Touching Light: Integrating Hands-on Learning and New Technologies in Lighting Education

Presented by: William Riehm, Robin Carroll

The Problem In their influential 2009 article in The Journal of Interior Design, “Perceptions of Light–Space Compositions: Is Light Like Language?” Beever and Blossom lay a framework for understanding lighting design as a method of communication. Like language, light can be an ephemeral and poetic tool, but also like language education (consider grammar and spelling), courses in lighting design can feel like a mire of calculations and tedious technical detail. In the course review here we confront these issues, bridging the perceived gap between technical competency and creative design. The Course This course is an exploration in course development and expanding lighting education, and was designed as the second part of a new two part lighting curriculum. development of this three credit hour, semester long elective was made possible by a grant awarded by the Nuckolls Fund for Lighting Education. In development for two years, this course is envisioned as a future capstone for an interdisciplinary lighting certificate and was developed to coordinate learning outcomes (Gordon 2013) (Karlen, Benya, and Spangler 2012) from programs in architecture, industrial engineering, construction science, and interior design. We have successfully offered this course once and this presentation reviews our findings of this experiment in lighting education. Strategies The value of hands-on education and technology is a growing topic (So-Yeon 2014) (Crane and Park 2014). While developing this course we established two strategic goals to bridge technical knowledge and hands-on learning. One goal was to create assignments that built on student’s fundamental technical understandings of calculations and lighting technologies through hands-on activities. The other goal was to move away from student’s reliance on digital rendering and designs created solely in building information modeling programs through site analysis of lighting installations and design problems explored on-site and with physical models focused on integrating new technologies into interior architectural solutions. Outcomes In an initial assignment, students were asked to choose a range of material (varying in color texture, transparency) and report on the qualities of the materials’ rendering under different lamp combination and types (LED, compact fluorescent, halogen, incandescent). Their work reveals an understanding the fluidity and variation in lighting from lamp type and placement and combination. This assignment, while quite simplistic at one level, revealed the need for a higher level of design thinking in regards to the nature and quality of lighting at a fundamental experiential (not digital) level. Another hands-on experience was a theatrical and stage lighting presentations. This presentation feathered into an examination of light filters and diffusers in both daylighting and electric lighting situations. The assignment used a series of light boxes both in a controlled lighting lab and outdoors, expanding their study of lamp types and materials The course concluded with students examining lighting installations across campus and then design a lighting design solution for the entrance lobby and connected corridor in a utilitarian mid-century building. Student developed their assignments both digitally and with physical models. The assignment begins with the development of minimal interventions and concepts and then grows to strategizing day and artificial lighting technology applications. Finally, students were asked to combine these ideas into in an integrated architectural solution that addresses user needs, architectural construction and various lighting strategies. Conclusion We have found that lighting technologies are best understood through experiential learning. Students, too often bound by digital models and computer renderings, need to balance these technical understanding with hands-on experiences that allow them to see lighting in action.


  • Beever, Meaghan H., and Nancy H. Blossom. "Perceptions of Light–Space Compositions: Is Light Like Language?" Journal of Interior Design 34, no. 2 (2009): 35-46.
  • Crane, Tommy and Kyooung-Im Park. “Measuring Out My Own Learning: Formative Pedagogy Used to Educate Millennial Interior Design Students Hand Drafting and Model Building Skills.” Proceedings of the 2014 Interior Design Educators Councils South Regional Conference (2014): 405-411.
  • Gordon, Gary. 2003. Interior Lighting for Designers. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Karlen, Mark, James R. Benya, and Christina Spangler. 2012. Lighting Design Basics. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Yoon, So-Yeon. “An Enjoyable Journey From Digital to Analog: From Digital Sketching to Watercolor Painting.” Proceedings of the 2014 Interior Design Educators Councils South Regional Conference (2014): 67-71.