Illuminate Lighting Design sets itself apart from its competitors by injecting some heart and soul into the science of illuminating spaces. Founder and partner Simon Berry tells Olha Romaniuk more.
Top Image: Reception, NUO Hotel in Beijing, China
In 2009, Simon Berry started Illuminate Lighting Design and built up his company from a small creative group into an international team of designers with experience in a wide range of residential and commercial projects around the globe. Today, the lighting design consultancy has clients across Asia, Middle East, Europe and America.
With a background in engineering, Berry, nevertheless, is a firm believer in approaching projects from an experiential angle, fully exploring the intangible qualities of light. With Illuminate’s recent collaboration with DP Architects on the winning scheme for the Archifest 2016 Pavilion, Berry talks about the importance of exploring soulfulness, innovation and experimentation in lighting design and balancing practical and experiential qualities of light within physical spaces.
What was your background prior to illuminate?
I started my career in the school of hard knocks in engineering. In 1988, I was working for the government in the United Kingdom, designing exterior lighting projects for facades, roadways, tunnels, pathways and et cetera. Then, I started to concentrate on architectural lighting and worked for lighting design consultancies in London. In 2002, I established my first lighting company in Ireland called Chimera.
I moved to Singapore in 2009 to start Illuminate. In our early days, we only had a handful of designers and we served mainly the hospitality market, from Hotel Indigo on the Bund in Shanghai to Raffles Istanbul, which overlooks the Bosphorus. Now we have over 40 designers in seven studios globally and our works are more diversified. Recently, we were engaged in a lighting masterplan project for a tourism complex in Vietnam.
What is your overall philosophy and approach to lighting that might set Illuminate apart from other lighting design consultancies?
Good lighting creates a seamless blend with the space. It should be fit for purpose but [it is] also a visual language from the lit effect right back to the selected fixture and how it is being integrated with other design elements. Illuminate’s approach is more experiential. [As] much as we design to illuminate the grand story, we are also concerned with how the user might feel, move and interact with the light. We often think of ourselves standing in the space and looking around to ensure that everything is addressed and that the completed visual delivers one coherent experience.
Your background is in engineering. One might expect a more practical lighting design approach from you, yet your designs seem to emphasise the sensual, experiential qualities of lighting. Can you explain why you choose this approach?
Light is such an intangible entity in its own right. When we start constraining its nature with formulas and lux requirements, we are actually limiting its impact. We need to start pushing light towards the heartfelt [and] soulful side of it. I often find that if you listen hard enough to a space, it will start to unfold and tell you what it requires.
You need to address the visual priorities, where the key elements are, where the route through is located and what you will be doing in the space. When you treat the built space as a stage and dress your lighting in terms of layers within this stage, you can start to balance out the visual.
What are some lighting design innovations that you are implementing or would like to implement in your projects?
We enjoy experimenting. We have played with colour, tone, arrangement, integration and there are many more routes for expedition. In 2014, we experimented with the circadian rhythm to study how the combination of the temperature and brightness could be used to encourage activity or relaxation on a sub-conscious level to ease guests into a hotel depending upon the time of day. It was well-received and we have recently started to take this experiment to a larger scale.
Another logical interaction is to explore using light, sound and movement together. It is interesting to see how lighting is moving beyond just light to serve other purposes, be it as a beacon point or even a Light Fidelity (Li-Fi) connection. How this two-way communication line will evolve and to what extent the light fixture will become more pro-active are both exciting opportunities.
What are some recent major projects that you have completed that really showcase the possibilities and advantages of good lighting design?
This year alone we have had several high-profile project completions. The lobby of NUO Hotel in Beijing was an interesting challenge. Soaring four-storey high, this lobby ceiling features a multifaceted skylight with 2.1-metre vertical individual pockets, which risks turning the ceiling into a massive black hole at night. We introduced RGB LED backlit stretched membrane panels within each socket. This bold feature was designed to receive a video feed and in turn to illustrate animated scenes that respond to the time of day, seasons, events and festivity. Atmospherically, the ceiling influences the ebb and flow at the lobby and is a statement art piece in its own right.
What do you think should the role of a lighting designer/consultant on each project be?
I remember being told at the beginning of my career that we are as much designers as we are problem-solvers. I often think back to this statement and even now, 20 years on, it still remains a little strange. Yes, we help solve problems but our primary focus should be to craft beautiful spaces and to use our knowledge to inform and advise on the best solutions, culminating in a creative and cohesive experience.
How did the collaboration with DP Architects for Archifest come about?
We are always supportive of events that promote a more integrated design society. Not only do these events help with our exposure as lighting designers, they also present a creative outlet for our design studio as a sharing and learning platform.
SIA’s theme this year, ‘EXHALE’, appealed immediately to our team. To associate breathing and light seemed like the most natural thing to do but to achieve the same association in the built environment through artificial lighting was an interesting challenge. When DPA was announced the winner of the pavilion, we were delighted as they have earned great respect globally so any opportunity to work with them is always welcomed.
What was the collaborative process like and how did you help the DP designers to realise the idea of a breathing space?
DP Architects were open to our suggestions. Clearly, our first role was to listen and understand the aspirations of the project. Then, we needed to establish our own methodology that reacted to and worked within this intent.
We considered compression and expansion, similar to how a lung works. We wanted to represent this with light so we created tight compressed beams at the perimeter to introduce a rhythm to the structure. Stepping inside the structure, we used wider beam optics to give a more expansive coverage. We also wanted the light fixtures to have minimal visual impact so we located them at high level to help keep the feel of an open space. There will also be a few others surprises along the way but I can’t say too much at this stage.
Illuminate Lighting Design