Interview with Retired Lighting Professor and CLUE Member Fred Oberkircher


Fred Oberkircher was President of the Illuminating Engineering Society 2009-2010 and is an Emeritus Associate Professor of Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX where he taught lighting and led the development of the TCU Center for Lighting Education.

He was also the Philips DayBrite Ambassador for Lighting Education where Fred networked in the southeast to help establish programs which focused on lighting education in institutions in Alabama (Auburn & U. of Alabama), Tennessee (Memphis U.) and Mississippi (MSU).

Fred has served on the board of directors for the Nuckolls Fund for Lighting Education and is Lighting Certified (LC) by the National Council of Qualified Lighting Professionals (NCQLP). Fred is a Fellow of the IES and has a Bachelor of Architecture and a Master of Science in Architecture from Penn State University.

In addition, Fred is a member of the advisory board for the annual CLUE Lighting Competition.

In your career, how have you seen the evolution in the lighting industry? And what do you think was the most significant change?

I believe that the most significant change has been change itself. There was a fairly long period in the lighting industry during which change, if it occurred at all, was incremental. The major sources, incandescent, fluorescent, and metal halide were mature and very stable. Lamp characteristics were known and industry competition was subtle. Then along comes solid-state lighting and EVERYTHING changes.

What is the lighting vision that you have instilled in your students during your career?

For me, lighting education has always been primarily about light and its characteristics. Lighting has been a secondary concern. By this I mean that the study of light includes the qualities of light itself starting with the sun and its impact on all life.

What can be done to better train students on lighting to face the current reality of the industry?

At the risk of being called reactionary, I believe that we would be well served to return to the study of light. Consider the issue of glare, long relatively forgotten, but now rediscovered because of the nature of LED. The issue of glare has been with us since early humans sought lighting conditions that would support their working tasks.

What is the most important aspect of lighting design to teach future professionals of this industry?

The realization that light is most importantly a circadian source and the knowledge of how to integrate that into all lighting environments. In many countries throughout the industrialized world, two days each year demonstrate, what could be called “circadian appreciation day,” also called “daylight savings.” No one goes through the subsequent days without the realization that one’s body is responsive to that one-hour shift.


In your opinion, what is the importance of competitions such as the CLUE for the next generation?

I believe that the CLUE Competition currently provides the best opportunity for the display of creative discussions concerning the application of community lighting. In my opinion, the lighting industry has invested most of its energy on translating legacy lighting solutions into LED packages. But legacy sources were restricted by their characteristics. I do not believe that we have discovered the true nature of LED light sources yet. Unencumbered by years of “practical” experience, the CLUE Competition permits young designers to dream in ways unrestricted by legacy sources.

What advice would you give young lighting designers to succeed in the industry?

Never quit dreaming!

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