Look around you. It's no illusion that our everyday environments have an eye-catching luster. From malls to restaurants to airports and beyond, the marketplace is vying for our attention by placing its products and services quite literally in the best light with the most attention-grabbing illumination the lighting industry has to offer.
Creating dramatic entertainment-style lighting in architectural venues is born of a competitive marketplace. Businesses are turning to lighting and upgraded design elements to differentiate themselves from the pack. Consumers, who are more visually and technologically savvy from the influence of the Internet and the entertainment industry, are also expecting more from their daily outings to malls, restaurants, even the local grocery store. With this demand, a growing number of entertainment lighting manufacturers are crossing over to impart a little razzle-dazzle into the architectural market.
"I think it really started in the United States with our friend Walt Disney," says Peter Ed, marketing director of ETC Europe and past president of the European chapter of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). "His vision was for a complete immersive themed environment and WDI employed literally thousands of designers to execute that vision for the Disney World project. After the completion of Epcot, a lot of these people left Disney and started their own companies. This sort of transfused itself into the American economy, I think, with these designers putting their expertise into the retail, gaming, cruise ship, and restaurant experiences."
These days, applications falling under the umbrella of architecture are numerous, including retail environments, exterior lighting, theme parks, cruise ships, restaurants, nightclubs, museum exhibits, signage, and even grocery stores, as Robert Riccardelli, president of Times Square Lighting, explains. "Retail is our biggest market right now," says Riccardelli, whose company has supplied major retail projects including the Virgin Megastores, Warner Bros. stores, and the ESPNZone in Times Square. "It even filters right down to the grocery store. In the past, it was just fluorescent, fluorescent, fluorescent. Now stores want to give lighting a little bit of a twist. We did one grocery store with metal halide and I had a bet with the manager. I said, 'I guarantee you'll sell more shrimp next week.' He said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'We're going to light these food products in such a way with metal halide that the food is going to pop. It's going to be eye-catching,' and sure enough, when I went back there two weeks later, he told me they had never sold so much shrimp in their lives."
People are recognizing that lighting, whether selling shrimp or spotlighting a building facade, can create visual interest and drama in architecture as it has historically onstage. However, the markets diverge when it comes to business strategy and long-term product requirements. "It is a different approach," says Charlie Hulme, sales manager of the architectural products division of High End Systems. "Traditionally, we relied on our dealer network to distribute our products, and if you look at the typical profile of our dealers, they are generally either production companies that are actually users of the product or they are specialty contractors that focus primarily on lighting installations for theatrical venues. What we've discovered is that it really is not the primary path to the architectural market, so we found that we need to work with an entirely different group of people--independent manufacturers' representatives, construction specifiers, and others allied to the field."
Some find that bridging the learning curve is also necessary to a successful architectural marketing strategy. "The biggest challenge that we have is in educating specifiers and their potential clients about the differences between this technology and the conventional lighting they are used to," says Hulme. "There are some fundamental differences in the way they're applied, there are more control issues, and significant differences in the cost. Automated lighting is generally much more expensive than conventional luminaires."
In addition to educating the specifier, penetrating the market is also about adapting product lines for architectural use, according to Keith Gillum, who with Tom Folsom formed the Katie Group in 1998 to exclusively distribute the architectural line of Altman Stage Lighting. Gillum and Folsom have since added Brightline, a fluorescent video lighting manufacturer, and Dipline, a French electronic panel, to the product lines they represent. "There has always been a desire from the specifier's point of view to try theatrical types of fixtures," he explains. "They have the most control, optically they are the best, but the drawbacks were continually short lamp life and high power consumption. Altman, looking at that, developed a series of products, most importantly a high frequency electronic ballast for the new ceramic metal halide lamps, put this new lamp technology into their fixtures, refined the reflectors, and ended up with a product line."
In addition to ensuring longer lamp life and less power consumption, architectural applications generally require smaller fixtures with an aesthetic look and simpler control systems to integrate into other building automation systems. Strand Lighting was one of the first in the industry to apply entertainment lighting control technologies to the architectural market. "One of the things we are working on now is simple interfaces for the end user, because the person who is going to be running the day-to-day at, say, this new immersive environment restaurant, is basically a restaurateur," explains Bill Sims, Strand's architectural systems manager. "They are not going to be a console operator and they certainly aren't going to be a technical person because they probably wouldn't be the manager at a restaurant. We are working toward much simpler interfaces so that they can operate the systems on their own and have a greater variety of capabilities, which involves giving them a preset selection of looks."
At LDI99 in Orlando, Strand also launched its new architectural SL ellipsoidal and plans to continue manufacturing more fixtures like it in the future, according to Sims, who adds that the company is keeping an eye on new lamp technology for product development. Riccardelli at Times Square and Paul Sherbo, vice president of sales for Colortran, a Leviton company, also mention the advent of new lamp technology as key to the development of theatrical fixtures for architectural applications. "I think in the last five years, the big kick has been metal halide," says Riccardelli, who first used the Philips MasterColor series in fixtures at the first Virgin Megastore in California.
"A metal halide lamp--a low wattage, long life lamp--is much more suitable for allowing a theatrical light to be truly practical for an architectural application," says Sherbo. "We brought out a 70W followed by a 150W metal halide fixture based on a theatrical ellipsoidal called our Arc Mini Ellipse. That has been a big success, because it allows designers to use a theatrical ellipsoidal in an architectural application and have 10,000-hour lamp life and very low wattage."
Primarily known for its lighting control systems, Colortran was also involved early on in bringing theatrical controls to the architectural market and now, after being purchased by Leviton, the markets have converged for the company. "The whole idea of Leviton being involved with Colortran tells you that there is going to be more synergy with theatrical lines and architectural products," says Sherbo. "One of the whole objectives of Leviton buying Colortran was being able to offer controls from A to Z. In other words, from that single slider you need in that little architectural application all the way up to a full-blown theatrical system, we can offer one-stop shopping."
ETC was another pioneer in the architectural market, first bringing theatrical controls and then lighting fixtures over from the entertainment industry. "What set ETC on this track was really the genesis of the company, when Fred Foster and his brother Bill were asked to do some control systems for the animatronics at Disney," says Ed. "Really the very first theatrical control systems developed by ETC were quite influenced by Disney's requirements. They needed to have not just a theatrical-style control system where you had one operator in a control room controlling lights on one stage, but needed to integrate it with other pieces of equipment as well."
Four years ago at LDI in Orlando, ETC officially launched its Unison architectural console line. On the fixture side, the company made a strong commitment to the market with the acquisition of the Irideon architectural line from Vari-Lite in 1998. "We have been gradually introducing Irideon into our more mainstream dealer network both in North America and here in Europe, and that has been very gratefully received," says Ed.
From Vari-Lite's point of view, the Irideon line was a better match for ETC. "The Irideon product line was, of course, targeted specifically to the architectural industry and I think that particular strategy and product line was not in keeping with our core business strategies," says Clay Powers, Vari-Lite's COO. "It seemed to be a natural fit for ETC and I think it has proven to be just that."
Meanwhile, Vari-Lite is pursuing the architectural market by promoting its existing line of automated lighting. "If you look out there now at shopping malls and shoe stores and the sophistication of the lighting and lighting design in these places, it is clearly indicative of the desire of the architectural designers to bring some of that entertainment influence or some of the entertainment tools into their work," says Powers. "We don't create products specifically for one lighting application or another, but we are trying to create tools that any lighting designer can use in any application."
Martin Professional, another driving force in the moving light segment of the industry, is taking a more aggressive approach with the recent launch at LDI99 of Living Light, a marketing campaign specifically targeted to architecture, and the introduction of the MiniMAC indoor and outdoor architectural lighting range, winner of LDI Product of the Year/Architecture. "We definitely believe that architectural lighting, outdoor as well as indoor, will represent an important market for companies with a comprehensive world structure and powerful manufacturing process like Martin," says Pio Nahum, Martin's sales and marketing director, who expects the architectural segment to comprise approximately 20% of sales in the short term, and as substantial a market as entertainment in the long term. "Substantial investment has been made, and will continue to be made, in order to make Living Light an effective concept and one that is fully responsive to our customers' needs. For Martin, this is more of a commercial diversification, not a technical revolution. We believe that our technical know-how is already solid."
Ultimately, as Riccardelli explains, success in the architectural market comes with a finding a niche, something his company has been working on for almost a decade. "A lot of our fixtures from the 60s evolved into the disco pinspots in the 70s and some of the floodlights that are similar to what is used today in the architectural market or retail. We always had them at our disposal, but we never hit that marketplace, because we were concentrated on our stage and studio line," he says. "We fell back a bit in the 70s, because we put all of our eggs in one basket with a disco line and when disco died, we were looking for another marketplace. Being we had these fixtures that did crossover, we started working with track, we bought a motor company that made display motors, and slowly but surely, we ended up in the display, retail, and architectural market."
Now Times Square is known for its architectural projects, including numerous jobs for Disney and a spec-grade line of products that includes a 70W metal halide projector, a soon-to-be-released 150W version, and a new line of PAR-30 and PAR-38 metal halide fixtures. "The forecast for us it to keep on top of our game," says Riccardelli. " We were basically alone doing this for the past eight or nine years. Now I see a lot of my competitors getting into the game, so we have to keep sharp, come out with more products and keep above the rest."
Riccardelli is not alone. The general consensus among entertainment lighting companies is that the architectural market is poised for steady growth and many want to capture their market share. "The companies that emerge as the clear leaders are the ones which will be able to offer products in a format, a package, and at a price point that is palatable," says Hulme. "The future is pretty bright for it. It really makes sense for manufacturers to leverage the investment that they've already made in entertainment markets into the architectural segment."