having performative surfaces that integrate multiple functions. She demonstrated a desktop of EL plywood, which because it is engineered from small bits of wood, can contain strips of electroluminescent lights and electrical connections. Thus the desk surface actually provides light, and small hand-held lights could also be plugged in. The electroluminescent light in the surface absorbs light, “remembers” it, and re-emits it in a different color. This brings the possibility of the intelligent control of light with solid state, as the pixilated points of light familiar from television and computer monitors are actually translated into images and information. Solid-state lighting will potentially be able to perform many functions and behave more like media, transmitting information, changing color, and giving the user a high degree of control over color, intensity, and location.

She also described a floor system called a low-velocity floor that consists of shapes of engineered lumber rolled out like wallpaper beneath a thin, compressed plenum, or mechanical surface. Then a cool, thin cushion of air can be introduced to distribute cool air far more efficiently than typical air conditioning blown downward from a ceiling. Another architectural application is a hybrid ceiling that not only creates a pleasant surface to look at but also absorbs sound and provides light. An LED-equipped tile in one lighting configuration could be changed to any other color or ability of light, which indicates a capability of programming architectural surfaces.

She showed a picture of a prototype desk no more then 3/4-inch in thickness that used fiber-optic materials to move light and information through its surface. The same could be done in floors and walls by using solid-state lighting modules embedded in thin panels of acrylic that take advantage of the acrylic’s optical properties. Her group has also experimented with thermochromic materials in which light is activated or changed in color by the body temperature of one’s hand.


“If our culture is going to change from a bulb culture to this new paradigm of illumination, we need to begin that change in terms of education.” Dr. Kennedy described the “incredible value of the public discussion that takes place in the university tradition of sharing ideas.” There is also a benefit in terms of professional partnerships between design research and manufacturers that can be “a very cost-effective method for companies to advance R&D, and opportunities for design professionals to make very significant contributions to technology and culture at the national level.” Finally, she referred to the significance of the work products themselves. Design research, she said, often yields the missing or key idea that is necessary to move thinking to another level. The prototypes that are produced have public value as demonstration tools and promote public familiarity with new technology.

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