Interview with designer Conceptlicht GmbH (CG), regarding views on design, and for the award-winning design Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center Outdoor Lighting.

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Interview with Conceptlicht GmbH at Thursday 2nd of May 2013: DI: What is the main principle, idea and inspiration behind your design?
CG : Lighting design is perception design. As light itself is invisible, we can only perceive reflections, which is the illumination of surfaces with different levels of brightness. Illuminated areas gain a visual significance and appear more meaningful than darker ones. For a convincing lighting design, it is important to only highlight those architectural elements that are crucial for understanding the space and really are meaningful. Accidentally illuminating nearby areas, too, would mean to attach an unjustified importance to them. However, if the hierarchy of light does not match the actual hierarchy of elements, the perception of space is distorted, making light appear as a foreign substance, artificial and unreasonable.

DI: What has been your main focus in designing this work? Especially what did you want to achieve?
CG : The main goal was to create a magic light atmosphere, without allowing a destructive look behind the scenes. The lighting design should appear as natural and logic as possible, allowing an undisturbed experience of space. It is the light that shall be seen, not the luminaires. Nevertheless, the crucial point is to enhance the architecture by light, not to superimpose it.

DI: How long did it take you to design this particular concept?
CG : The development and realization of the lighting design concept happened simultaneously to the development and realization of the architectural building concept. Both designs influenced each other, starting in 2007 and finishing in 2011.

DI: Where there any other designs and/or designers that helped the influence the design of your work?
CG : The design concept was not developed referring to any other design or effect. Rather, it was the logic consequence of fulfilling our main idea: lighting according to the hierarchy of meanings. However, as mentioned, the creation of the architecture influenced the lighting design and vice versa. So the project was evolved in a strong cooperation with the architects of Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center: gmp Architekten.

DI: Who is the target customer for his design?
CG : Being a design project, there is no customer or consumer in the traditional sense, of course. However, having in mind that the lighting design will have an impact on different people, the needs of all possible users were considered. User-friendliness was one of the highest goals of the design, be it for “active” users like sportspeople and visitors, “passive” users like the drivers that cross by the sports center and catch it from the corner of their eyes, and even for technicians that are charged with the maintenance of the lighting system.

DI: What sets this design apart from other similar or resembling concepts?
CG : The main outstanding characteristic of the Shenzhen Universiade Spots Center lighting design is the high level of sophistication in its details. There is no look behind the scenes, no glare, no revealing of single light sources. What is the point of a magnificent effect from distance if all magic will be gone as soon as you see it at close range? The details matter. Thus, the focus on users is a high aim. No matter from which angle seen, the LED light sources are never visible. Glare does not arise, not even from the inside of the crystal shell. Many of the luminaires of the light concept were custom-made, created in a way that their beam angles match the geometry of the architecture. There are no accidental LED light cones drawing attention to their actual position.

DI: Who did you collaborate with for this design? Did you work with people with technical / specialized skills?
CG : As we are an interdisciplinary lighting design office, our designers have different backgrounds like architecture, interior design, electrical engineering and scenography. Thus, the technical knowledge is already in our house, so that we also develop complete lighting systems, including even the calculation of reflector coordinates. In Shenzhen, we developed the concept and final design. The realization and installation of luminaires was done by Chinese Grandar Light Art & Technology Co. Ltd.

DI: What is the role of technology in this particular design?
CG : Generally, the development of custom-made luminaires tailored to the needs of architecture is not compulsory linked to new technology. The downlights for the exterior lighting of the Universiade building complex are designed with metal halide lamps in combination with sensibly constructed reflectors. So this is a specially tailored light system independent from new technology, which we could also have realized twenty years before. Even the façade lighting of the crystalline shapes could – if it had to be - be realized with fluorescent lamps and appropriate reflectors. However, the possibility of using LED is a great advantage. Due to its size, lifetime and easy combination with lenses, LED makes the project easier, cheaper, faster, more efficient and more precise. But still, LED alone is not the solution. The LED systems of today have to be planned as carefully as former light sources.

DI: What are some of the challenges you faced during the design/realization of your concept?
CG : The main challenge of the project was to persuade the client not to economize on the details, as they are the essential key to the magic of the space. After a lot of comparative sampling between sophisticated systems and cheaper simplified systems, we luckily managed to convince him. In the end, he even spent more money than expected by realizing the LED modules in RGB colour, though they were originally planned to be white.

DI: What did you learn or how did you improve yourself during the designing of this work?
CG : The most interesting lessons that we drew from this foreign project was that principles which we deemed universal turned out to be more regional than expected. This way, for instance, plan symbols in China sometimes had different meanings than in Europe and thus created some confusion between different planning offices.