Let There Be Light

Capitalizing on advances in technology and materials, five emerging designers remake the illuminated world.

We’re in a boom time for lighting design. The past decade has seen monumental advances in LED technology and materials dev­el­opment. A growing body of scientific research has made us more aware of the strong effects that light has on us, body and soul. Our rapid consumption of fossil fuels has become an urgent issue. This confluence of factors has made the lighting specialist an integral part of the design process—now brought in, as one designer says, “at the early anthropological moment” rather than as an afterthought. The five emerging lighting designers that we pre­sent here are concerned about much more than mere illumination. They see lighting as a way to shape space, complement architecture, save energy, and make our streets feel like home.


Enrique Peiniger + Jean Sundin
Office for Visual Interaction (OVI), New York

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OVI’s Enrique Peiniger and Jean Sundin take “cultural context” as a starting point of all of their projects. With work as far afield as Austria (Zaha Hadid’s Olympic Ski Jump, in Innsbruck) and Kuwait (Kuwait Military Academy, by SOM), the ten-year-old firm has had ample experience delving into other cultures. In the case of the Scottish Parliament, a villagelike complex that was the subject of considerable controversy from its inception, the principals supported architect Enric Miralles’s vision of a building without the hierarchies usually seen in government structures while preserving the drama of his spaces. They drew inspiration from both Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art and Miralles’s Catalonian heritage. The idea for a series of hanging lights in one of the meeting rooms was taken from Mackintosh’s lighting system—“bulbs on an electrical cord, really,” Peiniger says—for the school’s painting studio. OVI also persuaded the architects to rotate the leaf-shaped buildings within the footprint, eliminating the need for shading systems, maximizing direct day­light, and giving the internal spaces the feel of a tree-lined street.

Matthew Tanteri
Tanteri + Associates, New York

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Matthew Tanteri did not start out thinking about sustainability. As a laser sculptor in the 1980s, he sought ever more powerful light sources, putting on laser shows for heavy-metal bands like Kiss and Def Leppard; later he worked with pioneer Rockne Krebs to create light-art installations in three cities. In the early 1990s he went into architectural lighting, eventually securing high-end retail clients such as Chanel, Issey Miyake, and Versace, which granted him a high degree of artistic license with budgets generous enough to explore high-tech lighting solutions. Tanteri began investigating daylighting after becoming concerned about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. “It’s really a specialty that involves a knowledge of art and science,” he says. “It’s the primal light source, and it’s being discovered again, but great architecture has always had great daylighting.” Tanteri now teaches daylighting and sustainability at the Parsons architectural-lighting program, where his students concentrate on the challenge of making natural and artificial illumination coexist in an urban environment.

Derek Porter
Derek Porter Studio, Kansas City, Missouri

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In 2005 Derek Porter became the director of the Parsons MFA lighting program, whose unique focus is the physiological and psychological effects of light. “I inherited a very good basic structure,” he says. To that, he has brought a distinct artistic sensibility and an awareness of the “greater experiential moment we have with space.” At Bartle Hall Conven­tion Center, in Kansas City, Missouri, Porter’s firm created passive wayfinding systems and was charged with making meeting rooms—“where guests easily experience fatigue and psychological dulling”—into visually stimulating spaces; he devised a lighting system whose changing asymmetric patterns mimicked those typically found in nature. “Because there’s light coming at you from different directions, you feel emotional and physiological change,” he says. “You’re focused. It’s all based on my knowledge of human factors and the psychological implications of light.” Being at Parsons, where the lighting department includes research psychologists, Porter stays up to date on studies of circadian rhythms and the effects of artificially lit environments.

Trish Connor + Richard Spry
Studio Lumen, Seattle

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Studio Lumen was born when Trish Connor and Richard Spry’s former employer, Ross de Alessi, closed up shop in 2003. Spry took over a resort in Dubai and Connor has taken on local projects in Seat­tle that are subject to strict energy codes. The two are united by their consideration of the human element. With Veil restaurant, the challenge was to create an atmosphere that was “dynamic and fanciful and interesting”—and made the patrons look good—while keeping energy usage low. Though efficiency often means unattractive fluorescent lighting, Connor nestled linear fluorescents—covered with flattering colored gels—in coves to create indirect illumination while producing points of drama with halogen bulbs. The studio is already working on two malls in Saudi Arabia, several hotels in Dubai, and a casino in Las Vegas, where, Connor notes, “only casinos and churches are exempt from energy restrictions.” Still, she’s been successful in bringing some Seattle-style energy awareness to the casinos while still making them look like it’s “nine o’clock at night twenty-four hours a day.”

Gilles Arpin
Éclairage Public, Montreal

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Gilles Arpin started out lighting the grandes dames of opera and ballet before he turned to a different order of divas—the beautifully preserved buildings of Old Montreal. Arpin’s decade-old firm, founded when he won the influential commission, has had the rare opportunity to shape the way nighttime is experienced in an entire section of the city. Guided by a desire to create drama and warmth, Éclairage tries to domesticate public spaces and draw people out onto the streets. At the start of the design process, he says, “We try to attend every­thing on the street. We will spend a Thursday to a Monday to see how it works.” Then they listen to the concerns of their most important client—the community. “We want to increase the level of use by the neighborhood because it takes local people to animate a public space if you want tourists to come.”

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