it’s time to revolt against the tyranny of downlights

If you’re an architect or lighting designer, don’t succumb to the seductive tyranny of those easy little circles on the RCP.  You know what I mean.  It’s just so easy to COPY/PASTE those little circles in a neat little line spaced every 8′ or so.  Just hit that space bar over and over again.  The center handles of the circles just snap so easily on the center lines of everything else.  Muscle memory for downlights.  They’re just so…comfortable.  You know you’re safe and in the clear if you just paste, paste, paste.  The lux (that’s footcandles for us gringos) are just so trustworthy if you follow those easy rules of thumb.



If you are using a downlight…a proper downlight that…you know…aims AT THE GROUND, then you better well have a damn good floor surface that you want to highlight. We’re talking granite.  Exquisite (real) wood flooring.  Polished concrete (and not the cheapo fake stuff).  Maybe stairs or level changes that you don’t want little old ladies tripping over.  Don’t make me be an annoying architectural critic by bringing up architectural progression, threshold, place, tectonics, etc.   If you’re using a downlight, I fully expect you WANT your guests to be staring at that piece of flooring underneath the supposedly “invisible” hole in the ceiling.  Because there are at least five other surfaces in that room that they could also be looking at, not to mention the art, furniture, people, anything in the FF+E budget, etc…

The earliest example I’ve ever seen of a proper downlight dates to 1938, when Walter Gropius designed a crazy trick-detail of a 250W recessed 2″ pinhole downlight to perfectly frame his dining table in a glorious minimalist cone of light.  (Here’s the PDF from Historic New England detailing the Gropius House’s restoration of that hardware: GRO.dining room light.02092009). THAT’S A GLORIOUS USE OF A DOWNLIGHT.

Trust me:  You do not have a glorious use of a downlight.  But yet you keep mindlessly stamping those little circles on your lighting layout…even when you don’t really want the occupants of the space staring at the floor.  Sadly, I must state the end game here:

Eternal shame shall fall on your lighting design portfolio.  And your offspring’s.  And your grandchildren (if they make questionable life-choices and enter lighting design and/or architecture).

With modern LED tech, you have an endless smorgasbord of choices.  Light the edges. (No, really…light the ALL the edgesLight the wallsMake the walls glowMake the ceilings glowMake em’ glow like the Don Draper era…  Do some insane light-art piece.  Just do ANYTHING but mindlessly fill a space with awful, low-glare, “non-visible” light sources that pump dumb lumens into a space.

In your darkest hours, buried in CAD, doing thankless lighting layouts for exit stairwells, toilet partitions and utility closets, channel the master for some inspiration…