Electric Lighting was one of the most remarkable discoveries in the history of humanity. Before it’s discovery, Candle, Gas Lighting or Arc lighting were the only methods available for lighting our world. Where would we be today without it? Our world without electric light is inconceivable.
Our living and working spaces are defined by lighting, it can create ambiance and life in a relatively boring space, so it’s vital to get it right, and besides, your client is paying for it so you are required to get the best result possible. Yet every day project managers, engineers, designers, architects and electricians prove to be very capable at making a complete balls of it.
I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve designed and supervised many lighting installations from; Outside lighting at US Ambassador’s Residence to Stage Lighting in The Abbey Theatre to simple Domestic Systems, all with their own specific requirements and difficulties. But the one thing that surprises me on many occasions no matter what scale the installation happens to be, is the level of expectancy that the lighting will just work without real co-ordination between the parties involved. It’s almost like “the guy installing it will make it all happen” without direction.
So, in my view, the single most important thing to do in a lighting project is….
It’s as simple as that. Someone on the design team working with the client must take responsibility or delegate the responsibility to another team member or specialist supplier. Too often I’ve been involved in projects where not enough time, planning and consideration of all the elements has been given and the client ends up disappointed and compromised all because someone at the top of the chain didn’t take responsibility.
There are many elements and questions to consider when designing and installing a lighting system, and one person needs to cover these bases delegating out to others as needs and expertise require. Regular meetings with all parties involved is vital to ensure everyone is on the same page.
- What is the space and how will it be used?
- System of lighting to be used, Ceiling/Wall/Socket/Direct/Indirect.
- Light fitting type, colour, finish etc
- Power consumption. Is energy efficiency a top factor?
- Who will supply the lighting?
- What is the cost?
- How is it installed and does it tie in with the methods of construction being used?
- Ease of maintenance. Can it be easily and cheaply maintained?
- Dimming & control. Is this required and can my choice of lighting be dimmed and how?
- Wiring system required. What wiring methods are to be used and what load per circuit?
- Control method. Is dimming control to be local, central or a combination?
- Is remote access away from home required?
- Who will co-ordinate the various elements of the installation?
Considerations are not limited to the above but must include the above from the start.
One party must have control of supply and Installation
Once its proven the design and installation can be successfully carried out, it must follow that one party have control of supply and installation. Consider this; If supply of lighting is not given to the electrical contractor then who is to take responsibility when something goes wrong?
“That wasn’t what I ordered, take it down”
Says the client. If the electrician didn’t make the purchase and deliver to site how can he be made responsible? Who’s going to pay to take it down and replace it? If you have the margin you take responsibility. That’s the way it has to work. If your interior designer has the margin, he/she takes responsibility. If your main contractor has the margin they take responsibility. And if there is a fault with the light fitting then who ever has the margin pays to take it down, have it swapped out and re-installed.
What if it gets damaged when being installed?
If anyone other than the installer has responsibility for ordering and delivery then how do you prove responsibility when a fitting has been broken. Save yourself the grief and leave the supply of lighting to your Electrical contractor. Don’t allow the client, main contractor, interior designer, or other third party to supply any lighting, you are just giving yourself hassle. Certainly feel free to involve these parties in the design, in fact it is paramount to involve these partied in the design, but leave supply to your electrical contractor.
Keep Interior Designers away from Lighting Design
OK, I’m not going to be asked to give the keynote speech at the Interior Designers Annual Banquet after this paragraph but here goes anyway. Interior designers have no practical understanding of lighting systems or their installation so take a back seat, better still, leave the room. In some circumstances this may be untrue but for the majority it is true. Input may be required on the initial design so as to select a light fitting that will compliment the overall design but that’s where it should end. Don’t ask an interior designer to oversee a lighting project for God’s sake. Little or no consideration is given by interior designers for the practicalities of installation and this can cause the client expense and a lot of man hours and complications for the parties involved in the installation. The only time an interior designer should have any control over a lighting project is when they have a lighting specialist holding their hand. Sorry if I’ve hurt your feeling Interior Designers but the above is true, at least in my experience.
I can appreciate that sometimes clients can be difficult. Sometimes a client can be their own worst enemy when it comes to rolling out a project, especially in what will be their new home. But a project manager must be strong enough to insist on certain protocol and systems for the roll out of the project, if you are not then be prepared to have a less than perfect result for your client. If your client is allowed choose this supplier and that supplier, you are going to have a difficult time.
Remember, you know best, you have done this hundreds of times before and you know what works, so take responsibility.