PhosWords is a new vocabulary for lighting, developed by US academic Nathalie Rozot. Her idea was to develop of a whole new vocabulary that then became a manifesto in the form of an etymological game. As one word led to another, she has published a first edition of the ‘dictionary’, comprising more than 400 words. She regularly creates more words and there is a second edition planned with over 500 words.
For Rozot this is just one aspect of her work and practice, both as an academic and a lighting designer. All this work is informed by her belief that we need a fundamental cultural shift in design. One way is for lighting designers to become more fluent in general design issues. We should raise our aspirations, she believes. Lighting designers should aspire to be the lead designers on large pluri-disciplinary projects, because for some projects a photocentric approach is relevant, especially today.
She set up a think tank called PhoScope to address the perceived lack of critical discourse. This has a number of strands. In addition to PhosWords there is PhoShaping which encompasses experimental, speculative design projects. PhosForum aims to launch public programmes that go beyond project-based presentations, to expand our culture with more critical conversations. PhotoTexts are writings on the theoretical issues that are developed or discussed in the other two activities.
Rozot is especially interested in this notion of urban lighting as part of urban ecosystems. “I see it as a broad area with many subtopics,” she says, “but to build a theoretical foundation requires finding or inventing models to explore our nocturnal environments. I have found inspiration in architectural theory and from authors who studied popular culture and forces that drive the built environment, but lighting is not urban design and it’s not architectural design: we need our own models.”