Designing Light for a Circular Economy

In May 2013, CED Architecture graduate student Antony Kim and his faculty mentor, Galen Cranz, were among 11 teams chosen from top higher-education institutions around the world for the first-ever Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship. The award focuses on the cradle-to-cradle design of products and processes, for the coming “circular economy.”

The new fellowship — a partnership between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in Great Britain and the U.S.-based Schmidt Family Foundation — officially began in June with a series of seminars in London attended by the fellows, along with international experts from design, engineering, business and other fields. The final projects will be completed this summer. Antony Kim describes his experience thus far.

I started this journey almost a year ago and the last thing I expected was to still be on it — “the ride isn’t over yet.” From the beginning, I felt a huge sense of humility being awarded the first ever Schmidt MacArthur Fellowship (SMF) for UC Berkeley, enabling me to build on the historical leadership of the College of Environmental Design and the Department of Architecture in the area of sustainability. Though I could never compare myself to CED’s past design radicals, I’m glad to be in a position to contribute.

As a fellowship, the SMF is very different in that it looks for generalists and systems thinkers — students and faculty that are anti-archetypes; disruptors willing to challenge and define the real issue. These are the qualities I think the Department of Architecture is especially good at cultivating. Whether it is a class in social and cultural factors, building science, or history, all have collectively contributed to my specialty of being a generalist. That is to say, I see myself as a kind of specialist in not being a specialist. This interdisciplinary approach has prepared me well in taking on the challenges and opportunities the fellowship has to offer.

Schmidt-MacArthur fellows and mentors holding an ideation “lightning round.”
Schmidt-MacArthur fellows and mentors holding an ideation “lightning round.” Enlarge [+]

The experience itself began with a week-long intensive summer school held in London, where we covered topics ranging from circular economics (CE) and industrial ecology to biomimicry and cradle to cradle analysis. With direct access to the “trailblazers” themselves — like Walter Stahel, Janine Benyus, and William McDonough — I was able to engage and get immediate feedback on my thoughts and ideas. Additionally, the knowledge-sharing that occurred between the fellows, mentors, and foundation staff not only created an environment for intellectual exchange, but more importantly, it forged life-long friendships.

As I flew back from London, I felt a slight withdrawal from the past week’s excitement but also an enthusiasm for moving forward on a CE project of my own. With support pledged by CE100 partners, I mapped out a new project complimentary to my original video proposal of aligning policy to incentivize designing with daylight. This new project would integrate Philips Lighting into my present work and would apply the following design theory: that designing for sustainability is less about producing static artifacts and more to do with developing a system of continuous improvement — designing a process not a product.

To that end, my recent focus has been to assess the impacts of LED lighting within the following context: LED trends show efficacy increasing based on Haitz’s Law (similar to Moore’s Law) — some suggest doubling every 3–5 years. The useful life of an LED varies, but 15–20 years is a common advertised range. LED life-cycle assessments (LCAs) indicate that operational energy use is by far the major environmental impact category. These three areas are usually evaluated individually with occasional overlap. But if contextualized together, LEDs are being designed without consideration to innovation cycles. In other words, if environmental performance is a priority, “short-cycling” every 3–5 years is better than waiting to replace LEDs after their full 20+ years of useful life. As I move forward with this research, I am working with Philips Lighting to design with these innovation cycles in mind, which would also complement performance-driven building energy policies.

LED trends show efficacy increasing based on Haitz’s Law.
LED trends show efficacy increasing based on Haitz’s Law. Enlarge [+]