Applying Theatrical Lighting Techniques to Create Immersive Guest Experiences

Steven Rosen, FIALD, IES

President and Creative Director

Available Light

It was Steven’s interest in applying theatrical lighting techniques to architectural environments that led to his founding of Available Light in 1990. His passion for light and design spans commercial and educational projects, grandly themed hospitality spaces, dinosaurs sunning themselves in natural history museums, and aliens warring in trade show exhibit displays.

A frequent presenter at conferences and webinars, Steven is a Fellow of the IALD and Past-President of the IALD Education Trust; he serves on the board of Design Museum Everywhere, the IES Museum Lighting Committee, and the IALD LIRC Steering Committee. He is on the faculty of FIT’s Exhibit and Experience Design program. Honors include the LDI Lighting Designer of the Year, and the first-ever IALD Radiance Award. He is committed to developing the next generation of lighting designers and a more sustainable world.

How does light transform our experience of retail, entertainment and otherwise mundane spaces? Steven Rosen of Available shares his thoughts on lighting trends, exciting applications, innovations and some of Available Light’s projects.

On Lighting Trends, Innnovations and the Overlap of Technologies

Available Light designers are constantly trying to identify and expand upon trends occurring in either our, or parallel, industries.

The idea of architecture as a light source. Impossibly thin lighting solutions enabled by the creative application of LED technology has truly led to the concept of walls, floors, and ceilings not only hosting electric light sources but being electric light sources. As a design firm specializing in immersive experiences, the idea of spaces (whether interior or exterior) glowing with tunable, reactive, controllable light is very appealing to us.

To build on this discussion we also see an evolving fusion of traditional theatrical lighting techniques with media delivery systems. Is it lighting? Is it media? Is it both? We see this overlap and integration of technologies and artistic expression as the next wave in experience design.

Projects by Available Light

Lighting Controls & Dynamic Lighting Elevate the Guest Experience in a Retail Environment

Project: Sony Wonder Technology Lab

Designer: Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership

Fabrication: Big Show Construction Management

Lighting Design: Matt Zelkowitz, Available Light

The project was a retail showcase of Sony products in their corporate HQ in midtown Manhattan. Consumers and visitors come to learn about how Sony technology delivers a myriad of hardware and entertainment alternatives.

About the project, lead lighting designer, Matt Zelkowitz said,

“Our goal was to create a space where hardware was as invisible as possible while focusing on the ease of technology in motion. We conceived of the project as an extremely immersive environment with dynamic lighting in constant motion and flux.”

By theatrically lighting not only the exhibits but also public circulation spaces guests get the distinct feeling they are a critical force in the space. A complex integration of lighting controls with media technology show control makes the magic possible. It is an extraordinary visitor attraction.

An Orchestration of Lighting Layers Create an Immersive Museum Experience

Project: The Grammy Museum Mississippi

Exhibit Designer: Gallagher & Associates

Architect: Dale Partners

Architectural Lighting Design: Derek Barnwell, Available Light

Exhibit Lighting Design: Ted Mather, Available Light

This 26,000 sq ft. museum is dedicated to inspiring visitors to explore their personal creative process, as well as presenting them American music’s cultural legacy and impact on the world. Key design objectives for this project were to celebrate and involve the musician in all of us and to inspire and delight; the stories are told from a harnessing creativity point of view.

“We wanted to motivate people and have them feel like they were part of the story. “We didn’t want them to feel that they were coming to see artifacts of what other people have done but rather celebrate visitor as artist.”
– Ted Mather, Lead Exhibit Lighting Designer

Beginning with the façade of the building, visitors encounter a theatrically immersive environment with exhibits that explore many stories and methods of the colorful and complex music industry. The orchestration of lighting layers, from ambient to color-changing, and from theatrical accent to artifact conservation lighting, all converge to create a dynamic visitor experience.

“As visitors walk around the museum, they are lit as colorfully and as actively as the exhibits. Upon departing the museum, we want people to be thinking about what challenges they need to conquer as they ponder becoming a Grammy-winner in their own right.”
– Ted Mather, Lead Exhibit Lighting Designer

Transforming a Parking Garage Into an An Energy-Efficient, Public Art Lighting Installation

Project: The Channel Center Garage

Architect: Spalding Tougias

Artist: Joanne Kaliontzis

Lighting Design: Derek Barnwell, Available Light

At Available Light, we are oftentimes looking to frame the human sensory experience through a lens of theatricality and deep visual exploration, and the more unlikely the place the better! In Boston’s Seaport District we had one such great opportunity to collaborate with a team to create a dynamic public art lighting installation on a parking garage structure.

“The nine-story structure was clad on two faces in a custom perforated pattern, painted, and folded metal screen. By day, reflected daylight off the screen reveals intricate geometric patterns; the façade screen appears opaque. But as the sun descends, the façade screen is activated and backlit by programmable, color-changing fixtures that graze the knee walls of the garage and reflect the light back through the perf screen. The effect is transformational as a surface that moments ago appeared opaque becomes somehow transparent.”
– Lead lighting designer Derek Barnwell

At night the façade is activated in a celebration of light movement and color modulation. The interplay of light is sometimes slow and subtle and at other times, punctuated by bursts of frenetic color-changing patterns that, like water, flow across the screen-as-canvas. The simultaneous effect of direct light on the structure and reflected light passing the perf screen creates a magical 3D glowing lantern effect. But what’s inside this garage façade “wrapper” is equally exciting! The garage interior is primarily lit by 377 pendant-mounted luminaires, connected to a mesh network allowing for communication between fixtures and a central controller. Discrete control zones allow seamless modulation of light levels based on both vehicular and pedestrian occupancy; fixtures dim during periods of inactivity. The addition of these controls offers an almost 70% energy savings over a non-intelligent control system.

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