Creative lighting design

Learning About Light

Whether lighting design or any other profession, learning is a continuous journey.

Projects over the past few months have highlighted the need to truly understand detailed aspects for how light works.

One thing is true; you cannot accept the world as it is at the moment.

How we perceive the world around us and to remain relentlessly curious is a mantra that Michael Grubb Studio adheres to.

The Detail

2016 has seen the studio work with the Science Museum Wonderlab gallery, in London.

The project is recognised as being the museum’s most ambitious children’s interactive science initiative and opened in October 2016.

A key aspect for working with the Science Museum was to discover how light interacted with objects, rather than merely pointing spotlights at objects in a creative way.

Have a look at one of our source references with our Spectrum of Light concept that inspired the Gardens Of Light.

Whilst we are a trusted resource when it comes to lighting design, our research had to go far deeper than we had ever done before. Researching was an element we invested heavily within.

Within the £6 million permanent gallery, our focus was a series of micro science projects. The topics were varied but concentrated on: mass; force; light; sound and matter. We had to discover ways of presenting information that was easy for others to understand. This meant considerable prototyping, such as the discovery of LED components and using many non-standard products.
science museum wonderlab

Focusing On The Detail

A key moment within the gallery is a monochromatic room. We had to make the precise blue from a very narrow wavelength to make the installation work as the blue within RGB luminaires was found to not be a true blue. We required the richest tightest wavelength of blue possible.

Let’s explain briefly how it works. When looking at an object under white light it appears to be a specific colour. This is because it reflects that wavelength as white is made up of all the colours of the rainbow. For instance, a red telephone box under white light appears red. This is because it absorbs all wavelengths of light except for red, which it reflects, so we see.

Under monochromatic light with one colour hitting an object, this means this is the only light that can possibly be reflected. The red object under monochromatic red light will only appear as red. Other colours become black in colour, leaving the tone, outline or reflectivity of the object.

One of the main issues with monochromatic light was for children to understand why it was happening and what was affecting the object. This was much more than researching, proposing an idea, the museum agreeing and then working on the prototypes.

If it did not resonate with the younger target audience (we tested on school groups), it was not going to work. Once we knew that our audience were receptive, then the prototyping stage developed.

It is naive to believe that everyone understands. Light is a complex issue. You cannot assume colour works the same way in light as it does in objects. Colour matching light to a pantone is an extremely complex process. Discovering the right blue was a time consuming challenge.

Our education of monochromatic lighting took us to France via a nod from Mike Stone Lighting at the German lighting event with ROSCO (in Germany’s Light+Build conference). The font of knowledge that is Atea

became our guiding light (no pun intended). They even travelled over to the Science Museum and helped install the specific LEDs that we were searching for.

toby parkinLead Curator, Interactive Galleries from the Science Museum, Toby Parkin, explained the necessity for research to lead to peace of mind, “Within the Science Museum, there is no scope for change. From topics that looked at reflection, refraction and filters, we had to be 100% confident that people would engage and learn.”

“We tested on more than 1,000 people by conducting observations and interviews. This would lead to peace of mind and that the efforts from Michael Grubb Studio reflected the reward that the time invested was worthwhile.”

“This is a learning journey that we both embarked on. We had not worked with a lighting design consultancy in this way before. It was reassuring that when we opened our doors people will learn what we expect them to learn.”

Toby concluded, “Our goal is for 200,000 young people in school groups to visit the gallery, for free, each year. This is twice as many as the previous interactive gallery could accommodate.”

The role of testing becoming a learning process is echoed by Liza Fior, Partner at Muf Architecture. Liza highlighted,  “Once meetings shifted to delivery there was an opportunity for prototyping. Which was a real pleasure.”

“A process based approach can be a worry when budgets and time are tight and as Toby says “there was no scope for change”. We were lucky enough to work with Stuart Alexander. With his unusual background in both architecture and music festivals he brought a joyful precision to “getting it right”.”

“I would recommend that clients, cost consultants and project managers always make an allowance for testing at an architectural scale.”


You Can’t Accept Everything As It Is

Stuart Alexander, Michael Grubb Studio senior designer highlighted, “Optical effects are very different when working with LEDs. You cannot sit on your laurels and accept that what you have learnt will keep you in good stead for any project.”

“In order to have a toolbox that is rich in techniques and application, you need an understand how light works and be open to understanding new elements.”

“Learning is not something that is downloaded, it is something that we choose to invest in. For instance, I now feel truly confident with the use and application of monochromatic light.”


The Path To Connect

Stuart highlights the need to challenge and research, “If all you do is answer the brief, you deliver what is expected. To deliver work that clients truly feel part of, then we all need to go away and think deeper. We become better by understanding how things work, the experiences we have had and problems we have solved elsewhere.”

Here is why an understanding of the lighting profession as a continual journey has to be applied:

  • you become self assured that the decisions you make are correct and fit with the project
  • you can adapt to different situations. Once you have experience of how something works, it becomes easier to apply
  • you have an open mind. From related industries to learning how light works, being aware of the world around you is vital.
  • to continually deliver great projects, you have to keep learning from a huge range of resources, from science to human behaviour to endless playful testing, it is all relevant
  • the best place to learn is by doing. Creating your own brief, testing out and seeing through can take you to a different place from reading, watching and listening

science museum wonderlab

Lets Round Up

At Michael Grubb Studio we accept that we don’t know everything, but by having a real understanding for how lighting works, to the industries that all play their part and working in partnership with others, helps to create long lasting relationships.

We share, we talk, we add, we understand, we implement. Lighting provides a continuous journey to embrace and to share with others.

Learning about light is all about searching for answers that put us all in an educated space for the future.

Photos courtesy of the Science Museum