From Architectural Lighting to Architectural Media

TiL 2018 - Beyond Illumination
26 Sep 2018

From Architectural Lighting to Architectural Media

Architectural lighting must be reconsidered as architectural media.

In state-of-the-art architectural projects (or retail, or hospitality, etc.), every light source is now digitally controlled and therefore effectively a digital pixel.  Some of these “pixels” might take the shape of good old-fashioned light bulbs, others are tunable CCT/RGB architectural lights, while others take the shape of millions of RGB light points in a digital display.  No matter what shape they physically take, the control backbones have all converged to IP-based systems.  Pixels have become free – meaning that theoretically there is no cost differentiation in controlling a single monochromatic light bulb “pixel” or a digital media display “pixel.”

This is a dramatic transformation with many implications, but I will highlight just two key transitions:

We must first transition our thinking from lighting scenesto architectural digital media management

Lighting controls have long been based on preset scenes.  Nearly every classic architectural and theatrical control system is based on queues of scenes, triggered to transition from one static state to the next.  This is proving extremely limiting as the number of pixels explodes, because the commissioning of these scene-based systems becomes a crushing burden.  The architectural world is fast incorporating more-and-more digital media with rich imagery and video content.  This simply doesn’t jive with the foundational paradigms of scene-based systems, creating a choke-point for increasing the interactivity of architectural projects. 

Contrast the arcane complexity of modern lighting systems against modern digital signage content management systems, such as small startups like Enplug.  They make it extremely easy to control millions of pixels distributed geographically anywhere in the world.  Content management for digital signage is developing into a major industry itself: For example, check out the extensive partner ecosystems being fostered by LG Display and Samsung Display.

The second transition will be from architectural digital media management to live content creation.

Even the concept of pre-programmed “media” will soon be limiting.  Architectural spaces need to responsively generate live content to truly exploit the potential of spaces filled with digital ambient media systems.

The ability to add rich sensing capabilities within architectural spaces fundamentally demands interactivityto constantly optimize the system.  Digital sensing technologies are of limited use if they are forced to trigger binary or limited pre-defined scenes. 

Live content creation is driven by parametric rules via algorithms that can generate myriad types of content.  Constantly tuned “static” scenes, textural visual effects, video content feeds, or incorporation of social media streams are all examples of live content.


Preset scene systems have run of out steam. They are no longer capable of expanding to meet modern media demands in architectural projects.  Digital content management systems are much better poised to accommodate the needs of architectural projects:  It will be much easier for digital content systems to figure out how to accommodate simplistic lighting scenes (if required) then preset scene systems can accommodate digital media.  And from there, we must develop solutions that create highly responsive live content.