Light is a creation material, the most eternal and universal. Designing the light means to establish a relationship between man and environment through the definition of scenes made of light and shadow
For Pietro Palladino, light is not just lighting.
Lighting engineering was born at the beginning of the century with only two purposes: ensure good vision and reduce energy use. Nowadays, we know that visual perception depends on a complex and interconnected system that is related to all five senses. Lighting is not just about seeing and it is not just about energy saving, but the current approach does not differ much from that of the beginning of the century. This is true for many projects designed only “for the rules”: the numbers add up, but the lighting is not right. Sometimes it can create discomfort. It is very common to come across situations in which the lighting is random, untidy, un-ergonomic, annoying, inappropriate, unpleasant, inadequate, and frankly irrational. Therefore, a legitimate need arises: making these topics easier to understand, for those who propose it – directly or indirectly – and for those who use it. In other words, we must create a culture of lighting design.
Where do you get inspiration from when you tackle a project: from the observation of the place or from the feelings that it transmits to you?
First of all, the project starts from the knowledge of the light’s potential. When you want to create a specific scene, or well-defined visual patterns, you mentally imagine some situations that can generate particular emotions or “feelings”. All this must be validated by sustainability. We should observe, analyse the place and evaluate sustainable solutions. In other words, a good “concept”, to be implemented, involves the appropriate use of techniques and technologies. But the opposite is also true: a good lighting cannot exist without a good “concept”. Sometimes, even if you have a good “concept”, the result won’t live up to the expectations because it lacks sustainability.
The Duomo (the Milan Cathedral) and the Sesto San Giovanni Church designed by Cino Zucchi; the same function, with diametrically opposed architectures. What approach did you take to design the light?
The churches are always characterized by a dual function. They are places of worship and monuments at the same time. Leaving aside the building, some of them could also be considered real museums. The lighting design is done in such a way as to privilege sometimes one function, sometimes the other. In the case of the Duomo, it is the only “living” Gothic cathedral: the Candoglia quarry still provides the marble to build those pieces that, if necessary, will replace the original ones, because they are structurally damaged. The main objective was to show the constructive complexity and the characteristics of a majestic and still alive architecture to about five million visitors coming every year from all over the world to admire a unique work. Using advanced technologies, it is also possible to manage the lighting for religious functions and special events: you can turn on and off, or adjust, the approximately 900 installed projectors, simply by touching icons on a tablet.
At the Poldi Pezzoli Museum you dealt with the most different materials, supports and works: from precious metals to paintings and ceramics. Would you tell us about this project?
It is one of the most complete and sophisticated projects I have ever faced. The Poldi Pezzoli is a house-museum, a place where many different exhibition situations coexist. The boundary conditions are different, room by room, and the objects on display are of every type. We started from the idea of studying a mechanical system able to provide the necessary flexibility and opted for the use of composite materials to lessen the weights. The devices have been designed to emit a radiant flux with variable spectrum, using a custom four-channel mix. The Poldi Pezzoli’s solutions and technologies for lighting have made it possible to create a system that can be considered a milestone in LED museum lighting.
In Milan, for the Holocaust Memorial you used a “harsh” light, like the history of the place. Why did you make this choice?
In some areas of the Museum the light is distressing, detached, sharp, insufficient, annoying. It is an emulation of the dim light of filament lamps screwed into porcelain reflectors suspended from the ceiling and the penetrating light of portable torches, directed towards the people who got into the cars heading for the concentration camps.
The so-called “non-places”, theorised by Marc Augé, like train stations and airports: how could they be transformed by the light?
Light is a creation material, the most eternal and universal. Designing the light means to establish a relationship between man and environment through the definition of scenes made of light and shadow. Being able to communicate moods, feelings and emotions: to make this possible, the designer has to model a physical agent and he does it using a language that can be traced back to his thought and his culture. There are exploratory spheres that induce a designer to consider light as a building material: it is the right approach to characterize non-places, to make them unique and unmistakable. The Malpensa airport is an excellent example of how lighting – even in a simple restyling – can give added value to architecture. The problem is that the lighting project of stations and airports is not always assigned to a specialized professional: it is a common practice to include lighting between technological systems and approach it exclusively from the quantitative point of view.
In a recent interview on LUCE, a young lighting designer stated that “drawing light is fun”. What do you think about it?
Yes, it is a nice profession. And it is an art, but it is only through an articulated knowledge process that considerable results can be achieved. Light is a complex thing, and good lighting is the result of meticulous attention to detail. It is like a gourmet meal: seemingly simple, everyone can potentially taste and appreciate its peculiarities, but only a great cook knows how to prepare it that way, mixing ingredients, professionalism and creativity. In an era of ever changing, where more and more specialization appears to be a crucial element for achieving excellence, the lighting professional is still a figure neither so much widespread nor required.
Between universities and industry associations, what relationship should there be? In your opinion, what could we build together?
A lot could be done, but the logic of the sector is currently frozen: in most cases a direct relationship is established between the seller and the client. It becomes hard to create a value chain that involves the systematic presence of a professional. At present, neither universities nor industry associations have sufficient strength to change the laws of the market. Things will improve, of course, but it will not be a short-term process.
At the last National Congress of AIDI, at the MAXXI in Rome, you took part in the round table on the future of lighting and the new frontiers that technological evolution has opened up. Would you like to tell us something about this topic?
I’ll borrow a phrase from Bertrand Russell: “One of the troubles of our age is that habits of thought cannot change as quickly as techniques, with the result that as skill increases, wisdom fades.” The cultural lag plays negatively in two ways: on the one hand it restricts the capacity and the possibility to access innovation in an intelligent way, on the other, it opens up spaces for technological consumerism, which, besides being expensive, eventually ends up being harmful. And that is what is happening. Solid-state light is a real technological revolution, but we are unready. The LED technology is currently used in a rough way, and in some cases the new facilities offer lower performance than the previous ones. The technological evolution in the lighting sector has created the potential to change radically, but the way of thinking has not changed. We are still firmly anchored to out-dated concepts and this produces mediocre results. The glare, the colour shifts, and the flickering: sometimes you really get to curse the LED light. And then the electronics: the technological consumerism offers us components and devices at a low price, but of low reliability. At the point where we are, it is not easy for a designer to find the quality he looks for in the market.
Who is Pietro Palladino
Pietro Palladino is an electrical engineer and owner of the Ferrara Palladino e Associati studio, which has been working in the light design field in Milan since 1990. He is professor of the Politecnico di Milano, where he teaches lighting design at the Faculties of Architecture and Design and at the “Lighting Design & Technology” Master of the Poli.Design Milan. Beside his design activity, he works as a technical consultant for public administrations, constructing companies and services companies of the sector. He teaches at universities and training institutions in Italy and abroad, where he holds seminars and lectures on issues related to lighting engineering. He was president of APIL (1998-2004) and scientific director of the magazine Luce & Design (2003 -2013). Author and editor of numerous lighting publications, including: Lezioni di illuminotecnica (P. Palladino, Tecniche Nuove 2003); Manuale di illuminazione (edited by P. Palladino, Tecniche Nuove 2005); Manuale di Lighting Design (P. Palladino, Tecniche Nuove 2018).
Among the main works carried out: lighting of the museum interiors and architectural exteriors of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Punta della Dogana in Venice, 2009; Milan Malpensa Airport lighting, 2014; Interior lighting of the Milan Cathedral, 2015.