Lighting Design and Light Art Magazine Image    Interview with Jan Ejhed, KTH Lighting Laboratory 430 jan1

Prof Jan Ejhed is the Director of the Lighting Laboratory of the Royal Institute of Technology – KTH, in Stockholm, Sweden. He is currently also Director of Division 3 at CIE, Professor at the School of Design – Linnaeus University and runs his own office.

This interview was originally conceived for a book titled INDEX, which was released last month and focus on his thoughts and journey as founder of the Lighting Laboratory. INDEX was edited on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Lab and included this interview as an interesting and relaxed way of sharing the history, stories, ideas and the philosophy behind this educational project started by Jan and Agneta Ejhed 10 years ago.

I believe we should start from the beginning. How would you describe the very first and most crucial motivation for the decision to work with lighting education?
I would say it all started with a certain feeling of frustration, based on my own professional experience. The importance of quality lighting for a good life versus the existing calculation methods – named planning methods – which generated very poor environments. I felt a necessity to turn lighting from a technical approach to a man centered philosophy.

At the same time, I had a conviction that if I myself had succeeded to learn something about lighting, it should be possible to establish and education based on both intuitive and rational facts, to be related with the real professional practice.

Gradually, I was also more and more disturbed by the fact that in all the lectures I was giving I had to start from the very beginning to be able to arrive to the basics. That was because I was lecturing about light within architectural or design education, which meant students with no previous knowledge and who would probably not go on studying that specific topic. After so many experiences like that, I was longing to have students with whom I would be able to take the discussion on another level. Students with whom I would be able to share questions arising from my own Doctoral studies during the lectures. To educate on another level, than the basic, both for me and for the topic.

By the time I was asking myself ‘why do we educate thousands of engineers, hundreds of architects, dozens of pottery designers every year in Sweden and no lighting designers?’, I decided it was time to establish a lighting education myself.

Can you tell about the most remarkable facts along the journey of converting an idea into the Lighting Laboratory? (Negative and positive happenings)
In the very first years we were placed in KTH, even if we had managed to have the Laboratory here, we were still not allowed to offer a formal education. So, among other activities, we created a series of seminars for professionals.

Among the people involved were lighting designers, of course, but not only. We tried and succeeded to engage a wide range of professionals relevant and influential to the discussions around lighting, such as authorities, planners, engineers and so on, including some of the most active professionals at that time. This group of people met once each second week for 10 times – and it was mandatory to join all seminars-, with invited leaders and a specific topic for the entire series. The first topic was Light and Safety / Security, the second, Daylight and the third should have been Light and Health, but it actually wasn’t carried out.

It is possible to say that was our first experience at the Lighting Laboratory in KTH and it was a very successful one, in terms of satisfaction of the participants and the level of the discussions. Having a group of active professionals, enthusiastic about this opportunity to discuss was inspiring and my feeling is I would like to do something similar again! We were not arriving to consensus during our discussions, but the level was high, as it was based on previous professional experience and ignited by the school environment, which provided a freedom people can’t usually find in professional situations.

As for negative events, of course we had many. But, to be honest, I don’t remember. Maybe I am too much of an optimistic! I can surely mention the lack of money, always.

There is no question that you are a pioneer and you have opened up doors to many people, through sharing your knowledge and encouraging the development of new knowledge along these years.
But, being in the frontline of something also has a downside…
Absolutely. When you step outside the streamline, you firstly must fight hard to be taken seriously and, secondly, to prove there is relevance in what you claim for.

In this sense, the international contacts were always very inspiring for me, as they gave me a much wider and more open arena for discussions and development of ideas.

And, in practice, I am aware a have made a lot of practical mistakes…

In the very beginning, it was a course for Swedish students. Now we have applicants from more than 25 nationalities and the profile of the classes has been all about cultural mix. How do you see the importance of having international groups of students for the education in itself?
The first course started in Swedish, but already ended in English after one semester, as we had four German exchange students. After that episode, there was no question we should run the courses in English, creating and international mix of students.

This international mix is a very important factor for a high quality education, with the extra bonus of an informal flow of knowledge between the students. This flow is not controlled by us, but we surely aim to stimulate it by creating circumstances and an overall positive atmosphere for exchanges.

Among us, teachers here, we often joke about the possibility of developing this educational project in a much simpler and less ambitious way, as it would save us a lot of time and energy! Jokes apart, we go on with the ambition to improve the course from year to year, as we all believe in it. When you think about the quality of this education, is it possible to mention some key elements and how they evolved along this 10 years?
I see that the most important is to take in consideration that learning is a process; an individual process. So, what we do is to create a climate for learning. The teachers’ role is to give an overview, explain contexts, formulate the goals, structure the mass of knowledge and provoke students into their learning.

The method for engaging the students depends on the character of the content, such as lectures, seminar, tutoring, workshops, laboratory experiments, full-scale tests, study visits and trips, etc. But, in short words, it is always a combinations between intuitive and logic training; theory and practice.

For the practical activities, it is necessary to stimulate explorative attitudes and provide frames and rules.
It is very clear we can’t – and shouldn’t – give it all, but instead guide them in their own process of searching and, hopefully, finding!

I can say the basic ideas are more or less the same since the beginning until now, but nowadays the material is much more structured, both for teaching and evaluation purposes. We do have a methodology and for the future, I see we need to develop a lighting design theory or plural theories.

How would you summarize in few and simple words the philosophy of the education at the Lighting Lab?
Making it really short and simple: a humanistic approach – or man centered philosophy; with an explorative and testing approach – or doubt and question the rules; an innovative and logic strategy – or a combination of theory and practice; where the teachers pose questions and demand the students to find their own answers.

Apart from the realistic and clear ideas you have for the near future of the Lighting Laboratory, what are your hopes and wishes for this project in a much longer term?
It is clear for me that there is a need for the development of a “lighting design theory” or plural theories to have lighting design as centre. As I believe in this need, the Lighting Laboratory is to be a place for the development of such theories and research around it.

In short terms, Lighting Design includes both daylight and artificial light and is interdisciplinary. Its knowledge is based on the connections between light, human and the physical environment. Light affects our biological functions, emotional reactions and rules visual performance. In parallel, there is its relation with architecture and the design of built environments, with all that brings with it. Finally, for relevant lighting solutions, there is a clear need for wide technical knowledge, like in photometry, electricity, electronics, energy and environmental issues, and so on.

In my understanding parts of those elements are more developed, parts less. I believe it is important to arrive to a new balance and in this balance treat some issues in a deeper level. Personally I am more interested in the first part of these ideas – the light-human-space equation – and in that area I am interested in new ideas which dare to cross borders pushing the field further, pointing new directions, with innovative methodologies.

To sum up, my dream for the Lighting Laboratory is that it will be recognized as an ‘open’ place, a node, a centre pursuing education and research. The character of the centre should be openness, as it shall be an arena for discussion in the frontline of competence. A place for carrying out projects and, at the same time, take part on public discussion, being a clear voice of the lighting design professional speech. For sure, our specialty of having an international basis for our job will make a difference, as it does nowadays.

Thank you, Jan!

Check here INDEX release video


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