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Singapore: Talking about Asian Lights with Ong Swee Hong

Posted by lightcommunity@2d298ece3a00485182d4941ac6c3f0ea in Light World Tour on Oct 26, 2011 6:53:52 AM 214 Views

As I spent a few more days than usual in this trip in a city, I took the time to meet up various people. It was here that I finally met one of the judges of this very own competition, Tai Lee Siang from Ong & Ong, a multi-disciplinary design practice. Chatting about lighting he suggested me to meet Ong Swee Hong, a lighting designer that has been very active and persistent in promoting lighting in Singapore.

After missing each other a few times, we finally managed to meet and I'm very glad, otherwise I had missed the opportunity of meeting such an interesting person. Ong Swee Hong invited me to participate along with her on a discussion on Asian lighting for an online architectural magazine called five foot way. Not only we realised that we had a common architectural background, we actually shared similar views on lighting.

Ong Swee Hong has been promoting good lighting and raising the awareness of the importance of  lighting design for the urbanscape among the community. She has been involved in events like the guerrilla lighting, where students had the opportunity to experience illuminating temporarily various buildings and spaces, learning what to consider when designing lighting and architecture. Education is very important and so far the target for the guerrila lighting event has been the students of the architecture school, but Swee Hong is hoping to open to all the design community.

As for the Asian lighting, we talked about the differences between the western world and the east. We both agreed that lights in Asia are much brighter than anywhere else that I've ever been (maybe apart from Las Vegas, but that is an exception) and that the explanation might lie on the Asian culture. Asian people seems to like light and colour, and if we think of the biggest festivals in Asia,  they are somehow related to light, e.g., Deepavali, Festival of Lanterns and so on.

I'm sure there might be some other reasons for differences in the perception of brightness, but as Swee Hong pointed out, that European cities for example, for some Asian people, they find them very dark. I guess as a Western, I do feel that some of the lighting on this part of the world it is excessively bright. So, I imagine, as we are becoming part of a global world, finding the right balance in how to accommodate all these cultural shifts is a challenge for the lighting designers.

I'm starting to see a pattern, at least in terms of brightness and colour on this lighting trip. I have a lot of questions obviously, for which I haven't found an answer. How do we scale brightness for different realities? How do we know it is too bright or too dark, if suddenly we are designing for various cultures? Why do we perceive things differently? Is it biological, cultural, what are the reasons?

Nevertheless, Singapore has a lighting masterplan that has been implemented since 2006 and as Swee Hong mentioned, even though you do find areas where lighting is more festive, in residential areas it is very well lit and people feel safe walking during the night. We talked about lighting that is adequate to the functions and that can be flexible, for e.g. to include all the cultural festivals, and being in Singapore in such a multicultural city, that is obviously quite important.

- 'People can't describe what bad lighting is, but they know when they see and experience good lighting!'. So I suppose the answer might be in designing good lighting, because that seems to be the common perception or shall I say our common language. It seems we all understand what good light is!

Lighting designer Ong Swee Hong and Paula Rainha