Like all architects, I have my own obsessions. One of them is that of collecting vintage light measurement tools.
The piece that started all this craze is also the one I’m still most attached to. It’s a small bakelite luxmeter from the 1930s, manufactured by the General Electric Company. To be precise, we can’t call it a luxmeter proper, as it measures lighting in foot candles and not in lux due to the bizarre American perseverance in snubbing the international metric system.
In its few cubic centimeters of vintage shape, this tool testifies to the birth of our practice. Which, in the beginning, was nothing more than lighting engineering (“illuminotecnica” in Italian). All that had to do with light was reduced to numbers, which were in turn analyzed mainly to guarantee a comfortable environment for the working people. This is how it all began – helping people see better to work better.
Engraved on its dial, the various job titles are classified on this little tool according to the light they need. The thin needle, when it moves, points at the jobs appropriate to the light that is picked up by its tiny selenium cell. Sewing needs 60 fcd, for a warehouse 10 are enough. And its illustrative leaflet even gave simplified directions for a homestyle use of the tool.
It took a little time, but eventually we understood that measurement is not enough, that light and the mechanisms governing its perception can’t be all reduced to numbers alone. We still measure the light but, thank goodness, we aren’t just lighting engineers any longer.