IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Lighting designer Gaurav Jain
A cultural perspective on lighting design
By: Jessica Merkens
There is a greater emphasis on brighter light in Asia compared to Europe
In his fifteen years of experience as a lighting designer, Gaurav Jain has done projects around the globe. After studying architecture in New Delhi he was drawn to lighting design and found himself studying lighting in Wismar, Germany. He lived in Italy and Singapore and currently resides in Prague. What are the differences in lighting design in Asian and European countries? Lighting designer Gaurav Jain gives us a cultural perspective on lighting design.
Demand for lighting designers
"Increasingly, clients all over the world are finding the need to have a specialist consultant for lighting. Clients nowadays realise light is essential to create beautiful spaces, make architecture more iconic, synchronise aesthetic and task requirements, as well as enhance productivity. This augurs well for the profession.
Should we as lighting designers have our own style like an architect or should we be ‘style-less’ and blend in our work seamlessly with the architect’s style? This is always an interesting challenge. After all, it's the architect’s vision that we are trying to refine with light. Moreover, another layer of an individual’s style upon the architectural design may not be desirable. I believe most lighting designers would lean towards the latter approach. Presently, we see differences in styles more in the decorative aspect of lighting design, and less in the architectural aspect."
Natural light as inspiration
"What inspires me most is natural light. It never ceases to amaze with its virtuosity. I also get inspired by the beautiful architecture of different genres. As I am now living in Prague, I have started to enjoy the different styles of lighting here: the decorative aspect of illumination seen in beautiful glass crystal work and the Art Nouveau style in this amazing city."
In many Asian cities clients want their buildings to be eye-catching landmarks that stand out
Singapore city lights
Differences in urban lighting design
"There are many differences between the approach of Asian and European places, and they are most apparent in urban lighting. There is a greater emphasis on brighter light (more lumens) in Asia compared to Europe. If the light is not bright enough, people have the perception that it is dark. It also has to do with the total working hours in each region. In Scandinavian countries, you will see retail closing at 6 pm, but in Asia, they operate until 9 or 10 pm on average. So, it’s also governed by the usage pattern: people are working longer hours at the night-time, which helps form the perception that spaces should be bright at night.
Interestingly, when people from Asia come to a city like Amsterdam on holiday, they will love the night-time environment. They enjoy the quiet atmosphere and warm light in European cities. But if I went to my client in Asia and said: look, this is what they’re doing in Amsterdam. The light is not so bright which makes it charming, cosy and romantic. Why don’t we replicate it here? He will say ‘no, no, it’s too dark’. Warm light is often associated with dim light in Asia, and when you go for such lighting schemes, people sometimes find it uncomfortable. Asian countries prefer a colder temperature of light compared to the West, partly because of the desire to shift away from the generally warm tropical climate in Asia."
Lighting levels and light pollution
"What I also see is that in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and many other metropolitan Asian cities, clients want their buildings to be eye-catching landmarks that stand out from the rest. Whereas in Europe, there is more restraint especially when it comes to outdoor lighting. However, this may be a changing trend as I have recently observed that even in Europe, with the recent bombardment of LEDs, spaces are getting brighter.
Lighting levels currently practised in Asia are quite high, the baseline is always towards the more upper end of the spectrum compared to European countries. This, unfortunately, results in higher light pollution levels. Recently in 2016, a study claimed that Singapore had the highest level of light pollution in the world.
In some public projects, there is also a concern of litigation. If someone falls down the stairs one of the first things to blame is insufficient lighting. This phenomenon has become stronger in recent years. That’s the reason why public spaces in Asia tend to have a high level of light.
Another factor could be the higher population density in Asian countries. Next to the extended opening hours of buildings, there’s a high density of people in public spaces and the need for more target eyeballs in commercial projects, which all create demand for more and more light. Clients will blame lighting for slow sales, saying it’s not bright enough. Often, user safety is brought up as a need for more uniformity, less contrast and higher light levels in Asian countries."
These differences are also due to the way nature imparts the light to the world
Lighting design in Amsterdam and Singapore
"You could compare two large urban cities, say Amsterdam and Singapore. Both are highly developed and culturally thriving cities. Besides, they both have a strong connection to water, Amsterdam with its canals and location next to the sea, whereas the city-state of Singapore as an island, with the Singapore River cutting across the city centre. But when it comes to lighting, there are many interesting differences. Amsterdam has low-rise dwellings with buildings that are only four or five stories high and feature soft light levels. The canal network in Amsterdam Central is still illuminated with a very warm colour of light, and even though new technology is used, the continuity of spaces still exudes an old-world charm, respecting the historical character of the area. The Singapore River area, on the other hand, has several iconic landmarks all along its fringe, from different periods in its short history. One can see a mosaic of varying lighting ambiences, cool versus warm light, coloured versus white light, eye-catching signage and LED giant billboards, all within walking distance. Lighting in Amsterdam is a very continuous experience, whereas in Singapore it is more individualistic: every building is lit up differently.
Some of the world’s leading architects come from the Netherlands challenging our perception of dogma. There is also an ‘informal’ approach to lighting in Amsterdam, best showcased in the Amsterdam Light Festival. I’ve really enjoyed the installations in this light festival."
Light is a precious resource
"I think these differences are also due to the way nature imparts the light to the world. In Europe, light is a precious resource, especially in the winter months. However, light in the tropics of Asia is abundant, and comparisons are always made in the visual transition between daylight and artificial light - the trend is not to have a significant drop in the artificial light levels. Night lighting is galloping towards ‘as bright as day’!
Psychologically, this plays a part in the treatment of artificial light as well. As daylight is very precious in Europe, you can see lighting designers working on indoor lighting, for instance in office spaces. Whereas in Asia they prefer the lighting designer to focus more on the public areas only. They will go for a very simplified lighting scheme for indoor task spaces."
Amsterdam city lights