Dieter Polle

Following the launch of DIAL’s new book, Smart Building Design – Conception, Planning, Realisation and Operation, arc caught up with Managing Director Dieter Polle to discuss Smart Lighting, and its role in the wider realm of building design.

How did you get into lighting?

I’ve been fascinated by light since I was a child. At university I was fascinated by these giant spheres and goniophotometers standing in all black rooms. I liked that lighting engineers focus on the interface to humans and that all the science is about improving the wellbeing of people in spaces. These interesting aspects came together with my passion for design and architecture, so what else could I do than become a lighting specialist?

Can you give me an overview of your career to date?

After my study of electrical engineering and lighting at university in Karlsruhe, I got my first professional experience at a mid-size design-orientated luminaire manufacturer as a lighting designer. After a short time an interesting offer came to me. DIAL was just founded and was looking for someone to design a photometric lab as well as a white lab. I took the chance. DIAL grew continuously, offering new challenges to me. We built an excellent lab and offered seminars to customers who wanted to learn about lighting. After some years I took over the position as a team leader of the lighting team. DIAL’s growth continued and I had the chance to take over as Managing Director a few years later. This was a challenging role, and it is still challenging me. In the last few years we’ve established DIALux, we’ve introduced LUMsearch, a luminaire search engine, the DIALux mobile app, and many more online services. The building design field was developed as well, and we developed a design theory for intelligent buildings that we now teach.

You’ve been Managing Director of DIAL for almost 20 years now, how has the company, and the lighting industry as a whole, changed in those years?

20 years ago DIAL was already an interesting company. Perhaps 20 employees were sitting in a few rooms in an old factory. We conducted seminars in lighting and KNX and DIALux’s success was just beginning. Today 90 employees are working at DIAL. We are working in our new company building, whose architecture we designed by ourselves, along with the lighting and the intelligence inside. It was an opportunity for us to show to customers that we understand what we are teaching. The lighting industry has sped up a lot. LEDs have become the one and only relevant light source, and the digital transformation of nearly everything is also happening in lighting and building automation. Many manufacturers are questioning themselves about what this means for their products and business models. Everyone is asking how they might earn money in future. In general we observe a huge uncertainty, and there are good reasons for it. Disruption happens.

How has the emergence of ‘Smart Lighting’ impacted DIAL?

Many people are talking about ‘Smart Lighting’. Some think that ‘smart’ means that it can be controlled via smart phone. For me, smart lighting is where the user does not have to worry about it. It switches on when you need it and offers the quantity and quality of light wherever you need it. For this to happen, a good designer is needed, along with a customer who wants to get such a solution. For us it is interesting and melts together our core competencies in lighting and smart buildings.

DIAL has just launched a new book: Smart Building Design – Conception, Planning, Realisation and Operation. What is the background behind this book? How was it conceived?

With this book we want to explain to readers how smart buildings can become reality. In short, by designing them. We believe strongly in the vision that architecture will become dynamic and intelligent. This is technically possible already and has been for quite a long time, but has never happened. Whenever you tell someone something about building automation most people reject it. They fear it might be too expensive, has no sense and does not function. They are right. The reason is: building automation it not part of a holistic design process. The design of the automation, how the building should behave, needs to become part of the general design process of the building. For the stakeholders this has been difficult to understand. From the designers perspective it is clear and easy: There is one product to design and it consists of both a shape and its function or behaviour. The synergy is one single thing, a product you might call a smart building.

Who is the book primarily aimed at? Lighting Designers? Manufacturers? Architects?

All of them. Of course the architect has the strongest position to put things forward into this direction. I know many architects, not all of them are convinced that technology and software will play a key role in the value of the buildings they design. Yet.

The book offers an insight into DIAL’s thoughts on how “Smart Buildings” should be designed. How important is lighting in the Smart Building concept?

Lighting is only one part. Doubtless an important part, because it affects people so much and because it plays a key role in the perception of spaces. But the challenge and the biggest value of intelligent buildings can only be achieved when everything is connected. It is a huge mistake to treat light individually.

Is this the first book that DIAL has produced? Do you have plans to work on any more?

Our first book was about how lighting can improve wellbeing. We wanted to put an emphasis on lighting design for the wellbeing of people instead of focussing on illuminances and power consumption, as it is too often the case. Lighting designers need to know that lighting affects wellbeing, and this needs to be taken into account. We are influencing people’s behaviour and health. We conducted research and published the results with this first publication. The results became a key aspect of the seminars we offer for lighting designers at DIAL today.

What do you think the future holds for the lighting industry?

What a huge question! Many possibilities, less restrictions, huge challenges but also risks. Everything is possible, technology gets cheaper and the margins shrink. IP connectivity of nearly every item allows solutions nobody thought of yesterday.