Monthly Archives: February 2016

What is Culture?

The definition of culture is better understood when the different variables that define it are studied. In order to get a better resolution on what culture really stands for, it is important to understand the ingredients/ elements that contribute to a culture. Some of these elements are listed below:

  • Arts and architecture
  • Technology
  • Economics
  • Religion
  • Literature
  • Politics
  • Tradition and Ritual
  • Human Physiology
  • Context / Climate

Lighting solutions in different cultures carry certain unifying elements, and then there are local variations that may arise due to any of the reasons listed above. We use the McDonald’s metaphor to explain the local variations. The following is a listing of the different McDonald staples internationally:

  • Belgium:  Croque McDo
  • France:  French fries are fried potatoes
  • Hong Kong:  Rice-Fan-Tastic, McRice
  • India:   Maharajah Mac, chicken tikka burger, veg burger (no beef)
  • Israel:   McShawarma, barbecued vs. fried beef patties
  • Japan:   Tsukimi Burger (Moon-Viewing Burger!)
  • Pakistan:  McKofta, McChutney Burger
  • South Korea: McBingsoo (Korean shaved ice)
  • USA:  Super-Sizing

Gartner Hype Cycle

In understanding how culture affects light, we can make some more accurate deductions based upon how people interact with new technology. The most informative perspective on this was developed by the American research firm Gartner in the form of the graphic called the ‘Hype Cycle’. The graph elapses the time over which a piece of new technology or design will be engaged with by the public, and how the public will engage with that new design over that time. The basic principles of the Hype Cycle suggest that a new design will initial become incredibly attractive as the namesake’s ‘hype’ is created surrounding its release. Upon its release the design will fall downward to its lowest point titled by Gartner the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’, in which consumers become frustrated or disappointed by the reality of the product. However the Hype Cycle notes that after coming to terms with the product’s reality, and having experienced it in their everyday lives, the product’s engagement increases to a mild plateau from which it ever so gradually descends until newer technology is introduced, and the cycle begins again.

Gartner Hype Cycle

Gartner Hype Cycle

The Gartner Hype Cycle is a methodology that’s been used effectively by Gartner since 1995 to predict market trends. The Hype Cycle provides a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities. The Gartner Hype Cycle methodology gives a view of how a technology or application will evolve over time, providing insight into managing its deployment within the context of specific business sector.

A corollary to the Hype Cycle could be that the technology triggers happen in different parts of the world at different times, and they continue to propagate through their hype cycle at different rates. If ‘light levels used’ are seen as a function of technology and then mixed with economics to understand the speed of absorption, we can better understand why certain areas of the world have a propensity for higher light levels. It may also mean that the ‘light levels used’ in different parts of the world, based on their economic prowess, may be located on different parts of the Hype cycle.

While allowing for this perspective, a critique of Gartner’s effort is that the design is not cross-culturally adaptable in its entirety. The reality of a product’s release is that the timeline it takes exists in parallel with other dimensions not mentioned by Gartner’s Hype Cycle, such as culture and climate. In forming our critique of Gartner’s Hype Cycle, we developed our own edition to push forward the ideology that surrounds the development of new technology. In our edition of the hype cycle, we see that the focus is on lighting design, but that the design approach is considered as part of the concerns of culture and climate. The cycle is also concern with practical obligations like budget, function and architecture. The cycle’s Y axis possesses more concerns than visibility, looking at economy, technology triggers and light levels. The adapted design allows for a more practical look at consumer engagement when dealing with the field of light.

Gartner Hype Cycle: Reinterpreted

Gartner Hype Cycle: Reinterpreted

History of Light levels

Culture, climate and materiality form the three pillars of light that are the bedrock for our critique of the zeitgeist. Climate and materiality are two great concerns within lighting, but while they possess enormous influence, they do have clearly defined boundaries. The broader a definition is of culture, the more accurate it becomes; the inverse for both climate and materiality. The flexible nature of culture holds a great deal of interest for design, in that how we manifest objects, systems and behaviors through design is a large part of the dialogue surrounding the question; what is culture?

Tree of Light_GE

The culture of lighting defines us. In an era that is increasingly segmented, with a renewed focus on site-specific, culturally aware design, every practitioner in the built environment can benefit from better understanding the implications of culture in lighting design. While the nature of culture is interesting, attempting to define or sculpt its wide boundaries is not the primary aim of this section. Rather we are interested in how culture informs light and affects how we perceive light. Becoming culturally aware is a difficult process. It takes decades of globalization, travel and education to even scratch the surface of how we as humans have all come to inhabit this green earth in so many different ways. Understanding the differing nature of culture globally as it affects light is one of the primary goals of this section.

Every culture has had a distinct relationship with light, and that continues today. As it is manifest, light defines broader tastes and styles within a culture. And, this has deeper implications than mere fashion or vogue. As more firms and practitioners begin to operate across geographic boundaries, understanding cultural drivers is critical for meeting the needs of the populous. From lighting the villages of India to designing civic, residential and institutional environments in New York City, to exploring the burgeoning and conflicted world of the Middle East. Every practitioner in the built environment can benefit from better understanding the implications of culture in lighting design. Lighting solutions internationally balance universal ideas about light with local variations. A given culture’s position in the global economic development cycle is often reflected in its use of lighting in urban, night environments. However, striking a balance between regional differences and globalization is often a challenge.

1950s Office

What are the elements that define individual cultures?  We might list the arts, architecture, technology, economics, religion, literature, politics, tradition and ritual, human biology and physiology, local conditions, climate, and natural resources.  In analyzing a culture’s unique views on lighting, we might consider light in relationship to each of the above elements.  While certain elements, like the human physiological response, remain consistent cross-culturally, others, such as climate or religious traditions, can vary immensely.  People the world over follow the same circadian rhythms dictated by the Earth’s exposure to the sun.  Most of us use rods and cones to detect light and color in our surroundings, and blue eyes around the world are more sensitive to bright light than brown eyes.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (SDA) occurs in people of all continents, as do health problems that develop from consistently working night shifts in artificial lighting.  The human eye reacts within a relative degree of accuracy to changes in light intensity, distribution, color, contrast, duration, and context.  Sight is always dependent in part on the qualities of the last object seen, and also on the other things in the field of vision surrounding the object of focus.  It is in the interpretations of these visual stimuli and in the patterns of types of stimulation that the human response begins to differ.

ottowa City Counsel

Over time, we have often seen a shift in requirements within a culture or people. In the United States in the 50’s and 60’s, the popular adage was “more light, better sight”. The OPEC Energy Crises of 1973 and 1979 are perfect examples of how world economics can influence our views on the usage of light.  Political turmoil and global competition for limited oil reserves have a major impact on the energy prices at home that influence our lighting decisions. Financial circumstances change our view of light usage and energy conservation, our awareness of over-lighting, and influence the emergence of more subtle lighting strategies.  The “more light, better sight” philosophy wanes in favor of more strategic area lighting.  Reflexively, as the ‘green’ movement gains momentum, it inspires the search for more efficient lighting solutions, which in turn leads to the development of halogen lamps, and eventually, light emitting diodes (LED’s).

US Gas Rationing 1

US Gas Rationing 2

The emergence of the tiny, long-lasting, inexpensive LED’s is anticipated to dramatically change the lighting situations in many developing nations where, previously, people relied more on natural light and on planning activities during times when it was available. In the last 50 years, as other areas of the world have found prosperity and technology has become more affordable, traditional constructs of light and darkness have been replaced by grossly over lit spaces. The critique here is clear, that just because technology is affordable and easy to install it doesn’t mean that it should be implemented carte blanche. All technology is susceptible to environmental concerns, and although LED’s do provide superior lighting efficiency in energy of use sense, the current rate of production to fill the gaps aforementioned cannot be sustained in the long term to meet that demand. The reality of the industry is that we have an uncertain supply of both energy and materials which should be addressed not through techno-solving, but rather through simple ethical implementation into the design process, which starts with the simple question “do we really need this?”

The tide of the ‘green’ movements influence in expanding the implementation of ethically sustainable practices into design can be seen through several different certifications and policy initiatives undertaken in recent years. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification formed by the U.S. Green Building Council is the world’s leading certification in sustainable design for architecture in the United States. Developed by the 20,000 or so members of the council, the certification is won by adhering voluntarily to the standards developed by the council for that specific year. The standards evolve and are voted on by the council every year, with the certification goals becoming ever more progressive.

The same progression can be seen through the evolution of the United States congress bill, the 1992 Energy Policy Act (Epact), in which states had to review and consider adopting national model energy standards. In 2007 the Department of Energy updated the policy to improve energy conservation by 3.7%, followed by an update in 2010 to bring the total to 18.2%. The policy debate surrounding sustainability has a large influence on the discussion about light and how we use it. Though we do see change through initiatives like the LEED certification and the Epact, the zeitgeist still turns toward techno-solving as our chosen methodology for escaping our sins. Technologies such as wind power, hydro-power and nuclear power all contribute to the discussion about how we can make our energy production renewable, however the conversation surround how much we should need and how much we are really using is still too quiet.

Monsoon Club_03

Hypotheses on the Culture of Light

Lighting balances universal ideas about light with local variations. A given culture’s position in the global economic development cycle is reflected in its use of lighting in urban, built and un-built, nighttime environments. Successful lighting design balances human instinct to gravitate toward light with human resistance to over-lighting.