Beyond the Lumen. Interview with Nelca Roco

Interviewing Nelca.jpg

We have met with the Nelca Roco, prominent Lighting Designer and influential professional video blogger, for a journey into the future of the profession. When more and more people today are asking how advancement of the machine learning may affect their careers, Nelca advises to keep calm and get ready to something exciting!

Nikita: Nelca, you are probably the most “go to” lighting person in the region and beyond.

Nelca: Seven thousand people…

Nikita: …who are subscribed to your YouTube channel are constantly looking for solutions, answers, walk throughs. Let’s talk about how lighting design got where it is today.

Nelca: I have started about ten years ago, when there was Dialux 4.13. I am an architect by trade and wanted to train myself do lighting design. Another software we used was Relux, AGI32, practically all big manufacturers had their own applications. Everything was very basic and took long time to do. Now I work mainly with Dialux EVO and occasionally, when I plan sports venues, I use AGI32. A decade later Dialux finally gives me amazing renderings, however its performance depends a lot on the resolution, and perhaps the one thing I miss is the ability to create videos in Dialux EVO, this feature is only available in a regular version of Dialux.

Nikita: How stable are those apps?

Nelca: Still crashing, still reliability issues, but it is improving. A few really good features have been added, say, reporting is better today, saving images and overall user interface is convenient. JPEG file can be used as a base plan, whereas before only the CAD file could be uploaded. Another thing worth mentioning is the quality of renders. A few years ago, if you were to show them to an architect, you would see their brows go up: what was that, solid blocks and dark monoliths! Ugly! Now I have no fear, because it feels more like a 3D Max image, and customers appreciate the design more.

Nikita: What brought you to the idea of sharing your work on YouTube?

Nelca: I remember myself struggling to find any good training materials, when I was learning lighting design. Few posts on enthusiasts’ forums but still not sufficient to improve on the subjects to the degree I wanted to. This is how I came to the idea of starting a YouTube channel, to relief others from the pain. Another thought I had was that whichever I do will remain there, on the cloud, and I can always get back to it, for my own reference. I am an architect, and sooner or later I might get back to the profession, then all I had created by then would become my own guides (what if I forget something – laughs). Some people tell me I am such an expert, but I don’t feel this way; I just want to share my knowledge and ideas and what I have found out with the next generation of lighting designers. …and leave a legacy.


Nikita: What would you like to share with your subscribers but unable to do due to some technical limitations?

Nelca: Video in Dialux EVO. Hope they are reading this right now: please add this feature! Emergency lighting calculation is not available in EVO, and this is not convenient too to leave the application to do an emergency plan somewhere else.

Nikita: From what I can imagine about the lighting design, it is quite a laborious process. What of what you do now, you like the least?

Nelca: I do not fancy making submittals, not a bit! Getting all the data sheets of all the components of luminaires, although it may be beside the point slightly. In Dialux EVO I do not like editing walls and windows. This is the part of a lighting designer’s job that we have to trace the walls and build a geometry of the space, and if there is a revision of the drawing, and – that too happens — the change is in the last minute before submission, then so much needs to be reworked! I would also highlight exporting to AutoCAD as not my favorite task: heavy files and a lot of manual work.

Nikita: About time to introduce AI then! Max Tegner, author of Life 3.0, defines artificial intelligence as the ability of a computer or neural network of computers to solve complex tasks. Let us imagine for a moment that your software already knows how to solve those complex tasks. Which of them would you gladly hand over to your machine?

Nelca: Of course, let it build walls for me! That would save a lot of effort by not having to move it point by point. Why doesn’t it do it anyways if walls are in the separate layer in AutoCAD? Then I am imagining, if I were to label the area by application, “Office,” “Corridor” and so on, the software should detect the applicable standard for me, as a lighting designer, to follow. I may be as well offered a choice of luminaires which would then be laid out upon my choosing.

Nikita: You have mentioned standards, could you speak a bit more about it?

Nelca: The software should know what the geographical location of my building is, the norms I am working to meet and suggest lighting solutions based on this data. It will be helpful if the building purpose is taken into consideration by the software, and then I may be asked to agree if, for example, I wanted to continue to design towards LEED or WELL or any other standard.

Nikita: What else would you give away to a computer?

Nelca: I guess, selecting and arranging views. Sort of a default value when I am producing reports. With the customer in mind, of course. Interior designer or architect or landscape specialist would love to have as many visuals as possible. On the other hand, consultant or contractor are all about facts, numbers! I am thinking about generating reports the content of which depends on my customer profile. Then technical submittals? We spend so much time preparing, searching, downloading, compiling a single luminaire set of documents. Let computer do it! It should know where to search for such details.

Nikita: … scouting through manufacturers’ websites?

Nelca: Yes! Once collected, this information may be stored in one report.

Nikita: Then what would sales people want from such smart software?

Nelca: Oh, sales people are all about price, delivery time, country of origin and when their sample is available. Every other time I am doing the design, they’d want a sample. Oh my God, what if we had a 3D printer! Of course, you would not print a functional sample, but enough to demo the actual size, textures, the build. Today we have a virtual reality, VR, however sales people are reluctant to use it, as it is not perfect.

Nikita: Digital Twin is a big thing now…

Nelca: Lighting designers would have benefited from such technology of course! Especially in retrofit applications. I saw somewhere: you point your iPad to a fruit plate and see all the nutrition data. Same way I would like to be able to see what the old installation was when I come to a site inspection through this augmented reality.

Nikita: Now, allow me to ask you what would you not give to an AI and keep for yourself?

Nelca: How does AI know what is in my mind? This is what I would never give away. I know I said before that layout of the fixtures in an area was a computer task, mine then would be to make all the creative adjustments. Only I know which elements of the interior I want to highlight, I have my reasons why I do it, may they not even be logical. No computer can and should do it. It is bound by rules and algorithms, but I want to and I must escape them at times. Shall I approve what computer has done? If this is a simple job, I see that the machine can produce and send it directly to a customer. However, if the artistic part of lighting design exists in the project, I would want to review it. Are my shadows right? I want to be able to adjust it myself and be happy about the result and only then send it, actually I will want to present this to the customer. So, lighting designer now evolves into someone else.

Nikita: An Actor?

Nelca: Yes, yes, yes! An actor, presenter who would enact his or her lighting design ideas to the customer. Why I have chosen this intensity, that focus? I want architect to fall in love with my piece!


Photo credit and (c) Fort Wayne Civic Theater, Flickr

You can find Nelca on YouTube or her website

architecture, 照明, design, effects, friends, interview, lighting

Calling of Light

Michel Zayat

We met with Michel Zayat, a prominent architect and artist, in a cosy art nouveau interior of Cafe Belge in DIFC to talk about architecture and light. Michel lives and works in Dubai, UAE, has an exciting history in his home Damascus, Syria. There together with his wife and a friend of his life, Salma, they run a famous designer store Yabe and Yamo. He taught arts and architecture at Damascus University, worked in Rome, Italy. Geography of Zayat’s projects is as vast as the Middle East: from UAE to Jordan, and to Saudi Arabia, and spread onto Algeria, North Africa. Michel’s father, Elias Zayat, is one of the most famous Syrian artists, and our conversation veers to paintings.

Nikita Che: “Is there a parallel between a light on a canvas, and in the panes of a building?”

Michel Zayat: “A painting emits light. Masterfully schemed onto the canvas, it pours out and captures the observer. He is caught! He is inside the plot. Remember Caravaggio ‘Calling of St. Matthew?’ No visible source of light, yet it penetrates the room and spills beyond the canvas. A candle, a shade on a protagonist’s face, a window, all play their role in shining the light from the painting.

Calling of St. Mathew, Caravaggio

Calling of St. Mathew, Caravaggio

“These elaborate techniques may as well be used in 3D spaces. Habitually we are all about lighting fixtures when we talk about light in architecture. Though arsenal of an architect is as wide as an artist’s. Colour, daylight, geometry and orientation of the room, shadows, you name it! How to get maximum light in a classroom, and decrease heat and glare? Locate it in the North of a building. “It is a pity that many architects and their clients have lost the sense of a daylight. We forgot how to make use of it, and all we do is fighting it.”

NC: “Any good examples?”

MZ: “Index Tower in Dubai is probably one of the few.”

NC: “What makes good artificial light?”

MZ: “Imagine a castle. Its dungeon would be lit with torches fixed on the walls of a passage. Scars dimmed light, barely enough for a poor prisoner to find his surroundings. Now fly up high to the tower where a beautiful princess reads romances, an elaborate chandelier with hundreds of candles lights her pages. Light follows the function of a room, and often creates this very function. Few of us now live in castles, but can easily turn their living room in a disco. A good architect, conscious about lighting matters would always give a client an option to select between layers of light.”

NC: “What is the role of a luminaire in this?”

MZ: “The choice is always dictated by client’s experience, his background, knowledge, vision. Unfortunately often it becomes shopping for clothes, and individual taste comes on the foreground. Like one is choosing a shirt.”

NC: “Can a lighting designer help?”

MZ: “I have never properly worked with a lighting designer. The nature of your projects defines the necessity to employ a designer. A hospital needs lighting designer, a school, a museum does. Hotel lobbies, restaurants are spaces where architects intuition sets the light. Occasionally lighting suppliers come into the picture and offer their scheme. I would not call it a good thing at all. A supplier would bring commercial note into the selection.”

NC: “Have you designed your own luminaires?”

MZ: “I have! Creating a lighting fixture is a sculpture for me. Light then becomes a material, like steel, marble, mother pearl. One object is especially dear for me — Corn. It is from my childhood, when street merchants used to sell corn from an immense wide halleh dara, a shallow pot. Made of thick copper, and sanded and fumed from inside to rid off toxic corrosion, the pot was always heated by fire and kept the water hot. It took one large ball of copper and a patient craftsman with a hammer to make such a flat large object.

Zayat's Corn at Yabe and Yamo, Damascus

Zayat’s Corn at Yabe and Yamo, Damascus

“My Corns were not that thick and we painted them pink, white and black from inside. The idea was to bring light in memories. One day you will see them in Dubai.”

NC: “Which materials do you use?”

MZ: “My favorite trinity: wood, metal and plastic. Plastic is a modern boisterous antagonist of the former two. They have been around for centuries, and then came plastic and disrupted.”

NC: “What is the light source you used in your luminaires?”

MZ: “I love that simple bulb in the middle of the a fixture. It becomes a focal point. That bulb and a socket base, a machine that transforms the power of electricity into light. The bulb is a simple and genius invention.”

“A candle lights a room, a bulb lights a room, everything extra is non essential. Nothing could replace an incandescent lamp, and it is such a shame it is banned now. I ask myself: a generation that would grow without the bulb, which symbol would they use when a bright idea strikes them!?” (laughs)