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Land Matters: Light’s Speed

We have a major focus on lighting in this month’s issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, which is one of the younger building technologies and certainly among the youngest of what you might call the environmental arts. It was not even 140 years ago that the incandescent light bulb was first patented and began to change the world—often not in the most beautiful ways. As with so many novel conveniences, people tended to go nuts with lighting, liberated from their worlds of darkness, wax, and gas, seldom stopping to consider that enough is just the right amount. By now, a person can be well into adolescence before seeing the Milky Way for the first time.

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There is infinitely more knowledge today about the ways lighting behaves and about how humans perceive light than when it first became a staple of modern life. And the knowledge is piling up fast in recent years. Even lighting designers are bowled over by all the new research, technology, and products there are to process. This is particularly true of LED technology. Just a few years ago, designers saw a lot of promise in LEDs but weren’t crazy about the colors and had doubts about their performance. A lot of those concerns have gone away, and LEDs are proving excellent for a wide range of applications.

In a recent online survey by LAM, 92 percent of 356 responding landscape architects told us they had specified LEDs in their projects in the past year. Clearly, the wariness is fading. In hard-core lighting circles, there is something called Haitz’s Law, articulated by a scientist at Agilent Technologies, Roland Haitz (who is now retired). It is much like Moore’s Law in the semiconductor industry. Haitz predicted in 2000 that each subsequent decade would see the cost per unit of useful light from LEDs drop by a factor of 10 and the amount of light generated per LED would rise by a factor of 20. As of 2010, LED technology had surpassed Haitz’s forecast mark.

Lighting has to satisfy many conditions in any setting, and in landscape applications there is the added complexity of uncontrollable elements. There is the energy diet, which designers and clients are striving to limit while reaching for desired performance. And clients want the lowest maintenance possible. Both of those items factor into cost, and cost also includes the price of hardware. Lighting presents considerable ecological and health concerns, as light pollution can harm nocturnal animals, particularly birds, and disrupt human biological rhythms. Then there is security, which is important but often addressed overzealously, especially in cities; and you have to make sure that lighting equipment is safe.

Finally, there is design, which people in our survey said was most important to them in choosing lighting. Design would include making fixtures attractive where visible and making them disappear where you want the light to seem more unobtrusive. Perhaps the most important aspect of design, though, would be experience, specifying lighting to create a distinctive mood. In this issue, we look at how some of the top lighting designers approach their work. This is a fertile field for landscape architects to follow. We plan to follow it too, so if you’ve had projects where the lighting was especially successful in the ways it fulfilled challenging aims, we invite you to share them with us.

Bradford McKee
Editor in Chief
Landscape Architecture Magazine

We were thrilled to learn that LAM was named a finalist for a 2014 National Magazine Award for general excellence in the special-interest category (which includes titles with highly defined readerships). Our fellow nominees are The Hollywood Reporter, Modern Farmer, Los Angeles, and Inc., and it’s an honor to be named alongside them. We learn the result on May 1, but we celebrate the nomination on behalf of our loyal readers for the opportunity it provides to bring the great profession of landscape architecture to the attention of the wider world.

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