There is a long-standing, latent demand for the incorporation of luminous surfaces into architectural spaces. Servicing this demand has been difficult, because fundamentally the only available light sources have been incandescent point-sources and fluorescent linear-sources. It is extremely difficult to transform either point sources or linear sources into planes of light, essentially requiring a deep light box to geometrically distribute the light onto a flat diffusion panel. And such light boxes are always a pain for architects to try to include in their projects, requiring fussy detailing and large volumes of precious space.
OLEDs provide a promising path forward to finally delivering luminous surfaces as a sort of “construction material” to job sites. Most researchers have been focused simply on the technology of OLEDs themselves. But I contend that the victors in the long run will be the companies that innovate on delivery and installation methods for construction projects.
One innovative concept would be prefabricated panels of light, delivered in bulk much like gypsum wall board and trimmed to fit like typical sheet rock. But a second, more interesting option might be using cold-rolled formed metal techniques commonly used by metal roofing and rain-gutter installers. Contractors bring a roll-form bending machine mounted on a trailer directly to a job sight; extrude the profiles they need in continuous lengths; and cut to the perfect length. This technique greatly reduces transportation costs, reduces waste from trimming pre-made lengths, and permits very long, seamless run lengths.
Many OLED researchers are currently focused on roll-to-roll printing technologies to greatly lower the cost of OLED panels. And most architectural lighting fixtures require metal housings to provide structural rigidity, mounting interfaces, fire and electrical shock protection. Sounds like a perfect match, huh? A lighting installer could bring raw rolls of metal and OLED sheets, create the exact profiles and lengths needed for each job, cut + seal and add on a prefabricated wiring interface.
The real potential in this area is the ability to use luminous surfaces on complex shapes. Think Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid: Any place a metal panel could be used, a glowing OLED panel could be installed.