No doubt about it, architectural lighting has taken on a whole new dimension over the past few decades. This is mainly a result of technical as well as artistic crossover between architectural and entertainment lighting. Architectural lighting installations are getting increasingly more complex, borrowing heavily from the techniques and technologies created for the entertainment lighting industry. These complex installations require lighting designers that can use these technologies to create designs that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also versatile and exciting. Not surprisingly, this has sparked a great deal of activity within the entertainment lighting industry. The potential market for dynamic architectural lighting is substantial and largely unexplored. And since we love to label things, there is of course a magic marketing buzzword for this: architainment.
To be fair, architainment is not only about lighting. It can also include other media such as sound, video, animatronics, and even pyrotechnics. This is best exemplified by the famous Las Vegas Strip — truly a 24-hour expo of architainment at its best (or worst, depending on your taste).
For most of us, architectural lighting evokes images of monuments, bridges, or great public buildings lit by a yellow glow from sodium floodlights. The word “excitement” doesn't necessarily come to mind. Architectural lighting is a highly specialized field and not generally well understood. Most schools teaching architecture spend relatively few hours on the subject of lighting. Too often, the task of lighting a building is an afterthought, the electrical contractor doing the best he can with a tiny budget and impossible restrictions on where the fixture may be placed.
But as Bob Dylan said, “the times they are a-changing,” and a new generation of property developers, architects, and city planners are taking over. Having grown up in a more visually intense world, they can see the possibilities and added value of a more refined and dynamic use of light in and around buildings.
LET US ENTERTAIN YOU
Architectural lighting and entertainment lighting have historically been two very separate fields with different manufacturers and practitioners. Some crossover did occur, of course, but it was the rare exception. Today, there is much more interaction, and several of today's top architectural lighting designers have a solid background in theatre or other fields of entertainment. Whereas in the past, architectural lighting designers were asked to provide a scheme for static illumination of buildings, they are now frequently called upon to create a show with variation and drama. No longer is architectural lighting only about static illumination using floodlights. We are now seeing lighting schemes that are beginning to rival the big touring shows in scope and complexity.
For some reason, many of the established manufacturers of architectural lighting fixtures have been fairly slow in adapting to the wants and needs of this new wave of lighting design. Maybe they have such a steady demand for their traditional products that they are taking it slow, waiting to see if this really catches on in a big way. The major players of architectural lighting are very large companies and, perhaps, unable or unwilling to react quickly to new trends.
On the other hand, in the field of entertainment lighting, there are many manufacturers who are aggressively approaching the architectural market. It's a very large pie and even a small slice is potentially very lucrative. Actually, if you ask around, you would be hard pressed to find a manufacturer of entertainment lighting who doesn't have, or at least claim to have, some products aimed towards architectural lighting use. No doubt, the stiff competition from Far East entertainment lighting manufacturers has also influenced their decision to pursue this route, or perhaps this is another case of the grass being greener on the other side.
Now, you ask, what is the difference between an architectural and entertainment lighting product? Is there any point in making a distinction between the two? In terms of lighting control systems, there is no fundamental difference in technology, except for the user interface. A dimmer designed for entertainment lighting will generally work well in the architectural environment, too, but when it comes to the lighting fixtures, it is a very different situation. In general, entertainment lighting fixtures are designed to be used a few hours each day and rarely at full intensity. The light sources are designed for maximum output and high color rendition. This results in a fairly short lamp life, typically around 300-500 hours. As they are mainly used in blacked out performance venues, the fixtures are usually black and little regard is placed on their appearance.
Architectural fixtures, on the other hand, are designed for continuous use. They must be virtually maintenance free as, unlike in a theatre, there is no lighting crew or staff to provide qualified maintenance on a regular basis. This has many implications. For example, the light sources need to have a very long life, typically not less than 6,000 hours. Architectural lighting fixtures are often exposed to the public and must blend in with the environment. And last, but not least, if the fixtures are to be used outdoors, they must withstand rain, great temperature changes, and vandals.
Making entertainment lighting fixtures suitable for architectural use goes beyond repainting and fitting them with long-life lamps. More often than not, architectural lighting fixtures must be designed from the ground up, and this is, indeed, the approach that the majority of manufacturers are taking.
The core technologies are the same throughout and, by carefully studying the particular requirements of architectural usage, some manufacturers have successfully reinvented themselves as architectural lighting suppliers. Others have maintained their entertainment focus but added architectural versions of their products. Some companies have gone as far as to form separate architectural divisions in order to better focus on the buyers and specifiers in that market.
IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME?
So, while it is clear that this is a market that is taken seriously by the entertainment industry, is the world of architectural lighting embracing the possibilities that are offered?
To get a better idea about this, we did a small informal survey among a dozen entertainment lighting manufacturers. Their answers confirmed some of our own findings but also provided some new insights. Virtually all entertainment lighting manufacturers stated that most of their products were suitable for architectural applications. Exactly what they are basing their response on is less than clear, though. Some felt that the option of mounting their fixtures on a track made them suitable to architectural use; it seems that the depth of understanding of the architectural market varies a great deal.
And to what extent are entertainment lighting fixtures actually used in architectural applications? Well, for indoor use and for certain manufacturers, it is really happening. The key to this seems to be the crossover between entertainment and architectural lighting designers. For example, theatrical designers are more likely to use variations of the fixtures they are familiar with from the stage than something entirely new. Museums and exhibitions are typical examples of this. US manufacturer Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) estimates that close to half of their production of theatrical fixtures ends up in non-entertainment applications such as shopping malls, exhibitions, and museums. To further develop this market, ETC has recently introduced versions of their fixtures with HID sources with up to a 10,000-hour life.
Selecon of New Zealand offers HID versions of theatrical fixtures but has also set up Ardiis, a division specializing in architectural lighting and offering fixtures developed particularly for this market. The low voltage fixtures in the Ardiis range have proven particularly successful in exhibitions, art galleries, and museums.
In general, all of the manufacturers confirmed that they had a significant percentage of the products sold into architectural applications. The exact percentage varied roughly between 20 to 50%. All confirmed that this was a very buoyant market and that they expected their share to increase considerably with time.
LED lighting is the where all the big excitement is focused at the moment. All the manufacturers of LED-based fixtures that I contacted reported that close to half their production is supplied to architectural applications. This is not surprising, as LED sources are uniquely suited for architectural use due to their small size, ruggedness, and extremely effective life (up to 100,000 hours in many applications).
But is the world of architecture and architectural lighting embracing these new products? Are they keen to explore the possibilities of entertainment technology? The consensus among the manufacturers seems to be that a small group of innovative architectural lighting designers are leading the way. These designers generally have a background in entertainment and are willing to exploit new technologies. Others adopt a more cautious approach but are still considering the new offerings.
HOW GOOD IS THE GEAR?
Another key issue is how effective these manufacturers are in marketing the products to the architectural market. The process of getting products specified and sold in architectural lighting is quite different from that in entertainment lighting. While the contract for the lighting of a major world tour for an artist may be specified, be put out to tender, and awarded within a month, the architectural world moves much slower. It can take years between initial specification and supply, and the process is much more formal, too. Products must be properly documented, and the documentation must be presented in a way suited to the formal tender documents and, of course, address the specific requirements of architectural usage. Proper photometric data suitable for the software used by designers is one example of key information that is required.
Not surprisingly, the entertainment lighting manufacturers have found that they are dealing with a completely different world, not only as far as people are concerned but also in marketing. The architectural world has its own publications and trade shows, and they can be crucial to success in that market. Several manufacturers indicated that they had not been as successful as they would have liked to be in targeting the architectural market and that they needed to improve in this area.
And just as entertainment lighting products are generally sold through distributors and dealers specializing in that field, architectural lighting is more likely to be handled by specialist suppliers and electrical installation companies. This can create both practical and political problems, as the manufacturers usually have an existing distribution network in place. Those distributors and dealers do not wish to be cut out of deal but are not always effective in targeting the architectural market. At this time, none of the manufacturers suggested that they had problems with their existing distribution networks, but they agreed that it was a cause for concern.
So how big is the architectural market? Is it the great new frontier that some suggest? Well, the world of general lighting is, of course, huge compared to the tiny entertainment lighting industry. A major manufacturer of entertainment lighting may have sales in tens of millions of dollars, but the big Kahunas of architectural lighting are ten times bigger. Overall, the architectural lighting sector is probably worth a few billion and is indeed growing at a significant rate.
Exactly how much of this the entertainment lighting manufacturers can grab is an interesting question. One company that seriously focuses on the architectural market is Martin Professional of Denmark. From humble beginnings as a manufacturer of smoke machines in the early 1980s, today Martin is one of the largest manufacturers of entertainment lighting products and is positioning itself to become a major force in architectural lighting. To this end, Martin recruited Gorm Teichert, formerly managing director of Erco, to lead a separate division, Martin Architectural. With its own sales and distribution efforts in key markets such as Germany, France, the UK, and US, this would seem the company is positioned to lead the charge of the entertainment industry on the architectural world.
Griven of Italy is another interesting example. Previously just another Italian manufacturer of effects lighting for the nightclub market, they have reinvented themselves over the past five years into a source of innovative lighting products for architectural applications. Today, Griven's range of products includes a wide range of IP-rated outdoor fixtures using HID sources and full color mixing as well as a growing range of LED-based fixtures, some of which are submersible for use in fountains or pools.
In the UK, Artistic Licence played a major role in converting Finsbury Avenue Square in London by developing, manufacturing, and installing an impressive array of 650 individually controllable LED modules recessed in the square itself. Artistic Licence is a great example of a small, but forward-thinking, company from the entertainment side that, through innovative engineering, has carved out a niche in the architectural sector.
Companies dealing primarily with LED lighting appear to be among the most successful in penetrating the architectural market. Color Kinetics in the US is a leading force, but smaller companies, like Pulsar and Tryka LED in the UK, Lagotronics in the Netherlands, and Bocom in Germany are also enjoying a lot of success.
On the control side, entertainment lighting companies like ETC and Strand offer dedicated control panels and dimmers. Lutron is a company that focuses entirely on architectural control and offers a wide range of solutions for this market. Zero 88 Lighting and Mode Lighting in the UK are making great progress into the architectural market with their ranges of dimmers and associated control panels. By applying the cost-effective techniques of entertainment dimming with networking and A/V interface devices, these companies are well on their way to becoming serious players in lighting control for architectural use.
But, of course, the companies that traditionally supply the architectural market are not sitting idle letting the “intruders” from the entertainment side steal all the glory. Some are busy developing their own products, while others, like Philips, are forming strategic alliances, in its case, with Martin Architectural.
Successfully merging the technologies from entertainment lighting with the financial and marketing resources of traditional architectural lighting companies could create very powerful entities. It's an interesting scenario and, no doubt, one that will create both innovative products and interesting alliances.