Lighting design is on fire like never before. Sun-tracking heliostats, compact fluorescents, LEDs—these are just some of the progressive technologies making clinical fluorescent tubes and juice-guzzling incandescents look like the Victor Victrolas of illumination. But the payoff isn't measured just in lumens emitted or kilowatt hours conserved. Lighting can be a tool for boosting worker productivity, improving communication, or simply telegraphing a brand's cool factor. According to the Freedonia Group, a Cleveland market research firm, the global lighting-fixture industry will grow 5% annually to $92 billion ($20.5 billion in the United States) by 2010. To be truly dazzled, look to the more experimental horizon, where designers are rethinking luminosity in spectacular ways.
In plotting projects from Singapore's new Changi Airport Terminal 3 to Frankfurt's upcoming European Central Bank HQ, Austrian lighting design firm Bartenbach Lichtlabor has a secret weapon—its in-house Artificial Sky. The $680,000, 21-foot-wide hemisphere uses thousands of computer-controlled fluorescents, halogens, and LEDs to do what digital simulations often cannot: predict the effects of daylight on scale models with unprecedented sophistication—for any season, weather, or time of day.
Solar Reflector Cable Net
Architect James Carpenter's contribution to the coming $888 million Nicholas Grimshaw-designed Fulton Street Transit Center in Lower Manhattan will redirect daylight into subway platforms below. Slated for 2009, the 50-to-60-foot-wide tube of tensile cable netting, lined with reflective, perforated aluminum panels, will recast iconic architecture as a light source. "A beautiful form from the street," Carpenter says, "that also glows at night."
Wind To Light
Created this past summer for London Architecture Week, Jason Bruges's Wind to Light lit up the city's Southbank Centre along the Thames with hundreds of swaying polypropylene poles, each fitted with LEDs driven by miniature wind turbines. Intensifying and dimming with the airflow, the glowing rods winked like fireflies and rippled in waves of green and blue. It was about "using renewable energy as an aesthetic," Bruges says, as well as "visualizing and mapping data onto the built environment."
A version of this article appeared in the October 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.