Resources | Tech-Talks Bregenz | Wilfried Kramb | Opinions | May 04, 2020

Tech-Talks BREGENZ - Wilfried Kramb, Interior & Lighting Designer, a∙g Licht

TTB from LpR 75: The value of lighting design and light planning has always been underestimated, despite it becoming more important with the rise of Solid-State-Lighting. This is a fact that the public doesn't realize, even though the industry does. Digitalization, compared with the special properties of LED lighting and the aim of the lighting industry to establish their IoT hubs, is a new challenge. This is even more apparent when trying to integrate light sources directly in building structures. Responsibilities and tasks are no longer clearly separated between the different disciplines of architect, lighting designer, IT planner and electro planner. Guenther Sejkora and Arno Grabher-Meyer talked with Wilfried Kramb, owner and CEO of a·g Licht, about these tendencies and topic.

LED professional: Thank you, Mr. Kramb for coming to this interview! To start us off, would you tell us a little about your company?

Wilfried Kramb: Thank you very much for inviting me. I'd be quite happy to give you some background information on the company! First of all, a∙g Licht was founded in 1996 and is a lighting designer company with about 8 employees that is specialized in architectural lighting.  In the beginning, my founding partner, Klaus Adolph,  and I worked in a large office and we decided that we wanted to have something smaller so that we could do the work we love – designing – and not managing a company. He was an architect and I am an interior designer and all of our people have backgrounds in design, product design, architecture or interior design. That's why we see ourselves as a mediator between architects and technology people, engineers and the builders. Basically, we have the architectural design language as common ground to start creating the projects.

LED professional: You said that you work in the field of architectural lighting design – Most architectural lighting designers have a special idea about light that they want to bring into the building. There are thoughts, or a philosophy behind the idea. Can you tell us about a∙g Licht's philosophy and maybe give us some examples of projects?

Wilfried Kramb: I don't know if I'd call it a philosophy. Me and myMy current partner, Daniel Walden, and I are always trying to find the best solution for the building itself, as well as for the people that work in the building, by looking at each project individually. That means that we always try to understand the architecture first. That is one of the bigger tasks that we have because we work with so many different architects on projects. The idea is to create a solution that works for the architecture – because that's our language. In addition, we have to find solutions for the task that the building has to perform, light-wise. It can be atmospheric or there may be a certain function that it has to perform. So I guess if I were to boil all that down into a philosophy, I would say it's to work architecturally integrated and to try to find a specific lighting solution for each particular building.

BMW WeltThe "BMW-Welt" is just one of many prestigious projects that Mr. Kramb was an integral part of

LED professional: You don't only work on lighting installations in buildings; you have done some special designs for luminaire manufacturers, as well. You have also won several design awards. What is the idea behind that? Do you want to utilize a design that you made or is it that you want to share your experience with the industry?

Wilfried Kramb: I think it's both. In the beginning we couldn't find solutions for projects that we liked. Sometimes we thought they weren't adequate or that they didn't work with the architecture. Therefore we started to design fixtures that we thought were better for the environment and much better for the task they had to perform. Thinking about our own designs for certain buildings we found manufacturers that wanted to go into a product design process with us. These manufacturers invested in the creation of fixtures and then went on to standardize them. So in the end, we had a standard product. Nowadays there are two additional ways: Manufacturers might approach us because they possibly like the design language we use or they see other designs that we made are successful and fit into the market. The second way is when we come up with an idea about how to work with a new technology. We see that it's not available on the market yet and we think it would be something interesting. We would then approach a manufacturing company that might be interested.

LED professional: I worked together with your office around twenty years ago and at that time designs were very clean and very pure. With the arrival of LED lighting, have these types of designs changed?

Wilfried Kramb: At the time we were very surprised to find that there was only one design language. We felt that it didn't fit the architecture any more, and so the working title of our first fixture was "Non-Design" because we wanted to minimize it as much as possible and reduce it to the technology. This is still what we think when we start designing fixtures; we try to wrap the current technology in a most minimal way. LED helps to minimize the size of fixtures. On the other hand, I think that in the design field the wish for a bit more decoration in certain areas, certain spaces, has become bigger compared to 15 years ago.  I'm not sure if that is driven by manufacturers that actually offer good decorative design or if the designers and planners themselves want more decoration and try to find highlights in the building.
For example, in Siemens headquarters in Munich, it was quite important to us that the main entrance hall should have a big focus. So we designed a very decorative installation. In the building itself, we stayed reduced, and tried to work into the architecture but compared to 15 years ago that has also changed. There is a little more desire for decoration, but mainly in a low-key way, so that it has an importance as well as a creative focus for people.

LED professional: You said that you like to focus on minimizing the luminaire. During the past few years we have seen trends come up that ask for the LED to be completely integrated in the structure – for example, in the tiles, or the wall or directly in the ceiling. What are your thoughts on this approach?

Wilfried Kramb: We talked about philosophy a bit and I mentioned architecture integrated – those trends fit quite well into that philosophy.  We often think that the light itself is more important than the fixture that produces the light. We're working on a project at the moment where, for office use we more or less have no visible fixture. We hide it. So there is a trend with LED as a technology that is very minimal. We can do that – we have enough optical tools to get the properties the light should have into small spaces. So I think it fits quite well into our philosophy of trying not to put too much emphasis on the fixture itself, but rather the light it produces in the space.

LED professional: Besides the design and optical aspects, there are also technical aspects of completely integrating a building. Do we have the technology to do it without having problems?

Wilfried Kramb: I would say that we aren't in that position yet. One could think of other visions. For example, if you take an OLED – you could have the vision of having wallpaper that glows at night. That would be full integration but you still have the problem of size for the OLEDs. You always have to find space for a transformer; you need something to reduce the voltage. It's still a special effort to integrate it in that way. So you have to find new solutions for each particular project. We have a lot of tools, but we're not quite at the end, yet.

LED professional: You just said that light is more important than the shape of the luminaire. I think LED lighting opened up quite a number of new opportunities. Colored light, for example, or dynamic light. Rapidly changing light situations that weren't possible with fluorescent or high-pressure lamps. What kind of new opportunities have opened up by using LED and how has LED lighting influenced lighting design?

Mr. Kramb gave thoughtful and detailed answers to all of the questionsMr. Kramb gave thoughtful and detailed answers to all of the questions demonstrating his sound knowledge of the subjects

Wilfried Kramb: I wouldn't say that it wasn't possible before – it just took a little more effort. So when we talk about fluorescents – they were dimmable and controllable. In those days you even had tunable white situations with fluorescents. You had two or three colors. So it was possible, but it wasn't really accepted. Nowadays, people expect it to be possible.

I think there are two big changes. LED as a point light source gives us the opportunity to work smaller. We have to find a space for the transformers, but there might be other ways in the future.  So that is one of the major things: you can go flat and you can go very small.

The second thing is that control is a lot easier than they used to be. Now that we have ready-made modules with tunable white or RGB, we do have a lot of opportunities. I think that was a dramatic change for us in the office. We think much more about controls and dynamics now and we think about smaller, integrated ways. So in the end, that certainly changed the approach to lighting design as well.

LED professional: A few years ago you gave an interview and at that time you said, "LEDs are mainly used as a new light source in old bodies." And in regards to controls you said that when you are using different scenes, your company prefers it to be subtle – not bold. Is that still valid?

Wilfried Kramb: The first quote was a reaction to the lack of understanding in the industry. When LEDs started to enter the market, I always had the feeling that the industry was delaying even thinking about that particular light source. What most of them did for the first two to five years was say, "Oh, we have LEDs, so we'll put them in the old body," without even thinking about the possibilities that LEDs had. That, of course, has changed: We saw at fairs like Light & Building that after two or three fairs, suddenly everyone understood that LED was a different light source and needed to be treated differently. We suddenly had optical entities, filtering possibilities, small volumes, and you had cooling systems. Particular fixtures were starting to be designed for LEDs. So fortunately, that has changed. And of course it is market driven.

Regarding controls, experience shows that either it is automatic and not influenced very much by people – or if people can influence it, it has to be as simple as possible because people are overwhelmed by technical situations. Everyone knows that when you start your new smart phone, a camera or your laptop, people only use a small capacity of their device. We now have many more projects where control is the subject. I believe that this is a field that people should be thinking about more.  And the industry should be supplying panels and surfaces that are easier to handle and, like a smart phone, easy to use.

LED professional: Another topic that came up around the same time as the LED is Human Centric Lighting. In the early 2000's we became aware of the fact that light doesn't only influence our visual system, but that it also has a direct biological influence. In the early years of the new millennium we had already installed the first Human Centric Lighting systems, but it took a tremendous amount of effort to do it with fluorescent lamps. And now, together with LEDs and the possibilities brought about by color change, and the easier controllability of the LED, things should have gotten a lot easier, but in fact, not much has happened. What do you think about Human Centric Lighting? Is it just a story that people tell?

Wilfried Kramb: The short answer is – Yes.  It's a story. I believe that there is a lot of information on the market that is wrong. Let's put it this way: The knowledge that we have about light being received in our bodies by light sensors in our eyes was only discovered at the beginning of the millennium, when they found the first cells. Some studies have been made during that time and what I see now is that the amount of light that we use in certain spaces does not trigger any biological processes. We need much higher lux levels and much different lighting than what we are thinking of now.  To trigger it, you need a bigger surface, like a blue sky, you need colder colors for the eyes and you need a high lux level.

There are a lot of stories being told about it, but there are also a lot of studies and investigations that show a physiological benefit when people are sitting in a room where there is dynamic lighting and they can feel the dynamics in color changing – meaning maybe tunable white – or in the dynamics themselves, in changing light scenes.  So, of course this has a positive effect on people sitting in a conference room for three hours. They concentrate better when they are working in a room with dynamic light rather than static light. This is something that is very important and something that we would propose to clients in a sense of well-being. It's actually good economically because people are more concentrated and much more motivated.

So it's something that we would always try to suggest in our designs. A lot of times you see that the client has an open ear for that, up to a point when you talk about money, which is still a topic. And then, a lot of ideas, a lot of concepts are not realized because of the money.

I believe that with the further development within the industry with tunable white options and dimming, it becomes more affordable and people might be inspired to lay a little more money down. And it will, in the end, spread further, even in normal office lighting, than it has before.

But people don't only have to rely on LED technology. People have to think about their space concept, in general. Daylight harvesting is still the best lighting source for me. This provides people with a good space, and interesting working environments will have the same effect on people. So we shouldn't always rely and put the pressure on LED development. It helps, and it will definitely be used, but there are a lot of other components and aspects that make a person feel comfortable in a space.

Today, many big projects are located in soaring Chinese citiesToday, many big projects are located in soaring Chinese cities, like the Museum of Contemporary Art & Planning Exhibition in the city of Shenzhen

LED professional: Daylight usage has a lot to do with the architecture of the building itself. How can you, as a lighting designer, influence that?

Wilfried Kramb: We often work on daylight concepts as well. If we are early enough we can influence the situation – with skylights, for example, and often protection against glare. But glare control doesn't mean that in the summertime you have the blinds drawn and artificial light on in that space. We talk a lot about the transmission of glass, the quality of glass, the color rendition of glass. We always have to fight the technical engineers because they don't want any heat transfer from the inside out and vice versa. But that is usually related to the lack of transmission of light. So we can influence architecture and for us it's always interesting when we have a project with both disciplines.

So here we come back to controls: How do we use daylight in a sensible way, and if we think about the future in prestigious projects, how can we change the color inside – how can we adapt it to the color outside? That situation is the most fruitful combination a lighting designer can have, it doesn't matter if you see light as daylight or artificial light.

LED professional: On the topic of connected lighting: As you just told us, it's not enough to connect light – you have to connect other things, too, like the blinds or heating or air conditioning. A couple of years ago, what is now called connected lighting was called light control.  Is there a qualitative difference between the two?

Wilfried Kramb: As I understand it, there is no difference. As other people understand it, there is a difference. For me, lighting control means that I control the lighting. So if it's a daylight situation, I would like to control it so it's most useful and beneficial in the space. And the same goes for artificial lighting. A combination of both is, of course, the optimal. I mentioned before that sometimes controls should be automatic, which could be connected light or lighting control with parameters in the lighting control that give you an optimal situation.

I think that the term "connected light" – is more about future possibilities of not only connected light, but a lot of different things connected to light and vice versa up to a point where you might have total control of things without a person being a part of it. Maybe it's because of my age, but I don't think that it's always a good thing –
it can just as easily be the opposite. If you suddenly start doing things only because it's possible to do them – without thinking about whether or not you need or want it –
the responsibility is taken away from me and the question is whether I'm a victim of my own parameters. In my opinion, that would be bad quality and bad development. So, in the future, people should give a lot of thought to what they need and what they want and then work on connectivity in the sense of an optimal situation and not just doing things because it's possible.

LED professional: I think that connected lighting opens up a couple of new opportunities for lighting design because we can think about, not only static or dimmable situations but also something like "network solutions" where everything influences everything. This would be a new chance as well as a new challenge for lighting design. How do you approach the topic of – let's say – more degrees of freedom in lighting?

Wilfried Kramb: It's more or less what I said before: One has opportunities, but one needs to guide the client and make suggestions about what parts of those opportunities are good for or beneficial to him or her.

The Raffles City, Hangzhou, is a typical example of China's prospering citiesThe Raffles City, Hangzhou, is a typical example of China's prospering cities that require thorough lighting design support for the futuristic architecture

LED professional: Does that mean that you don't just design one light situation?

Wilfried Kramb: Yes, as a lighting designer, before we start our work we have a briefing. We figure out what exactly our task is that has to be performed in that particular building. And that is something that we always talk to the client about, as well. We find out what the client's needs are for the building and for the people that work in it. And then we try to solve that problem. So not everything is beneficial for every project and nowadays you have to be even more careful about what you suggest. You have to ask yourself if it's too complicated, if it's necessary or if it's possible. And as I mentioned earlier, we think a lot more about controls now and we have more opportunity to think about the atmosphere and the light situation than we did before. So this is very beneficial to us, in a sense.

LED professional: Another term that is similar to connected lighting is smart lighting. What do you understand by "smart"?

Wilfried Kramb: I don't think lighting itself is smart – but I believe it can be used in a smart way. Smart is a term that is strongly connected to human beings, so you have to have smart planners to have smart lighting. It's another term that I think we have to be very careful with.

LED professional: Another thing we wanted to ask you about is the future of lighting. Today, a very important topic is energy usage. We have improved the use of energy just by changing from conventional lamps to LED. As we mentioned before, though, some of the savings may get lost because the installations get brighter and brighter. In lighting design, I assume that you also have to think about how much energy will be used for a given installation. How do you approach this topic?

Wilfried Kramb: We don't do it any differently than we did twenty years ago. We have always thought of projects in an economical and ecological way. The only advantage we have nowadays is, what we mentioned before, the controls are better and easier to handle. And I think this is the best way to control energy consumption. Even today we see a lot of spaces being lit to full capacity at times when nobody is interested. Fabrication halls or public spaces are two examples. If you have a control system that is used smartly, the energy consumption can be reduced even with current installations. For us, nothing has changed in our thinking about economical and ecological topics when creating our designs. But now I think we have more possibilities by changing the controls – not the design.

LED professional: Around fifteen years ago, because of the use of LEDs, lighting became very colorful. Most of the installations used color effects in each corner with dynamically changing light. The truth is, it was annoying. But maybe technologies, or connected lighting, or LED technologies will change lighting again in the near future. Do you see a trend coming?

Wilfried Kramb: I think the discussion about Human Centric Lighting has gotten people thinking that light might be beneficial for mankind and that might be something to talk about. So I think you'll hear a lot about that in the future. In addition to that I think that in the future you'll hear about more tunable white solutions – even as a standard in our future offices. We have already talked to manufacturers that are at least thinking about providing standard fixtures automatically with tunable white capabilities. I would be very happy if I really knew what the future of lighting held, but I don't think there will be a big dramatic change like the one we saw when LED first appeared on the market.

LED professional: With all the discussions going on, new sciences and fields came on the scene and this influenced the situation on the market – like who will do what and who will provide this service or task, and so on. Do you think your profession will have to change and/or adapt? Or do you think there will be cooperations between other players like network technicians or medical practitioners?

Wilfried Kramb: I think as a lighting designer we have to combine more disciplines and to be the mediator, not only between design and technology but also for installers or work biologists or to medical people. We also will need to do more consulting than we have been doing up until now. I think we're prepared for that – we are growing into that market with all the research that is on hand and we can provide good advice to our clients who are now forced to think more about their employees than they were ten or fifteen years ago. For example, we have found, while working on the central headquarters for Bookings that everything is focused on making that young person that works for them, happy and feeling as comfortable as possible, in order to keep them. The workforce is suddenly a valid issue now and providing a happy, comfortable workplace for employees means that the designers have to consider a wider range than we have been used to.

LED professional: I think that is a good thought to finish on! Thank you very much for your time.

Wilfried Kramb: My pleasure.

Wilfried Kramb
Wilfried Kramb founded the ag Licht office in Cologne in 1996 together with his partner, Klaus Adolph. Today it is run together with Daniel Walden. Prior to this, he studied interior architecture at the University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden, Germany after which he worked at the Electric and Lighting Design Office, SIWO in Taunusstein. The next four years were spent working in Sydney Australia for the interior architecture office, Frank Grill & Associates, where he stayed until 1991. In 1992 he managed and helped to establish the department of Light Application for the German Institute of Applied Lighting Technology (DIAL) in Luedenscheid, Germany.
While working as an independent Interior Architect he also took advantage of an apprenticeship offered by the University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden on the subject of Light Planning. From 1994 to 1996 he was the project manager for the Light Planning Office "Lichtdesign" in Cologne. Wilfried Kramb is the recipient of a number of national and international awards for projects and products that he managed and gives lectures for the master study program of architecture at the msa Muenster.