Ingo Maurer

Ingo Maurer answers a few questions on lighting design, inspiration, and process—using his thumbs.

Job description: I’m trying to make light, and I’m trying to be responsible for my employees.
Current projects: A light column in Korea fifty meters high, subway stations in Munich, a big private project in Hong Kong, the Cooper-Hewitt—there are many. In London we have several projects, partly public, partly private.
First step on a project: I try to see who the people are and if the chemistry would work.
Last step on a project: Wandering through what we have done and feeling, Is it good? and, Should I have made it differently? I don’t like to make compromises.
How do you break a creative block? I walk restlessly, preferably in nature.
Why do you do what you do? Is that so important to know? There’s too many questions behind why and how I do it. I consider that chance is more the rule than the so-called intention of it. For some reason I was attracted to light.
Education: I was trained as a typographer, and I studied commercial art.
Mentors: Of course there is Achille Castiglioni, but also some really great artists, like Brancusi, for instance, and also Cy Twombly. My favorite sculpture is Spoon Woman, by Giacometti. Calder makes my heart sing.
First act as “design czar”: I would like to remove the Freedom Tower and the Frank Gehry building on the West Side. I like Gehry a lot, but I think it doesn’t go well. The shape is this kind of sculptural thing, with soft, fading windows—kind of like being a bit in the fog.
Dream team: All that I do, I do with a team, and they’re fantastic. When it comes to being very creative, I would always work with Ron Arad.
Office chair: Charles Eames, the Aluminum Group
Office sound track: If I’m working alone, I listen to classical music. I like very much in the morning to have good Latin jazz. That gives me a great push for the day.
Favorite tchotchke: I’m not depending on tchotchkes like some people do. I would say my tchotchke is Jenny, my wife.
Most useful tool: My brain and my intuitive heart
Best place to think: When I go for a long drive on the highway
Current read: At the moment I’m reading Orhan Pamuk’s latest book, Istanbul.
Old standby: I depend on good light in homes and restaurants. I suffer very much in New York in the restaurants.
Something old: I have a sketch by Ruisdael that I inherited, from the seventeenth century. It’s a rather dark picture. It says, “Thunderstorm on the Jewish Graveyard.”
Something new: My new kitchen in my New York loft. It’s nice, it’s clean, it’s not overdone, it’s not a monster kitchen—it’s modest, it’s very functional.
Favorite space: In Italy, an old building in a small village called Roccalbegna with beautiful proportions and the light coming from different angles inside—very beautiful, very spiritual.
Guilty pleasure: My guilty pleasures are all unprintable.
Underrated: Red beets. I love it. And I think people are not so fond of it, but it’s a great, great, great, great vegetable.
Overrated: Especially in this country, all these security measures. It goes much too far.
Learned the hard way: Concentrating has for a long time been very difficult for me. Reading a book, for instance—my thoughts wander very quickly off the page.
Command-Z (undo): There isn’t anything I would take back. When it happens, it happens. And it’s real. You have to live with it for the rest of your life.
Dream job: I do have a dream job. I feel blessed!

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