Moving into the last project of the semester, the Lighting Engines project falls right along the timeline of Daylight Savings. As Daylight Savings was a topic of discussion before the project was even assigned, the focus on the light’s effect on a human being becomes increasingly relevant in the face of a new shift in season. For me, at least, I am most excited for this project out of all of them as it aligns with my long-lasting curiosity of how an environment can influence a person’s mind and body:
- How can just one hour of sunlight affect a person’s life to such a drastic effect?
- On a physical and symbolic level, why are people drawn to light?
- How can the presence of a light fulfill a desired goal and how can the absence of it continue to play a role in the environment?
In striving to create a lighting engine that alters or encourages behavior, I hope to develop a stronger understanding on the relationship between people and light.
For this project, I was randomly assigned with the task of creating a lighting engine that can aid in personal relaxation. With the use of an Ikea lightbulb and white paper stock, my goal of the project is to generate a light that soothes one’s worries and encourages someone to detach or ameliorate any feelings of urgency or stress.
By focusing on the symbolic characteristics of a relaxing lighting engine, I aim to utilize formal qualities and craft in order to use lighting to guide people into a more comfortable atmosphere.
LIGHTING // OBSERVING FORM
Before experimenting with lights firsthand, I first captured different forms of lights and took note of their locations and their shapes. Throughout the day, I made note of each light located in different buildings and during different times of the day.
Additionally, I took a short trip to Philadelphia to see family and made note of many different forms of light throughout my travels. Although these lights were much more abstract and complex than the ones at Carnegie Mellon, many of them shared overarching characteristics that reflected their purpose and effect on the people in the environment.
Focusing on the lighting in each location both on Carnegie Mellon campus, buildings in Philadelphia, and furniture stores in Pittsburgh allowed me to make note of a few characteristics:
- Lights that are designed for walking and navigation are generally placed in a linear path, and many of them are round-shaped
- In trickier areas such as stairs, lighting was placed lower towards the ground to illuminate the pathways for guidance and safety
- Hanging lights were often used as a means to brighten signs for literacy or visual appeal
- In eating areas such as Resnik, the lights were tightly positioned towards the ceiling as a stable invitation to sit and eat without pressure
- Most lights had a warm yellow tone, except for the blue lights across campus which signify a distinct yet comforting atmosphere of safety
EXPLORING // EXPERIMENTING WITH LIGHT AND PAPER
After making my own observations about yellow lighting, I began to experiment with my own forms of lighting using white stock paper and the lazy suzan lightbulb with basic shapes and cutouts.
For types of paper, I started experimenting with less distinct differences in order to study the way a paper layers and folds in different ways.
Moving from thinnest to thickest from left to right, my experimentation was mostly focused on the form shapes and the materials that were used.
STUDYING SIMPLE CYLINDRICAL FORMS
To start my process of exploration, I began with the easiest form to make with the rectangle shape of sketch paper: cylinders. By starting simple, I was able to build upon basic form to move outwards in terms of both material and shape.
Although the first two cylindrical forms were clean and simple, the third cylindrical form was an attempt at experimenting with the effects of different layers of texture over each other. The wrinkles in the paper created a sense of unity throughout the light, but it detracted from the overall shape of the cylinder and did not look as clean and professional.
STUDYING ORGANIC SHAPES
After cylindrical forms, I began abstracting different forms with the sketch paper, marker paper, and bristol paper. This included layering, creating gaps, and generating movement.
Experimenting with the lazy suzan lightbulb allowed me to study the specific characteristics of light and paper. The sketch paper was easy to cut (with an Xacto knife) and tape together. The areas with wider gaps between the paper allowed for more light to beam through but lowered a sense of unity and security, meaning that too many gaps/slits made the aura of the lamp slightly uneasy.
The marker paper was much flimsier than the sketch paper, but the light shone through the layers in a much more dynamic way. However, the integrity of the overall light engine was too weak and did not stand up well on its own.
The bristol paper, on the other hand, was difficult to maneuver the way I wanted it to. I would fold it in a certain way, and it would bend backwards in the other direction. The thickness of the paper also made layering difficult so the light did not glow through to all sections of the sketch model. As a result, only the main section was lit up (too brightly) and the side pieces were unnaturally dark.
STUDYING CHANGING COMPOSITION / DIFFERENT ANGLES
After experimenting with the different types of paper, I began deconstructing and reconstructing sketch models to explore the various ways I could present the forms. By doing so, I was also able to gain an understanding of the aura of the form using the same exact forms of paper but just oriented in different ways:
After removing the top of the following sketch model and placing it on the cylinder upside-down, I realized that it made the light engine less intimidating. These discoveries allowed me to understand the do’s and don’ts when considering the qualities I am aiming for in a lighting engine for personal relaxation.
Constructing light engines out of smaller segments forced me to focus on structural integrity and complexity. While the use of different pieces of paper allowed for more flexible movement and construction, a significant focus of my lighting engine is personal relaxation, so too many components would not only be distracting, but also unnerving.
THINGS I LIKED ABOUT CERTAIN SKETCH MODELS
- Organic forms — I felt like using the corners in my sketch models made the overall aura of it seem intimidating
- Cohesive forms — although constructing the light engines with the many different strips of paper was engaging and informative, the use of too many gaps and slits created too much light that was uncomfortable for the viewer
- Sketch paper — the sketch paper had two benefits: 1.) the shading of the paper created a warm tone, which I feel was more relaxing than cooler tones because it felt more welcoming. 2.) it was the perfect compromise between the too-thin marker paper and the too-thick bristol paper, which made it easy to maneuver and provided an adequate level of illuminated layering when pressed against the lightbulb
Finally, after experimenting with different types of paper, forms, and textures, I drafted the adjectives to consider when describing the direction that I want my light engine to go towards when considering personal relaxation:
While these characteristics may move closer to a certain side, I narrowed down the overall features of the light that would capture the aspects of personal relaxation I find are necessary.
Past the informative experiments, I also had a lot of fun with the hanging light as well. I spent a good bit of time messing around with creating an interactive and fun working space with less considerations for personal relaxation and more considerations for personal satisfaction.
EXPERIMENTING // MOVING TOWARDS SUBSTANTIAL FORMS
After trying the three different types of paper, I took another trip to the art store to explore other types of paper and light. At the art store, there were a few pieces of white paper that caught my eye that I decided to try out for my experiments:
For lights, I took an additional trip to Home Depot to test out different kinds of lights in order to see how their effects had different emotions. Of the lower level warm-toned lights, these were the light bulbs I ended up with that night. Home Depot even had testing experiments where you are able to determine how a setting changes based on a switch that adjusts lights.
The bulb below shows the transition from bright white light to warm, dim light. The end is much less intense and action-packed, soothing the soul through visual and contextual cues.
Although I had an overall idea of what not to do, I was still pretty lost on what to do. I knew that I was interested in a few specific concepts:
- Organic/rounded forms
- Layering/gradient tones
I continued working with different forms of sketch models, although pushing towards a feeling of completion instead of only studying the lightbulb’s interaction with the light.
THE ORGANIC SHAPE SERIES
I really liked the shape in terms of how it felt like there were no sharp or dangerous edges. However, putting the shape onto the lazy suzan made me realize that although the height and shape felt static/dormant, the light beams coming out of the sides were far too distracting and created more movement than I would have liked. The light was coming out in every direction in a way that made me feel less relaxed when I paid close attention to it. The scattering of light was uneven in an unsatisfying manner.
THE LAYERING SERIES: Patterns
In an attempt to merge the organic movement with the layering lighting engines, I decided cut wavy patterns and adding the light in order to create a layered, glowing effect to certain layers. Using the warm and flexible aspects of the sketch paper, I made a few simple cutouts to emphasize a calm aura while still utilizing the light in an effective way.
Craft was a major issue for closing the top of the lamps; they were too open but finding a cut that would fit the top was nearly impossible because of the flexible nature of the cylinders. When I would measure out a circle to connect, not only was taping a clean cut seemingly impossible without having the adhesives show, but the measurements for the circles would change each time based on how tightly the lamp was being held.
Regardless, I knew that using a floor lamp would be a better fit for personal relaxation than a hanging light because you don’t need to move your head upwards in order to access a view of the light. Additionally, the feeling of a floor lamp feels much more calming and static.
THE LAYERING SERIES: Multiple Papers
Using marker paper, I made another version of paper layering by cutting multiple strips of the same paper but connecting them at different angles. The purpose of this was to create a layering effect that moves in a satisfying and uniform way. However, the marker paper did not add that many satisfying layers and the top of the lamp was way too intimidating. It looked like a weapon, which is the opposite of relaxing. As Steve put it, it was a lamp that embodied “relaxation in Hell.” Even though there were clear issues with this, I decided to look a little further into the idea of constructing wholistic forms through connecting simple cuts.
THE LAYERING SERIES: Shaping Towards the Middle
At this point, I got a little carried away with making iterations. As cheesy as it sounds, this was the point in the project where I started realizing I was having a lot of fun. Cutting papers in different ways to see how they will look when put together brought in an aspect of art I never really got to experience before. For me, creating has always been about having the final form in mind. I started to realize that beyond having the considerations in mind, the actual task of making the light engines was pretty fun.
These layering lamps evoked a larger reaction from others than the rest of the light engines. I think that the subtle and simple pattern created by layering the cut paper generated an interesting glow that was enticing to look at. However, there were some clear flaws:
- The top of the cylindrical form was still open — the light was too concentrated
- I couldn’t really tell if it was personally relaxing, or people just thought the design looked cool. For the most part, there were certain aspects that made it more relaxing: 1.) The shade from the sketch paper 2.) The gradient of the light 3.) The different tones from layering
INTERLUDE: I studied the pattern of curves for a little bit, but after talking to many people, I realized the pattern felt slightly too big and maybe even predictable for a floor lamp.
After talking to Stacie during a critique, she told me that she felt the side view of the layering models was more interesting than the front view. The front view had a pattern, but the side view had an interesting aspect that added depth to the lamp.
With this piece of information, I decided to move in a definitive direction towards the open space of the layering for my next iteration. However, I didn’t want to restrict myself to just one concept, so I continued pushing the organic layering idea.
While I liked this idea, it was really hard to get the strips of paper in an even position and all of the strips were in different orientations. Each of the strips still scattered the light awkwardly, although not nearly as much as the other organic forms.
SHAPING // GOING TOWARDS THE FINAL FORM
At this point, I was pretty clear on the direction I wanted to go. At a certain point I got too carried away with layering that I glazed over the concept of personal relaxation. The aspect of creating something cool became blurred when I should have been focused on creating something effective.
For my next iteration, I oriented my direction into simplicity and form while still maintaining a piece of the satisfying aspect of layering. I also considered craft issues that I had been avoiding for probably too long, such as closing the top in a clean manner.
During one of my critiques, I received feedback about the satisfaction of “asymmetry in a symmetrical way,” so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and close the top through a series of asymmetrical yet balanced and progressive layering.
I made sure to shorten the lamp. After talking to Zoe about my recent iterations, she said that the height of the lamp felt less personal and more confrontational. She said they felt like they were “standing up,” which I agreed with because of the uniform in height (as opposed to wide to thin) and that it felt a little intimidating. My most recent iteration felt a lot more like it was “sitting down,” which felt more applicable to personal relaxation.
Additionally, giving up the cylindrical form was a crucial step to this part of the process. I realized there was no point in having a top that made it look more like a container or a tool, and having the open and uneven layering effect without a lid felt much more free and relaxing. It did not feel contained, which I was only able to realize my previous iterations were until I tried without.
People were much more enticed by this lamp compared to other ones, and I felt much more confident in direction in this lighting engine compared to other engines, but there were still logistical errors to work on:
- The base was showing through the bottom — do I want to try to switch to a round base to avoid shadow?
- There was no comfortable place for the cord to go other than the very front gap
- The layering was uneven — although it looked nice from the outside, the strips of paper on the inside were taped in a way that showed awkwardly in the “on” state
- The sketch paper was not as warm as I would have liked, and neither was the bulb
At this point, I had my overall concept down, but I decided to make some purchases in order to use the Canson White paper I experimented with at the beginning, as well as purchase one of the Home Depot lights from before.
I ended up switching to the Philips LED Amber Light which was 3W and provided a nice warm gradient to the papers. I also switched to the Canson Mi-Teintes paper because it supported the light source well and also added a better gradient to the light than the sketch paper.
TIGHTENING // CREATING THE FINAL LIGHT ENGINE
Heading into the final light engine, I had one problem that was the most prominent: creating a base that would not be shown through the papers.
In the images above, I experimented with different types of bases for my overall final. The Image on the left shows the previous square base that I used for the bottom. The base on the left shows a base where the edges would have stuck out using a regular foam board.
However, the 1/2 inch foam board turned out to be far more successful in sustaining the lamp on the outside in order to avoid the craft issues of the borders with the regular foam boarder. Additionally, the height allowed for easy positioning for the cord in a way that would prevent it from turning and messing up the entire lamp due to its powerful nature.
The foam board held together the flexible nature of the layers of the lighting engine, created a sense of unity at the base without interfering with the glow of the papers pressed against each other, and allowed a comfortable position for the cord to slide in without disrupting the aesthetics of the lamp.
THOUGHT PROCESS BEHIND MY FINAL DESIGN
Although I tried a lot of different methods of creating paper engines, the overall concept of layering (although quite different from my first layering attempts) was one that gave me space to explore the idea of gradient, shape, shadow, and movement in an almost endless amount of ways.
Of all the different approaches I made to creating a relaxing engine, the satisfying aspect of having smooth, spiral layers winding together in a slow and silky manner felt closest to personal relaxation for me. While still creating a sense of uniform structure, I strived to be able to maintain an overall organic feeling that was not too static but not too overwhelming.
Overall, personally, this was probably my favorite project in Studio. Beyond creating the lighting engines, this project made me change the way I see spaces. I started paying attention to lights in every space that I went, and the range of freedom for creating and interpreting based on the prompt felt much wider for this project. Although this was often times challenging, the project felt the most engaging because I found myself constantly studying shapes, understanding how they made me (and others) feel or act, and applying them to the project.
The prompt of personal relaxation pushed for the mindset of connecting emotions to objects and environments. Each time someone came past my desk to ask what I was working on, I always started by asking them the question: “What do you think my prompt is?”
Hearing these answers always guided me into the next iteration, basing my choices on how a certain orientation or light fixture creates an aura that shapes an environment and stirs something inside of a person. To me, the scale at which people are connected to the lights around them became increasingly prevalent throughout this project, pushing myself to address these connections through my own design.