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People Connection, A Lighting Ethos To Accentuate The Built Environments 

It is a known fact that an inviting environment can elevate our living experience, in which lighting plays a significant role. For me, architectural lighting design is all about people and the art of connecting people with their surroundings through light. The absence of people makes architectural lighting somewhat meaningless. In many ways, lighting contextualises the human experience and vice versa.  

Building on this inter-related perception of light and people, this article puts forward “People Connection” – a concept, an idea and a philosophy that has become an anchor in my career as a lighting designer and of DJCoalition.  

The People 

At the beginning of my lighting design career, there was no professional working in this area in Australia. Therefore, finding the critical element of my lighting design was highly crucial. Transited from being an architect to a lighting designer, I realised how indispensable the people factor was in creating a built environment for both the architecture and the lighting fields. Hence, being people-centric became the key value of my lighting design journey.    

The People in People Connection is precisely what you’d assume. It focuses on the needs, wants and experiences of the people who intentionally and unintentionally interact with a space.  

In recent years, thanks to the influence of media, professionals and the public have been discussing more human-centric lighting. The idea of People Connection intersects these principles, which are intended to inform and guide the practice of lighting design to satisfy human expectations regarding the visual, emotional impact and biological wellness.  

The Nest, one of DJCoalition’s projects in Shanghai, is a great example. The story behind The Nest is one of ambition as we aim to build an oasis in the heart of a busy city. Its lighting design needs to create a visual that can tell that story. At the hotel’s bar, we built the centre decorative lighting inspired by the timelapse photo of a goose flying. The shape of the light follows the pattern of the goose’s beating wings, immersing the people in the oasis-like atmosphere. 

The Nest, Shanghai – DJCoalition

At The Nest, the light imbues softly during the day; then, as more activities are happening in this space, the colours and movements of the lighting sculpture become more lively, intimating the flying wings of the bird and adding vibrancy to the surroundings. It is to foster the emotions and emotional wellness of the guests. Designing a lighting layout is a creative process that considers the method of creating feelings using lighting. The process is triggered by “what are the feelings,” centred around “who are feeling the emotions”, and continues with “how do we build a mood for the audience”. Intuitively, lighting operates on people and their emotions. Hence, lighting design should aim to form emotions. 

For The Nest, as well as other designs of DJ Coalition, our focus is on people and their spiritual and emotional wellness. The ultimate goal of the lighting design is to guarantee a high-quality visual performance, build a wholesome visual experience, provide visual comfort, and foster wellness for the people who engage with the spaces. 

Every project tells a story whose scenes and context clues are delivered through lighting. The perfect illumination needs to build an appreciation of the scenic context so that the “main characters”, the people, can immerse themselves in the space and the atmosphere. 

Human outcomes and responses to light matter. I advise considering these three aspects, how people perceive them, and how they influence people. Then, you can begin to build the connection based on those principles.  

Fostering Connections  

Lighting design is more than accentuating built environments. Instead, it is about enhancing the interactions within these built spaces and turning them into venues for communication and the inception of new ideas. Light can be the link that connects people to themselves, to others, their surroundings and their environment. 

One of the purposes of lighting is to support one’s subjective experience. In other words, lighting design cares about how people connect to the self and the spaces. For personal connection, lighting can be a vessel to support people’s intention to be in a space. Besides providing illumination for their actions, it offers a fulfilled feeling while in the area. For example, task lighting is one of the critical elements in building that sense of subjective connection. Good task lighting that is void of distracting shadows, glare-free, and bright enough to prevent eyestrain can keep the occupant focused on their purposes of being in the area. DJCoalition had a chance to work on the lighting scheme for Perth library, a great example. In a quiet and personal environment like a library, lighting allows people to find what they need, navigate and travel between floors and immerse themselves in the calming atmosphere. In this way, lighting influences the way we interact with a space. 

City of Perth Library – DJCoalition

Lighting should also pay attention to the collective experience, especially in public spaces where people engage with one another. It abridges the gap between a person and their surroundings by offering moods and ambiences. Co-living is a dynamic but sustainable state between humans. In design, lighting layout should allow people to coordinate well with each other. Ambient lighting is beneficial as it can turn a space into a common ground for different individuals to come together and express themselves openly. For example, Glowfish Office, a coworking space project of DJCoalition in Thailand, required us to create a lighting design that meets visibility and visual requirements and supports people’s interactions within that space. In addition, lighting a space is not limited to direct interactions between individuals but also indirect interactions, such as navigation and wayfinding. We realise how important lighting is when we look at the bigger picture of how people connect and interact in a space. 

Glowfish, Bangkok – DJCoalition

Lastly, people cannot be separated from their surroundings and the environment. Living in harmony with the natural environment is the key to fostering the well-being of people. Light can host the connection to our environment. It is vital to understand that sustainability is more than energy conservation. For lighting professionals, the concern is placed on artificial lighting and how it affects the natural ecosystem. It takes time to educate ourselves about light pollution and its adverse impacts on wildlife, but it should never be an excuse not to be mindful of this issue. Humans exist within nature. For that reason, lighting for human wellness means lighting for environmental wellness. It is significant for lighting designers to connect human and natural wellness instead of one another.  

Expanding the Concept  

The lighting industry used to be rooted in human vision, only focusing on the traditional elements of lighting quality. More concepts and approaches regarding human-centric lighting are being developed to cope with the needs of the industry. Nonetheless, calling the idea “human-centric” may not represent all aspects and fully express its essence. At its best, human-centric lighting considers light’s visual and non-visual effects in support of positive human outcomes. As a result, lighting design becomes rooted in human vision focusing on standard requirements like brightness. However, the consideration for human experience and connection should come more to the forefront when it comes to lighting technical development and design practices. Through the lens of People Connection, a lighting designer can facilitate a story and foster connectedness through lighting.   

From when I started my career, People Connection was more of a gut feeling and vague concept that I unconsciously incorporated in my designs. As my career progresses and the industry grows, there are more professionals, which gives me more chances to obtain knowledge from different perspectives. It took a long time to solidify People Connection as a concept and figure out its relating factors and even longer for me to learn how to communicate and demonstrate the concept to our designers at DJCoalition. After dedicating years of experimenting not only with the light, the spaces, and lighting impacts on people but also people’s perception of a space, how people engage with each other, and the influence our designs have on environmental wellness, our team embraces People Connection as it becomes the heart of all our designs. 

In short, no matter whether public spaces, places of commerce, transportation, and even our humble abodes, lighting impacts people in how they live, perceive, think and engage. When we look further, lighting does not only connect people to the space but also involves intra-connection, interconnection and environmental connection. As far as People Connection is concerned, learning is a continuing task for all of us. There are more benefits to proper lighting design than just commercial ones. By striving for high-quality lighting design, we can contribute more value to people, the community, and the environment. Lighting is a constantly growing area, so my message for the younger generation of professionals is not automatically to follow the steps of previous generations. Instead, I hope to connect with you through this concept of People Connection in lighting and that you can contribute more to it for the better. 

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