Thomas Schielke studied architecture at the University of Technology in Darmstadt, Germany. He has been in charge of the didactic and communication division at the lighting manufacturer ERCO since 2001 where he designed an extensive online guide for architectural lighting. He is author of the book "Light Perspectives – between culture and technology". Additionally, he has taught lighting design at different universities and was invited for lectures at institutions like Harvard GSD, MIT, Columbia GSAPP and ETHZ. Thomas Schielke explores the development of contemporary light patterns, technologies and visualisation techniques to detect historical influences and to critically discuss the progress of light and architecture.
Your role at ERCO is didactic communication, what does that involve?
My task is to explain lighting design and lighting technology to an audience of architects and designers in a clear, informative and interesting way. This ranges from general information within an online guide (www.erco.com/guide) to specific topics like outdoor lighting or illumination with LEDs, as well as providing insights on the features of ERCO’s luminaires. Besides that, I write articles for lighting magazines and I am involved in video tutorials and lighting workshops. Recently, I worked as an author for the book "Light Perspectives - between culture and technology", which explains light, space and positions with opposing terms like vertical and horizontal, or architecture and stage.
Part of your research interest is the way light can be used to interpret architecture and express a semantic quality. What projects do you consider have achieved this aim successfully and why?
When I think of naturalness as a factor for a brand image I would like to point out the Austrian supermarket brand MPreis. They show that daylight could contribute to a natural atmosphere and thereby separate their architecture from conventional supermarkets, which solely rely on closed boxes with lines of fluorescent light. In contrast to this, the car rental brand Sixt plays with an image focused on temperament. When you compare their offices with competitors at airports or train stations the bright background floodlighting of their orange wall is an obvious example for a strong personality. Further, the lightness and elegance of Apple's product world is enhanced by a luminous environment that ranges from translucent glass architecture like the entrance cube at the Central Park in Manhattan, the luminous stairs in their New York and Sydney shops, up to luminous fields on walls and ceilings. They don't use modern LEDs as an instrument to express state of the art technology. The light sources are actually invisible. It's the expression of light that counts, not the light source or a specific luminaire and thereby any distraction that is not directly linked to their brand is avoided.
You are an expert in using light for brand communication. What makes a successful corporate lighting concept, and do you think lighting as a form of brand communication is recognised by international brands as a vital component of their corporate profile?
A crucial aspect for the successful use of light for brand communication derives from matching the visual appearance with the corporate identity of company. If a company just strives for an iconic image, the visual effect could be big, but at the same time a visual gap could occur if the luminous appearance is not closely connected to the company identity. A thoughtful decision for the right consulting agency is important, not to receive a luminous signature by the agency, but a design that originates from the brand itself. Later, installations on existing architecture could have the additional challenge that the lighting is not perceived as a holistic element but only as a luminous dress for a quick beautification driven by zeitgeist.
Light has been recognised as a vital element for branding. Lighting as a strategic tool for brand management was picked up from a very early stage by petrol companies for their filling stations based on a colour code. Later, car manufacturers equipped their showrooms with uniform lighting concepts to enhance visual identity. Further, fashion brands have also used guidelines for lighting to create a specific brand image like Zara, Diesel or Adidas - sometimes even converting their logo into a luminaire. These lighting guidelines are applied worldwide to cope with global communication. Uniqua has even used media facades for their Vienna office as well as their building in Budapest to communicate a dynamic identity.
Does the successful lighting of a retail space increase sales?
Unfortunately, few scientific studies are available that have analysed these questions in a real environment. The studies that do exist have the disadvantage that side aspects like the furniture were changed concurrently with lighting. If the perspective is changed to price perception we would find several studies, which show that lighting influences price perception. A higher and more valuable impression of products can be achieved with a specific lighting concept. Indirectly this could lead to a higher turnover.
You have been a teaching assistant at several German Universities including Bochum and Cologne. Have the technological advancements in lighting and the recognition that lighting is a vital architectural component, led to more architectural students wanting to specialise in Lighting? And what persuaded you to pursue architectural lighting as a career?
Yes, German universities have raised the number of Professors for lighting in the last years. Special courses in lighting are being taught within the architectural curriculum. Additionally, institutions like Wismar University or the KTH in Stockholm offer master degrees for architectural lighting. The full master courses reflect that there is a high interest from students around the world. In economic crisis in the building industry these courses offer a useful specialisation in the complex field of architecture.
During my architectural studies I had the opportunity to encounter inspiring teachers like Harald Hofmann - author of the Handbook of Lighting - who provided me with valuable insights into the theory and practice of architectural lighting. This increased my interest in lighting. After my degree I had the chance to deepen my knowledge within an internship at ERCO in the USA. Finally, I received the offer to work at ERCO headquarters in didactic communication in Germany.
Do you consider LED to be the biggest development in lighting technology, and what will be the next 'big thing'?
I regard the LED development as the most important thriving force within the last decade. It changed electrical lighting in architecture, in the automotive sector as well as in airplane technology. LED will be the most relevant light source for the next decade. The next bigger step will be further advances in the implementation of LEDs in luminaires for very efficient optical systems, easy to use interfaces and good solutions for glare control because the rising light intensity will require more sophisticated solutions for visual comfort.
ERCO has worked on fabulous residential projects around the world. Have you installed the latest luminaries at your home?
I have ERCO luminaires at home, but not yet the latest edition from this year.
You are a judge on the panel of WAN Lighting Awards 2012. Is there a particular use of technology that you would hope to see amongst the submitted entries?
When it comes to judging luminaires I will definitely be looking for fixtures that use LED technology not only as cool looking luminous pixels, but as efficient optical systems with an appropriate level of visual comfort. It would be interesting to see to which extent designers have developed luminaires that can easily be recycled. Further, the way in which fixtures have already been designed for future upgrades for example using even more efficient LED modules captures my interest. Regarding the projects, I will be looking out where designers have realised sustainable and attractive looking lighting solutions, where LED has been applied beyond the achievement of a technological appearance. I am curious to see which role dynamic coloured light will play or if convincing concepts can also stem from white lighting.
Annalisa Hammond, Editor
Photographer Andika Pradana