been time for many practitioners

to acknowledge the relevance of this quality standard for the profession. Due to the multi-disciplinary backgrounds of lighting designers, there was a strong need for a valid professional

certification as a valid recognition. It will be of course a matter of time for CLD to be acknowledged in the market and we are putting time and resources to position it both in a global level and taking local specific actions. Although, the best way to give specific weight to this credential is by developing a critical mass of practitioners that hold it as their competence certification. I take the opportunity to encourage my colleagues to getting involved in obtaining their CLD.

What steps could we take as an industry to further raise the profile and perceived value of lighting design among our key creative partners and the wider community? 

I like the way you are phrasing this question since there is an implication that this is a collective effort. At some point, some players in the industry have supported the idea that a given entity should provide official recognition to the profession. I don’t see that happening in the way of a statement from any authority saying “we acknowledge lighting design as a profession”. It is our value in the market that actually gives relevance to our profession and to us as practitioners.

My proposed steps include the following:

a: We in the industry of lighting and specifically in the lighting design field, have been talking to ourselves for decades; it is time that we speak to those outside our little world and give the right message about the value of lighting design. As said before, I consider this message goes in the direction of the quality of light and how it impacts human well-being, sustainable use of resources, friendly integration with the environment and positive effects in the human experience.

b: As DESIGN professionals we need to go into the basics of architecture and integrate light from its roots when a project starts. This means, challenging ourselves to actually be DESIGN collaborators with our clients. I have serious concerns about the way in which many lighting design practices are seen more as technical consultancies than design collaborators. It is up to us to raise the profile of the profession by having this design dialogue and interaction with architects. When we do lighting design we are doing architecture; unless we decide to do lighting consultancy by remaining in the layer of solving technical requirements.

c: Advocacy. Every single practitioner of lighting design might be an advocate for the profession, there is nothing that can be stronger than that. Of course, professional associations do their part in establishing relevant relationships, developing educational programs, providing networking opportunities, recognizing the work of practitioners, etc. but it is up to individual practitioners to leverage their work and set the bar in a high position in the market place.

d: Developing and strengthening our “glocal” community. We lighting designers have a global voice and take local actions; our international and regional associations speak for us as much as we support them; it is the time to be active and committed in our collective endeavors. How? By being active members of our associations, participating in networking activities, contributing to educational programs, obtaining CLD recognition, interacting with technology developers and communicating among each other.

Lighting design is a profession in its young adulthood, the challenges are not small and we really need to foster this collective commitment of gaining acknowledgment every day.

Read: Where Are We Now? By Monica Llamas + Leela Shanker.

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