It's not every day that you can pick up the business section of The New York Times and see designs by Ken Posner and Paul Gregory. But that's what happened this morning; the pictures, of Hairspray (Posner) and the restaurant Morimoto (Gregory), illustrated an article titled “A Glimpse of a Future in a New Kind of Light.”
The new kind of light, it turned out, was generated by LEDs. According to reporter Barnaby J. Feder, “The ubiquitous light bulb is quietly on its way to becoming as quaint a relic as the gas lanterns it replaced more than a century ago. Incandescent bulbs, neon tubes, and fluorescent lamps are starting to give way to light-emitting microchips that work longer, use less power, and allow designers to use light in ways they never have before.”
Then, Arpad Bergh, identified as “a former Bell Labs researcher who is president of an industry trade group working with the government to promote the new technology,” says, “We are not talking about replacing light bulbs. We are talking about a totally new lighting industry.”
Well, that was a lot to take with my morning coffee. (My first thought was, O brave new world that has such fixtures in it.) In the article, Feder was mostly concerned with lighting for home and office applications (although he thinks LEDs will be common in these places by 2007).
Furthermore, we all know about the problems of LEDs in entertainment applications — they're expensive, they're not bright enough, etc., etc. Still, at every trade show, there are more LED products. Color Kinetics has managed to place its units in two Broadway shows. Pulsar and James Thomas now have extensive LED lines. Several more companies will be unveiling LED units over the coming months. You have to wonder where it all will end. I mean, lighting units as we know them can't be replaced by LED technology — can they?
In this issue, Stan Schwartz, of Rosco, takes us all to task, arguing that, as an industry, we're far too focused on seeking out the New New Thing, the phantom groundbreaking product that will rewrite the rules of the game. He has a point, but lately I have the nagging feeling that we may be at another crossroads. I'm not making any wild claims about the death of incandescence or anything like that, but the very existence of LED technology — which, by the way, is getting cheaper and brighter all the time — is likely to have a profound effect on both the art and business of lighting, in ways that we don't really understand yet. The next few years should prove very interesting indeed.