Category Archives: Culture

What are the Philosophical Connections of Lighting to Culture?

Feng Shui says soft light creates a positive energy and the right conjunction of light, which is colour and direction promotes harmony and prosperity, relating it to the yin and yang symbol of harmony, where you need both.

In Vastu Shastra, colour, light and smell are often used to remediate inauspicious conditions in existing structures. It’s a fact that is probably known to all of us, and, it is encouraged to turn on all the lights in house at night, even briefly to expel all negative energy, I know lot of us are made to do that at Diwali so that Lakshmi comes and everyone’s got money, but I’ve had several friends who’ve come and said, “Yeah, my mother used to make me do that”. And, then there is of course the famous shloka from Rig Veda which is, “Asato ma sadgamaya”, and then, “tamaso ma jyotirgamaya.”

Somewhere along the line, in our culture, darkness became a bad thing, because darkness was seen as ignorance or lack of awareness, and light was seen as knowledge. Then, in the Jungian philosophy, it says the shadow is the reservoir for human darkness, as well as the seed of creativity. All of us creative people are really, according to Carl Jung, relying on the shadow in some ways. And then Sufism on the other side says, “Nothingness, which is darkness, is essential to attaining enlightenment”.

Zen and Jimotsu

In Japanese Buddhism, including Zen, and particularly in sculpture and painting, there exists an elaborate system of religious symbols known as jimotsu (or jibutsu). These symbols appear, often in the grasp of an associated deity, to signify different roles the deity may play in defending the Buddhist faith, teaching devotees, reprimanding deviants, and comforting the suffering. The list below details just a few of these, and gives hints to their relation to the concept of light in Buddhism. However, jimotsurarely appear exclusively in one context; they are seen together with various deities, and many have multiple meanings. The 1000-Armed Kannon, for instance, is often shown holding numerous of these elements and accessories.

  • Mirror
    Providing mere reflection, the mirror demonstrates the illusion of life, and thus the unenlightened mind that is captivated thereby. It can, however, be positively interpreted as a sign of the resolve to dispel that illusion.
  • Moon Disk (Gachirin)
    A perfect circular, usually white disk representing the full moon, the moon disk appears as a symbol of the perfect virtue and omniscience of the Buddha. In the Esoteric Buddhist “Kongōkai Mandala” nine deities are shown, each seated in a full-moon disk. The symbol is also held to have a curative influence on fever and a cooling effect on the body, and accordingly talismans of this symbol are used by those suffering from hyperthermic conditions. It is associated with the Bodhisattva of Lunar Radiance, “Gakkō.”
  • Sun Disk (Nichirin)
    In turn the sign of “Nikkō Bosatsu,” the Bodhisattva of Solar Radiance, is a circular, usually red disc. Whereas the moon disk sometimes is shown with a rabbit figure inscribed (the “moon rabbit” being an instance of cultural pareidolia similar to the West’s “man in the moon”), in the sun disk is sometimes seen the image of a three-legged crow-like bird. Believed to be curative of eye ailments and a dispeller of darkness, the sun disk is also used as a talisman called “Nissei Manishu,” for related medical purposes.
  • Wish-fulfilling Jewel
    This jewel appears as one or three, the latter case corresponding to the “Three Jewels of Buddhism:” Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Though symbolizing an incorporeal power to grant wishes, end suffering, and communicate Dharma (these gifts collectively conceived of as “wealth”), the jewel also appears within an aureole of flame. Also called the “Mani Jewel,” it was in the writings of Guifeng Zongmi that this symbol’s multiple interpretations were used to differentiate four major Zen schools. The Heze School was said to appreciate the jewel’s supposed shroud of blackness as but an illusory form of its brightness—luster and dullness being for them as one; the Hongzhou School said of this blackness instead that it was the very jewel itself, and the jewel’s “purity” was what was hidden; the Ox Head School would have said, according to Guifeng, that the jewel and its brilliant appearance were inherently empty; and the Northern School is claimed to have believed the jewel’s fundamental purity must be approached ever more closely by cleaning and polishing.

select research Copyright Mark Schumacher,

Jung vs. Tanizaki

Light and dark possess powerful connotations for the figures of psychologist Carl Jung and novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. Jung wrote that “the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being;” Tanizaki that “were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” The views of these two may not conflict to such an extent as they first seem, however.


“[W]e orientals [ ] tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable. If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty. But the progressive westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light – his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.”

– Jun’ichiro Tanizaki

Alila Diwa Resort, Goa (Photographer: Ali Rangoonwala)

Alila Diwa Resort, Goa (Photographer: Ali Rangoonwala)

With his seminal essay In Praise of Shadows (In’ei Raisan), Jun’ichiro Tanizaki pleaded on behalf of the virtues of natural, soft light as opposed to the bright, all-illuminating electrical lighting that he associated with a western capitalist aesthetic. Light is not, to Tanizaki, simply bright or dim. It contains also aspects of gleam or glitter, various kinds of illumination of which we ought to be mindful. Even when light can be said to be defective, as a patina on silver or a knot in an otherwise straight grain of a piece of wood is “defective,” the appreciation of that defect becomes of greater importance than its rectification or obscuration. This view relates closely to another distinctly Japanese aesthetic: “wabi-sabi,” an emanation of Buddhist philosophy that values impermanence and asymmetry as aspects of “the inherent beauty of imperfection.”


“Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. In spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this—the shadow is the seat of creativity.”
– Carl Jung

Blue Frog Mumbai (Photographer: Fram Petit)

Blue Frog Mumbai (Photographer: Fram Petit)

In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. Jung may have been hastily interpreted, however, if he is taken as abhorring darkness. Jung in fact implied that light begets dark—the two are inseparable and interdependent. “Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,” he argued in The Philosophical Tree, “but by making the darkness conscious.” The suggestion herein is that symbolic “light” is of value; however, it cannot be engendered without darkness, and sometimes darkness can be even more revealing than light.

Darkness & Light in Design

These aesthetic principles proclaiming the equal importance of the dark and the light are readily applicable to architecture, as two AWA projects exemplify. In the BlueFROG Club, the focus is on music and sound, and the shadowy environment accentuates it—while also creating a cool, mysterious ambiance to suit the space’s intended audience.

In the Alila Diwa Resort in Goa, India, shadow dramatizes a romantic, exclusive atmosphere. Vernacular architecture incorporated into the resort is lent an aura of mysticism by the dark, as in the upper reaches of a high ceiling or in the regular bays along a colonnade. Often, less really is more, as darkness adds to the poetry and soul of a project.

Blue Frog Mumbai (Photographer: Fram Petit)

Blue Frog Mumbai (Photographer: Fram Petit)

In the Alila Diwa Resort in Goa, India, shadow dramatizes a romantic, exclusive atmosphere. Vernacular architecture incorporated into the resort is lent an aura of mysticism by the dark, as in the upper reaches of a high ceiling or in the regular bays along a colonnade. Often, less really is more, as darkness adds to the poetry and soul of a project.

Alila Diwa Resort Goa (Photographer: Ali Rangoonwala)

Alila Diwa Resort Goa (Photographer: Ali Rangoonwala)

The Meaning of Colors


  • 700nm
  • 2nd most visible color
  • Red areas perceived as moving forward
  • Lymph system and skeletal system
  • Love and aggression


  • 650nm
  • Pride, ambition
  • Reproductive system
  • Stimulates activity, appetite and socialization


  • 600nm
  • Luminous and most visible color
  • Power center- above navel
  • Mentally stimulating, activates memory, encourages communication


  • 550nm
  • Nature, prosperity, healing, fertility
  • Heart chakra
  • Soothing, alleviates depression and anxiety, renewal and harmony


  • 500nm
  • Sharply refracted by the eyes
  • Pushing the image back to appear receding
  • Appetite suppressant
  • Calming, aids intuition


  • 450nm
  • Inner self, spiritual
  • Eyes, ears, nose brain


  • 400nm
  • Most powerful wavelength
  • Crown chakra: head, brain, nervous system
  • Uplifting, calming, encourages creativity, meditation


  • Purity, cleanliness
  • Aids mental clarity
  • Purification of thoughts and actions
  • Fresh beginnings


  • Authoritative, powerful
  • Inconspicuous, mysterious evoking potential and possibility
  • Restful emptiness


  • Stable, reliable, approachable
  • Wholesomeness
  • Connection to Earth
  • Orderliness
Blue Frog: AWA Lighting Designers project

Blue Frog: AWA Lighting Designers project

Symbolism of Light

Apart from the philosophical connotations that light posses, it also is utilized throughout many cultures around the world as both a literal and metaphorical symbol. The Yin and Yang is one of the best examples of this concept as discussed previously, but there are many others as well. When different world religions are analyzed from a lighting perspective, it can be seen that different cultures and religions view light through its symbolic nature. Several global holidays use the symbolism of light as a marking of celebration. Following are some holidays which use light for its symbolism.

In Buddhism light is used as a symbol in the ritual of the eight offerings where it plays a central role. Apart from Buddhism, Islam also uses light as a symbol, most visually through its interpretation of ‘the lamp’ in the Qur’an;

“God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp
the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star
Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the West,
whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it
Light upon Light! God doth guide whom He will to His Light
God doth set forth Parables for men: and God doth know all things.”

Another symbol commonly used if the candlelight as a symbol of wisdom. In our physical world we see things through the medium of light. If we do not have sun or electric light, this world is so dark that we cannot see anything. In our spiritual and mental world the physical light cannot help us to see. We see only through wisdom. We may stumble many times in daily life because we lack ‘light’ and ‘wisdom’. Light in this sense can also be translated into a more eastern sensibility through the term ‘enlightenment’. Jung writes in the foreword to An Introduction to Japanese Buddhism;

“This strange perception is called Satori, and may be translated as “Enlightenment”. Suzuki says (see page 95), “Satori is the raison d’etre of Zen, and without it there is no Zen.” It should not be too difficult for the Western mind to grasp what a mystic understands by “enlightenment”, or what is known as “enlightenment” in religious parlance.”


• When different world religions are analyzed from a lighting perspective, different cultures and religions view light for its symbolic nature. Several of the global holidays use the symbolism of light celebration. In the images that will be shared in the talk, the following are the different holidays which use light for its symbolism.

Symbols of Light:

• Obon Festival [Japan]

• Hanukkah

• Loy Krathong [Thailand]

• Diwali

• Paper Lantern Festival [Singapore]

• Christmas

• Ramadan

• Cathedral of Light 1936

• Tribute in Light, New York

• Symphony of Lights, Hong Kong

• SRBS Bridge, Dubai

Elements of Culture

As mentioned before, as the description of culture gets broader, the more accurate it becomes. The definition of culture is therefore 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 include Industrial Design, Graphic Design, Architecture, Climatic Conditions, Philosophy, Technology, Economics, Religion, Literature, Politics, Tradition, Ritual, Custom, Human Biology, Physiological Differences and Natural Resources. 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. To begin by establishing a metaphor for our theory of cultural lighting adaptations, we can take the example of the McDonald’s fast food chain and the many iterations of its standard menu that appear around the world.  While the McDonald’s brand and the connection to its standard American menu is maintained in the style of presentation and with the continuation of certain standard items, regional variations are frequently taken into account in order to make McDonald’s more accessible to cultures with specific dietary requirements and restrictions. 

The signature Big Mac burger, well-known to Americans since 1968, has become a veritable symbol of capitalism, used by The Economist as a gauge of purchasing power parity between currencies in what is termed the ‘Big Mac Index’. A standard Big Mac includes a three-part bun (including the middle ‘club’ bun layer), double beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, and special sauce.  In India, however, you will find the Maharajah Mac, or perhaps a Chicken Tikka Burger, instead.  Since local custom prohibits eating beef, both versions of the Mac here have incorporated lamb or chicken in deference to the local population.  In Pakistan, you would likely find a McChutney Burger, developed using a popular regional type of condiment.  In Japan, a Tsukimi Burger (Moon-Viewing Burger) co-opts the appeal of the yearly autumn tradition of moon-viewing and incorporates a fried egg, which resembles the full moon.  Israel’s McShawarma substitutes the commonly found shaved meat composite for beef patties and is served on local flatbread, rather than a sesame-seed bun.  In some cases, the Mac varies so much that it little resembles the American prototype, but adaptations to the local context make the product more familiar and appropriate, while retaining the brand ‘aura’ of the original.

  • 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


2020 PARADIGM SHIFT – Past / Present / Future

  • Is there a Paradigm Shift Coming?
  • Changing technologies
  • New materials
  • New policies


1750 - 2000 timeline


  • Total Penetration of LED Components for the Global Lighting Market is 14.4% [2011]
  • $1.8 Billion/$12.5 Billion

Global Lighting Market


  • 140 lumens/watt 220 lumens/watt
  • Solid state lighting [SSL] will comprise 70% of the global lighting market by 2020

Conventional Lighting / LED Lighting

  • Lack of standards for many components of the led package
  • Reliability of the led package impacts future growth

Manufacturing Costs

Lighting for the Elderly

Lighting for Elderly


The human visual system deteriorates throughout adult life and is considered “young” until it reaches 40 years of age

As the visual system ages:

  • Less light reaches the back of the eyes
  • Pupils decrease in size
  • Lens becomes thicker, so that it absorbs more light


  • AMBIENT LIGHT LEVELS: Should be increased by 50% versus those used for younger people. Ambient levels should be at least 300 lux
  • TASK LIGHTING: Light levels should be at least 1000 lux on task areas to see fine details
  • CONTRAST: The contrast of objects such as stair edges, curbs, ramps, or doorways should be increased by using paint or other techniques
  • COLOR PERCEPTION: Can be improved by using high illuminance levels and high-quality fluorescent lamps versus incandescent lamps


Between 40-70% of people over 65 suffer from chronic sleep disturbances

Sleep disturbances result from a disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s lighting research center [LRC] have demonstrated that blue light is the most effective at stimulating the circadian system

This light must be combined with the appropriate light intensity, spatial distribution, timing and duration

LRC researchers tested a goggle like device to improve the sleep quality in older adults

A marked increase in daytime lighting levels can counteract the age-dependent losses in retinal light exposure

Sleep Quality of Youth

Light triggers critical physiological and psychological responses within human beings. The level and quality of light within the built environment has real implications on our health and wellness as we become more aware of light’s implications on our health, we have a larger repertoire with which to impact a positive benefit on our health.


  • During the spring, late sunset and extended daylight exposure delays bedtime in teenagers
  • Increased exposure to early evening light delays the onset of nocturnal melatonin
  • Nocturnal melatonin: hormone that indicates to the body when it’s nighttime
  • Combine the delay in sleep with early school hours means many teens experience sleep deprivation, mood changes, increased risk of obesity and under performance at school


  • 16 students were given a daysimeter – a small device to measure an individual’s exposure to daily “circadian light”
  • Circadian light: the potential for light to suppress melatonin synthesis at night not how light stimulates the visual system
  • Experienced a delay in melatonin onset by an average 20 minutes in the spring relative to winter


  • Extended daylight hours due to the seasonal change, not evening electric lighting, had the biggest impact on delayed sleeping patterns
  • The melatonin delay caused an average of 16 minute delay in reported sleep onset and a 15 minute average reduction in reported sleep duration during the spring
  • The lrc recommends that teenagers increase morning daylight exposure throughout the year and decrease evening daylight exposure during the spring months

Color Mixing and Connotations


  • Mixing colors of light
  • In absence of color the result is black
  • Presence of all three primaries is white


  • Mixing colors pigment / CMYK
  • Absence of color is white
  • Presence of all three primaries is black

Color Mixing

How the color black affects us physically and mentally?

  • Feeling inconspicuous
  • A restful emptiness
  • Mysterious evoking a sense of potential and possibility


How the color gray affects us physically and mentally?

  • Unsettling
  • Expectant

Stormy Sky


  • The color seen by the eye in perfect darkness
  • Eigengrau is perceived as lighter than a black object in normal
  • Lighting conditions, because contrast is more important to the
  • Visual system than absolute brightness.



  • Aids mental clarity
  • Encourages us to clear clutter or obstacles
  • Evokes purification of thoughts or actions
  • Enables fresh beginnings