Antonello Durante, a PhD student at Dublin Institute of Technology, interviewed Kit Cuttle over skype on November 28th 2018
AD: Hello Kit, thanks for accepting this interview. We can start with the first question if you do not mind. Tell us about how you got involved in lighting. How did you become a lighting researcher; why did you move from lighting design practice to lighting research? Could you describe us those two different worlds? What is about lighting research that makes you so passionate?
KC: I started off in England and I wanted to become an electrical engineer, so I joined a company of electrical manufacturers who agreed that they would give me time off to study. That sounded good, and they also had a lighting department and I quickly found that the people in lighting were a lot more interesting than the people in power distribution. So, I moved across and they supported me while I obtained the Final Certificate of the City and Guild Institute of London in Illumination Engineering. Also, they joined me up to the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) and it was through there that I started to come into contact with people who were passionate about lighting. It has been the people, ever since, that have really driven my interest in lighting.
AD: The next question would be about your career path. You lived in various part of the world; Europe, New Zealand, United States. Tell us a bit about that and the different consideration of lighting research and lighting practice in those countries.
KC: If I can just take a little bit of a back step, the really big changes haven’t necessarily been changes in countries, they have been changes in how I have been involved in lighting. In London I was doing the regular job that manufacturers provide for their customers. I was turning out standard lighting installations and I became very good at it, and they were really disappointed when I left. I left because through IES I had encountered a young architect (he was young then) who had an architectural practice in Hertfordshire (he didn’t like London) and he was starting up a Britain’s first independent architectural lighting practice. I joined Derek Phillips’ Associates in 1963, and that was a huge transformation because once I had gained Derek’s confidence, I would go with him to meet clients where he would be describing lighting in descriptive and even emotional terms, and then my job, when we got back to the office, was to come up with layouts, luminaires, lamps, wattages, beam spreads, circuits and, in other words, to write the technical basis of the lighting specification. Really, that has been the basis of my work ever since. Where the lighting design process leads to the development of lighting design objectives specific to the application, the next step of coming up with a lighting performance specification that will achieve those objectives is the area where I seek to make my contribution.
Then it was Joe Lynes who attracted me to make my next move. He was manager of the Daylight Advisory Service at Pilkington Glass, and getting involved with Joe’s inspirations was fascinating. He introduced me to a whole range of people who really did think outside the box and had original thoughts on lighting, among whom JM Waldram, RG Hopkinson and Peter Jay were memorable
The big geographical move was shifting to the other side of the word. It happened because New Zealand had an established school of architecture in Auckland and it had been decided that the Victoria University of Wellington would open the second school of architecture and this would be a science and technology-based school. They recruited world-wide and I obtained a position that was really challenging because I became involved in architecture design studios, and this was another stream learning for me.
The next big move came in 1990. The Lighting Research Centre had been founded two years earlier in upstate New York and I had read that Mark Rea had been appointed as the first director. I had met Mark at one or two conferences, and I dropped him a line congratulating him. Then I heard that my old friend Peter Boyce, whom I had known from my time with Pilkington’s, was joining as Head of Human Factors Research and I dropped him an email. The next thing to occur was Mark Rea calling me from New York and suggesting that I might join him and Peter and set up the two-year Master of Science in Lighting degree program and, Oh my goodness! Mark had assembled an amazing faculty at the LRC and what followed was an extraordinary period. There were two lighting design studios in the program, the year one studio was taught by the veteran New York lighting designer Howard Brandston, and the second was to be taught by me. So, in my first year I sat in on Howard’s course and since then he has written a book entitled “Learning to See” which neatly describes Howard’s design philosophy. The fundamental understanding for lighting design is learning to see the influence of lighting and how it affects the appearance of everything around us. So, I had a bunch of students coming into my course that had that understanding and I had to see them through being able to develop their thoughts and ideas into lighting specifications. It was a great learning time for me as well as the students!
In 1999 I returned to New Zealand to join the School of Architecture at Auckland University which again was a shift in emphasis, and also was a period in which I got down to some serious writing including three books. So, there you have a brief narration of my career in lighting up to the time when I retired in 2007.
AD: What happened then?
KC: What happened was that in 2010 I had a paper published in Lighting Research and Technology, “Towards the Third Stage of the Lighting Profession”, and quite soon after that I heard from Dr Kevin Kelly at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Kevin suggested recruiting a PhD student to research MRSE/TAIR, and James Duff was recruited the following year with Kevin as supervisor and me appointed as an industry advisor. James graduated in early 2016 and Kevin took you on as a PhD candidate to continue this line of research. He also suggested I might be interested in completing my own PhD by Publication. I began work on this in 2016 and graduated with a PhD from the Dublin Institute of Technology in October 2017.
AD: Lighting technology has evolved rapidly in the last decade, but interior lighting design practice development has slowed behind. Are you frustrated at the slowness that things happen at the moment in lighting research? How do MRSE and TAIR include in this picture?
KC: We should be able to relate the visual aspects of how lighting affects our surroundings to lighting metrics and translate those into the hardware that actually creates the envisaged luminous effect. For this it is necessary that we have metrics that actually relate to the influence of lighting upon people’s perceptions of their surroundings. The reality is that we don’t have any proper measure of the effectiveness of lighting, and it follows that if we can’t measure the effectiveness of lighting we cannot measure the efficiency of lighting. It is as basic as that, and for us lighting professionals to be in a position of being able to advise people on effective and efficient applications of lighting we absolutely need metrics that relate to how lighting influences the appearance of peoples’ surroundings. My pursuit of this objective takes me right back to my time with Derek Phillips.
AD: IESGB/SLL and IESNA are more than 100 years old, and IALD is almost 50. Lighting techniques have rapidly evolved in the last 15 years. What is the role of lighting societies and associations nowadays in enhancing light and lighting culture? Have those associations the same role as 100 years ago?
KC: It has changed. One hundred years ago the founders of our discipline faced huge problems, after all, what is light? How do we measure it, how do we specify it? The people who set up the technology at that time really were working with enormous problems to be able to apply scientific rigour to the discipline.
We now have a divided profession. On one hand we have a sector devoted to an engineering approach for which the objectives of lighting are specified by lighting codes and standards, and the aim is to achieve efficient compliance with these by making effective use of modern lighting equipment. On the other hand, we have practitioners for whom the role of lighting is to influence people’s perceptions of their surroundings, and this calls for a unique solution for each application. This latter role is becoming increasingly influential within lighting practice even though there is no question that the bulk of lighting equipment is, in fact, specified by the former procedure.
AD: Thanks Kit. The last question will be about students and young researchers. Do you have any suggestion for young researchers in terms of performing research, writing papers, presenting research findings?
KC: I think that the lighting societies play a very important role. The researchers, particularly those who come through the academic process, absolutely need to become involved in the issues of lighting practice. Here the professional societies play an important role in enabling researchers to gain contact with the professionals who are actually involved in applications of lighting. This certainly is how I became involved and I do think it’s an important aspect of what the Societies stand for. Furthermore, these are the people who really are passionate about how we apply lighting for the benefit of society, and how we meet the requirements and expectations of society at large. It is here that I think young researchers should be looking for inspiration on how to direct their investigations.
AD: This is great Kit, thank you for the amazing time we had.