Darkness darkness

Happy New Year, everyone!

Hope your holidays have been good, with lots of love and beautiful lighting.

This post I’d like to dedicate to another, often forgotten, quality when discussing light: darkness. It seems fitting now during the darkest time of the year in my part of the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the summertime and have no wish to go back to living in a medieval darkness with only candles and fire light to read, socialise, travel and work by during the dark part of the day and year.

But our modern world has become almost insanely bright, at all hours of the day. Every last corner must be harshly and evenly illuminated with often cool bright light. We’re living in an era of literal enlightenment, and not all for the better. No room anymore for feeling, romance, mystery, subtlety or imagination.

And not so healthy either. Besides disrupting circadian rhythms in humans indoors, outdoor light pollution from over-illumination and poor beam control is also becoming a growing problem, not just for astronomers but for wild life as well: Ecological light pollution [Thanks to Peter Stenzel for the link.]

And is it not possible that some of us could work or learn just as well, or even better, in less over-illuminated classrooms, offices etc? Especially when sitting down, there is in my opinion no need for the whole room to be so extremely bright, as long as one’s desk or workspace has enough light. With computers, a bright ambience is even counter-productive. This is how offices could look, not just home offices like this one – and it wouldn’t cost more either!

Home office with halogen spots (image from: http://www.organize-utah.com)

Home office with halogen spots
(image from: http://www.organize-utah.com)

And why does public transportation need to be as harshly lit when one is just sitting there trying to relax to and from work, shopping or some social event, and not needing overly bright light to see every dandruff one’s your fellow passenger? A real mood-killer, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nice if your local public transportation was lit more like this old gem?

Sprague first class (image from: http://www.discoverfrance.net)

Sprague-Thomson train for Paris Métro, first class
(image from: http://www.discoverfrance.net)

And if the stations were more like the magical Grand Central Station in New York?

Grand Centeral Station(image from: http://www.jazzhostels.com)

Grand Centeral Station, New York
(image from: http://www.jazzhostels.com)

Unfortunately, the abundance of mediocre quality lighting follows a historical pattern. In earlier centuries, light was the luxury. A quality commodity like silk or gold. But with the arrival of cheaper, poorer quality gas discharge lamps and fluorescent tubes, suddenly it was possible to flood the general public in bright light at all hours of the day, just like we have been flooded with high quantity but low quality of many other things, from junk food and polyester to cheap reality shows.

As I may have mentioned earlier, there are very clear rules and recommendations for lighting designers to use more quantity than quality for workers and cheap stores, and more quality than quantity for executives, high end boutiques, exclusive hotels, museums, spas, first class train cars, tourist buses, air planes etc, with more harsh, bright, flat and glaring fluorescent light for the former group and more dim, varied, warm, directional, and incandescent lighting for the latter.

Spa lobby, Bankok(image from: http://www.searchthai.net)

Spa lobby, Bankok
(image from: http://www.searchthai.net)

So, darkness, shadow and dimmer or more varied lighting has now become a scarcity, a rare luxury good like silence. Something the affluent few are made to pay premium prices for. But don’t we all actually need darkness just as much as we need light? Can we truly enjoy one without the contrast of the other?

I’ll let Jesse Colin Young & The Youngbloods end this little tribute to shadow and darkness: