A new beginning:
the European lighting design community
Ten declarative statements
(observations, comments, conclusions)
by Joachim Ritter in July 2014
There comes a time when you have to stop, breathe in deeply, and take a step back in order to be able to analyse the situation and the state of affairs with the necessary calm. This time has come for the European lighting design community. The strategic stocktaking will need to address the issue as to how serious the lighting designers are about gaining recognition for their profession and what steps they are taking – or should be taking – to achieve that goal.
In the past few years too much has happened which was based on the wrong focus. This was brought to a head in the last few months and ended, in part, in a fiasco. Things are beginning to settle down a little, and the task now is to assess the current situation within the lighting design community, draw conclusions and take the right consequences, setting the wheels in motion towards a better and meaningfully structured future.
In the end, it is about nothing less than establishing Lighting Design as a profession and gaining political recognition for all those who are qualified to practise it.
Declarative statement 1: Realising Lighting Design as a profession in its own right is essential for the good of our society.
That is what it was all about 20 years ago, but just before hitting target and achieving a possible breakthrough at EU level the community, and those responsible in 2011, lost sight of the goal, pursued alternative interests and missed an historical chance. The lighting industry offered to support lobbying efforts at a political level in the interest of the independent lighting designer. The European states as a whole would have been able to make a decisive step towards the establishment of a new profession. On the occasion of PLDC 2011 in Madrid, Alvaro Andorlini, President of the European lighting manufac-turers’ association CELMA at the time, publicly called upon the representatives of the lighting design associations to define what a Lighting Designer is and what his/her Scope of Work entails in order to be able to take decisive measures to present this definition to the political bodies responsible in Brussels as a first step towards gaining recognition. Unfortunately no-one stepped up to the challenge in the ensuing months. No-one seized the opportunity and assumed responsibility. Neither of the two large international associations, nor any of the numerous smaller associations at national level, initiated any measures in response to the CELMA President’s encouraging words. Nobody was in a position to understand – or wanted to understand – the significance of this offer, which would have meant being a step nearer to becoming an integral part of the architecture landscape in Europe. Individuals were too occupied with their own issues, with internal structures and trench warfare, with power politics and competitive-ness, but not with the issues associations are inherently created and commissioned to address – representing their members, for the common good.
The historical chance that was evident back then is still there – for the taking.
Declarative statement 2: the offer on the part of the lighting industry to
support the realisation of the profession still stands.
Current technical developments and digitalisation, as well as the scientific acknowledgement of the significance of light for the human being, call for an independent lighting specialist, someone who is qualified to design lighting and apply it in the interest of the users of the illuminated spaces, in accordance with the architect’s intent and in line with the architecture. The basic issue – gaining recognition for Lighting Design as a profession – remains, and to this day is still the main point on the current Agenda.
The professional associations currently in existence on various markets around the world do not appear to have clear concepts of where they are going – or who might be going in the same direction. Now more then ever, they tend to be focussed on their own interests and how they can best expand their influence, without applying the latter in the interest of the profession. Strategic co-operations have been abandoned and neglected, essential partnerships exchanged for new, dubious or insignificant allies. The narrow perspectives of specific individuals held sway over the concerns of a concerted group, and in the end rode roughshod over the visionary approaches of the past. PLDA’s downfall was the logical consequence. Similarly, the mutually beneficial collaborations with trade fairs such as Light+Building, Euroluce and Light Middle East were forfeited and replaced with ill-conceived attempts to cooperate with initiatives in China, which were unlikely to be able to provide an adequate financial substitute for the European support to date, let alone a substitute for influence on the market.
What then followed was more or less predictable: complete collapse. Attempts to approach the IALD were not so much based on a strategic move, but rather a result of economic constraints. With their share of Lightfair International, the IALD enjoys the advantages of co-operating with a profit-oriented business partner, something that PLDA misinterpreted and ended up turning down. But securing, financial resources is part of being professional, of adopting a professional approach. Amateur footballers do not stand a chance of winning a significant title playing against professionals. On the other hand, a purely capitalistic approach can put a damper on any attempts to initiate basic change. The retention or expansion of power may stand in the way of progress for the common good.
Declarative statement 3: the well-being and concerns of the European lighting design community and culture are not of central interest to either the Asian lighting industry or the North American associations.
The European lighting design industry can give up hoping that their interests have a greater significance outside Europe than other countries’ own concerns. Gaining political and legal recognition for Lighting Design as a profession in Europe is neither on the Agenda of the IALD nor of the Asian lighting industry.
It is still possible to achieve the goal of establishing the profession in the coming years. In fact, we might go as far as to say that there is no way we can stop the profession developing into what it deserves to be, no way back. It is merely a matter of time before Lighting Design becomes a protected profession, and a question of who is willing and able to drive this forward. The founding of a new association in Europe would accelerate this process.
Declarative statement 4: without an official professional association it is not legally possible to gain recognition for or establish a profession.
Social networks and modern-day communication channels are no substitute for a professional association.
In realising the profession, Europe can adopt a pioneer role, become a role model for the world and set (quality) standards. The industrial heritage and culture within Europe is as different as the nations that are part of it, but at the same time as uniform and consistent as the European states are currently successful – as a concerted group. In the last 20 years Europe became the centre for Lighting Design as we know it today. This was deve-loped through the dedication of specific individuals, who gave the entire industry a new face. What was achieved should not be arbitrarily left to others – to out-siders – at the risk of opening the door to influences from other parts of the planet without reflecting on the possible consequences, and jeopardising the real goal behind all the effort as a result of differences in continental expectations and requirements, and perhaps also interests. Europe is in a position, and independent enough, to set rather than follow trends and to maintain its importance internationally as the lighting design community that a European base worked so hard and relentlessly to achieve. In the end, it is all about actively helping to shape global structures and developments, and not about pursuing cultural approaches which are not necessarily in the European sense.
Declarative statement 5: whether we like it or not, it is necessary to
overcome the loss of PLDA by founding a new European organisation.
The time has come to leave the past behind us and to learn from the mistakes that were made. But the time has also come to acknowledge that what was achieved for the profession on an international scale would never have been possible without PLDA. A new start – and the final step towards establishing the profession – will not be possible without a new professional organisation with European roots and structures, as was the case in the past.
Europe needs a new professional association of its own that represents the interests of European lighting designers and those of the European lighting industry. If this restart works, this new European association will be much stronger than what PLDA ever was. It would be evidence of the fact that in spite of adverse conditions and significant hurdles the European lighting design community has not lost sight of the path leading to the professionalisation of the work they do, and is clearly at the helm when it comes to realising this. If this is not done, it would do endless damage to the international lighting design movement. The European Community would likewise be scarred. Europe cannot afford to disclaim any responsibility for this situation simply because it appears to be easier to latch onto something/someone else. We have to understand that no-one is going to be looking after European interests apart from the Europeans themselves. Europe can wait an age and a day for someone else to stand up and push for the interests of the European lighting design community. Nobody else will be prepared to tackle the existing complex structures in Brussels and find ways of embracing them apart from the Europeans themselves – they are the ones who know what it is like to live and work in Europe.
A converse trend would be to create a series of national lighting designers’ associations or initiatives. This is basically a positive move, since it means that colleagues could work at a local level to fight for their rights. But when it comes to the actual recognition of the profession such groupings and initiatives resemble many individual pieces to a very large and complex puzzle, which will remain but fragments if they do not find their place within the overall context. The coordination of more than 20 nations, which is European reality, is not feasible for professional associations in the long run. The issue of education alone, which is regulated in Europe through the Bologna Declaration, makes no sense if national associations insist on going it alone. Europe works because it focuses on coordination and harmonisation at all levels. When it comes to lighting design, creating a series of national associations inevitably means multiple investment of time, money, staff … it makes absolutely no sense and is the equivalent of ignoring the concept of Europe and global markets altogether. Anyone who thinks in a future-oriented fashion will understand that nobody can be truly successful on a purely national scale. There will always be individual nations attempting to attain some kind of supremacy within the larger structure. Politically, this has never worked well and, as history has shown, has always led to people taking opposite sides. Irrespective of that, the influence of a few lighting designers in the national context is insignificant compared with larger numbers of lighting designers operating in line with one another on a European scale.
Declarative statement 6: it is illusory to want to establish Lighting Design as a profession on a national scale within a global structure.
Why should national associations of architects accept one national lighting association, however well structured it is, if the rest of Europe is not organised in a similar way? Solo attempts by individualists are bound to fail. As a team, you have a better chance of being successful, as the recent World Cop tournament showed!
The lighting design community must also acknowledge the fact that their relationship to the industry has changed over the last few years. Twenty years ago the lighting industry was a supplier of luminaires and light sources. Today the industry is a supplier of solutions. The offer on the part of the lighting industry to cooperate as partners is not something the lighting designers should forgo without serious consideration. Nobody outside the industry dis-poses over the range of technical know-how that they do. Of course, you have to differentiate between the experienced, serious suppliers and the cowboys or lighting discounters. But to turn the lighting industry down point blank would be fatal.
Declarative statement 7: the Lighting Design profession and good quality lighting can only be developed and realised in cooperation with the lighting industry.
To turn the lighting industry down point blank as a partner and to define lighting manufacturers as competitors only would have fatal consequences. It would be a clear stimulus to revive and expand their own design departments. A couple of decades ago the trend for lighting manufacturers to build up their own design teams was a very critical issue. The existence of PLDA, and the efforts made to address the issue in those days, led to a considerable amount of discussion and debate. Some companies even amended their tactics or strategies. An agreement was made with Philips which, with the downfall of PLDA, is now no longer effective. In order to prevent the trend for manufacturers to run large planning departments from reverting it must be guaranteed that the knowledge and skills of independent designers do not fall below that of the industry’s planning departments. In other words, that commissioning an independent designer to do a job means the client really gets the added value he expects when paying the fee. Given the technological advances developed by the industry, the independent lighting designer needs to remain informed. For that you need to communicate, discuss project challenges and make educated decisions about how to realise concepts.
This is one of the prime advantages that well qualified young designers have over established lighting designers. The expansion of study programmes at university level and the individual support of young designers have been of central importance for developments in Europe over the last few years.
Declarative statement 8: only with the education and integration of newly qualified designers will we be able to face the future and guarantee healthy development.
Internal discussions within the respective associations have led to the real focus of lighting education being dramatically neglected. The idea of realising the changes the market is imposing on us with de-signers who will only be practising for a few more years is naive. Only young designers who entered the market at an early stage in their careers with a high level of knowledge and at the same time are willing to master the daily challenges of a modern digital and global world by applying new and innovative solutions, are in a position to shape the future. Experienced lighting designers can only provide the framework and environment for such developments. It makes little sense for them to invest intellectually and economically in a long-term vision of the future of the profession. That said, it is their social duty and responsibility to ensure that there is a functioning association in place and a lighting design community in existence that will give the young generation the chance that was bestowed on the generation of experienced professionals ten or 20 years previously, and which enabled them to establish their existence. Many designers who can now be classified as being experienced had a marketing platform through PLDA, which helped them establish their own design practices. The task now is to pass this support on as a kind of pact across the generations. The integration of newly qualified designers and universities, the exchange and promotion of young lighting designers, must again become the central focus of association work and also of the community.
And yet: without continuing professional development (CPD), Lighting Design and the development of lighting design know-how will remain static. Only those who remain innovative and informed can rest assured they will always be in the running.
Declarative statement 9: CPD is of crucial importance for lighting designers. No officially structured CPD programme, no recognised profession.
The establishment of Lighting Design as a profession will remain wishful thinking if the lighting design community does not come up with a struc-tured CPD programme. It is therefore of crucial importance to create a politically recognised structure that addresses continuing education and professional training and records individuals’ learning performance. Only once this has been achieved will Lighting Design be able to gain the professional recognition we all desire. It is the responsibility of every designer to pursue continuing professional education in order to be able to provide the client with the best possible service. To allow this to be performed on a voluntary basis, whenever the designer feels like it, means not being entirely open and truthful vis-à-vis the client, plus the fact that the lighting design community in its quality and entirety would develop at a far slower pace than is potentially possible. Anyone who wishes to be recognised as a Professional Lighting Designer must provide ongoing evidence that s/he is making every effort to maintain his/her professional status and be able to offer state-of-the-art design services. This cannot be proven simply by being a member of an association. Which brings me to my final statement.
Declarative statement 10: we need an officially recognised system which
defines who is permitted to use the title Lighting Design.
In order to curb the modus operandi that anyone can offer lighting design services without any evidence of possessing an adequate qualification or a certain number of years’ experience it will be necessary to introduce a licensing procedure. Within Europe this can only be on a trans-European basis and should definitely not be on a voluntary basis, as the IALD are suggesting in their credentialing concept. According to the IALD programme only IALD members with IALD credentials are entitled to be recognised as Lighting Designers. This definition does not speak of independence, and might even be interpreted as an infringement against official political recognition.
In order to create such a licensing procedure it is necessary to gain the support of all key players on the market. Going it alone is not the answer. Licensing is not a substitute for an association and would be comparable to an engineering council or a chamber of architects.
Many of the arguments, observations or statements above were valid 20 years ago when ELDA was founded. What is different today is the fact that the importance of well designed human-oriented lighting can now be scientifically proven and is ecologically and technically indispensable. On the other hand, we have now learnt that to gain recognition for Lighting Design we must take a far more professional approach. That also applies to how the whole process is managed. The lighting design community in Europe must learn from the mistakes that have been made and take steps to prevent this occurring again in future. Just as the IALD had to re-organise themselves back in the nineties. The IALD also went through a rough period, including financial troubles. But by the middle of the first decade in the 21st century they were well on the way to recovery. This is where the Europeans can learn from the IALD and not allow themselves to be swallowed up in order to get through a rough patch. The task at hand is to structure the global market and not to focus on submission or acquisition. The only way to improve the situation is to discuss all the relevant issues on the various tables around the world. Having “one voice” can be politically effective when promoted to the outside world, but it does not reflect what goes on democratically on the inside.
Gütersloh, 21 July 2014