• In your opinion what are the crucial elements in creating a successful lighting design?
My successful lighting design “declaration” is made up of the following points:
– The lighting design team needs to be involved as early as possible in a new project.
– A harmonious collaboration with the other creative teams (architects, interior designers etc.)
– Good knowledge of the technical aspects and the principles of lighting.
– Good knowledge of the variety of lighting products in the market.
– The understanding of the needs of the building, depending on its use, architectural style, and surroundings.
– A deep understanding and respect for the wishes of the owner, along with the necessary input that springs from a lighting designer’s expertise.
– Proper distribution of the budget.
– Close collaboration with the electrical engineers and the automation / control experts.
– Adherence to timetable & deadlines.
– No compromises on design.
• Light is an effective tool for creating a hierarchy of focus. Can you explain a little about how this contributes to the architectural experience?
In stage lighting, this is readily apparent… Usually the protagonist of, let’s say, a musical, has a light shining on him / her, that even follows them while walking on stage; same with a tenor in an opera or the prima ballerina in classical ballet. Yes, light has the power to shift one’s focus on someone or something. But in architectural lighting, deciding where to place the focus on, is not as clear-cut… A lighting designer should have an understanding of architecture, sculpture, art, and physics. They should also be familiar with the dynamics and psychology of color, the power of shadow vs. light, the impact of form and volume in space, as well as the psycho-dynamic character of light, even of its influence on the circadian rhythm on human beings. Knowing and taking into consideration all of the above, the lighting designer should then make choices on what to underline and focus on and what to leave unlit, what color temperature to use depending on the materials and textures used, what direction a light should come from or if the light should be smooth and diffused or sharp and precise. There are many elements that should be taken into consideration, but there is no absolute rule of right or wrong. In art, there is no right or wrong… And lighting design is art! Some designers par example like to capture attention by lighting background surfaces and leaving the objects at the front unlit, others by focusing sharply on objects and pieces of furniture and “ignoring” the boundaries of the space: the walls. Any of these choices are good, as long as it contributes to a harmonic dialogue involving all of the elements inside a space, creating an interesting synthesis on this three-dimensional canvas.
• As a lighting designer do you find you have any preference for a particular type of project or sector? If so, why?
I enjoy all types of projects, but I have a preference towards the more photogenic ones, those whose architecture makes room for lighting. I also like challenging projects, those that require a unique approach and therefore help me to evolve, to find original, new ways of lighting the project and even to design customised luminaries. I also like very much to design the lighting of museums and art galleries or the lighting for art exhibitions. It is a great honor I feel, together with the responsibility, to design the lighting framework in which the artwork will be presented.
• Is there anything specific that should be considered in developing the
lighting design for new buildings?
We utilize the same principles and criteria, whether we are dealing with a new building or the renovation of an old one.
• Light has a role to play in forming the impression, ambience and experience of a space, but the appearance of the products themselves can also be an important contributor to the architectural language. Do these roles ever come into conflict in your experience? How do you go about choosing the right product aesthetically speaking?
It is a bit like choosing shoes; I choose what fits well and is to my liking…
The manufacturers of lighting equipment have produced so many new and interesting products during the last few years, that now designers have endless possibilities at their disposal, compared to 10 years ago. Both the decorative lights, but also what we call architectural lights, have evolved in technical characteristics as well as in design.
As for our team, we usually start with the architectural luminaries in our designs, in order to guarantee the lux levels that are needed and then we choose the decorative. Our rule is that, if the architectural lights make a statement on the ceiling or on the walls, we use simpler decorative lights, but if we want to show off, we use a strong design element by utilizing a distinctive decorative light or group of lights and keep the ceiling architectural lights as discreet as possible.
• Is there any particular sector or project type that represents more of a challenge to lighting designers? Why?
I would have to say the lighting of preserved buildings, and more specifically, Greek buildings of the neoclassical period. When we are asked to do the facade lighting for such buildings, we have to be very careful of not “overdoing” it and not “injuring” the building’s skin… These buildings are protected by the Greek state and it is very difficult to light them with measure and efficiency when there are so few places available for positioning the light fixtures. The other great challenge for lighting designers involves archaeological sites.
• Setting aside the lighting products and technologies themselves, are there any architectural or interior elements whose design is useful or essential to creating effective lighting designs?
When I mentioned photogenic buildings above, I meant exactly what you imply with your question. Indeed, there are buildings that present a better “canvas” for creating beautiful lighting, while there are also others that put more limitations in place for the potential that lighting design has to offer. If the lighting designers’ team is involved from the beginning, the collaboration with the architects and interior designers usually brings about photogenic buildings, and therefore good lighting.
• Would you give us some examples of your lighting designs that you consider the most successful?
Agemar Maritime Headquarters is such a project; it also won the 1st prize at Darc Awards 2018 for exterior lighting. Its facade was very challenging to light. From the very beginning, we had the idea of a luminous ship, not only because of its shape but also because Agemar is a shipping company. We knew how we wanted it to look, what direction the light should come from, how uniform it should be, continuous and diffused, what color temperature of the light suits the white marble, etc. However, we didn’t yet have a light fixture that could serve all of the above. We had to find or invent the proper lighting fixture. We knew it had to be custom made, linear, LED, IP high rated and of low consumption because of the LEED restrictions. We tried several manufacturers and decided upon one that was able to create our light fixture, but we then had to resolve the problem of uniformity of light. The problem had to do with the peculiarity of the building itself, where all of its lines are curves! Moreover, the size / width of the surfaces to be lit is different on every floor and varies even on the same floor.
So, if we had a narrow beam fixture for the narrow surfaces and wider beam for the wider ones, this would create a dissimilarity in the intensity of light. On the other hand, we wanted to have only one type of luminaire for the façade, not many! Imagine the cost if we had twenty custom-made luminaires. The price would be unfeasible. The final decision was to separate the luminaires in groups based on their location and to use DMX to control the intensity of each group. We also decided to use different diffusion media to achieve the different beam angles we needed. The result was rewarding. We believe and like to say that the building gives the impression of a lit ship. The lighting follows the architectural lines and structure and enhances its shape which is very unique. Although it is a bright building compared to its surroundings, it does not disturb the neighborhood. It stands out with grace. The reflection of the building on the water feature is another strong aesthetic point, where in this case the absence of light, enhanced it!
Vanity Exhibition @ the Archaeological Museum of Mykonos
We love this project. Not only because it exhibited ancient jewelry treasures from the Cyclades, from 2000 BC but because we got involved in a very poetic, I should say, procedure while designing it. The architect Stelios Kois had this brilliant idea to use mirrors in the space and enhance the vanity symbolism of the jewelry, and this as you can imagine created a great degree of difficulty for the lighting design. We used light fixtures with shutters to manage the precise shape of the beam and light the cases with the exhibits from the ceiling, while everybody thought that they were self-lit. We also had to manage the daylight coming in from the windows of the museum with custom made diffusion material panels as well as lighting the facade, making it as poetic as we felt it should be, yet also minimal.
An older project that still stands out. This high-class restaurant is situated across the archaeological site of Acropolis, within walking distance. It is an old building and during the renovation 10 years ago, we didn’t have as many lighting tools as we do today at our disposal. We used fiber optics at the ceiling of the window side area because at that time there were no LEDs that could fit into our design and whose light quality we could trust. We wanted the guests to be able to dine in a nice environment with nothing to disturb their view of the Parthenon or to antagonize it.
Benaki Pavilion (The Museum Shop)
This is our latest pride and joy of a project, that utilizes our custommade lights – a worldwide patent – removable, on a pivoting iron door, that also serves as an object display shelf. The uniqueness of the architecture, challenged us to create a new, patented light system since there was no known product that could provide placing the fixtures on the door with no obvious cables or infrastructure. We designed very small-scale spherical lighting fixtures to give flexibility concerning the number of lights an exhibit needs. The feeding comes from a circuit carved in each case on the hard metal structure of the door, no wider than 3mm which is powered with low voltage using magnetic fastening of the spherical custom-made LED fixtures.
Feelings: The Jewelry Exhibition of Nikos Koulis Latest Collection
Usually, a jewelry exhibition and especially one involving expensive diamonds, sapphires and rubies, displays them in special showcases with very specific traditional lighting. In this exhibition, we proposed the idea, which was welcomed by the artist and the set designer, of using lighting to create a very distinct environment that would arouse feelings and go beyond what a jewelry exhibition often looks like. The main idea was to create a fairy-tale-like space. We used freeze fog to resemble the mist of a lake and this misty atmosphere was enhanced by theatrical lighting, which faintly changed colors, painting the mist and the metal sculpture with the shades of the sunset and dawn in an alternating sequence, lasting 20 minutes. For the precious exhibits, the lighting was custom made and designed so as to be integrated into the sculpture: inside the stem-like parts which ended up above the blossoms stands. In order to highlight the glamour of the diamonds and the other precious gems, we needed a special light, with a broad white spectrum. The technology we used was power LEDs with ideal color temperature and very high CRI. For safety reasons, we used very low voltage, and to simplify the installation, we used a batteryoperated system, so there was no need wiring to provide power. Instead, a battery was used inside the base of each stem that was housing the LED light. A variety of custom-made lenses were created to be attached to each stem to give the appropriate angle depending on the size of the exhibit. The sound effects of water combined with dream-like music evoked a surprising feeling for the visitors.
• We often hear that the future of lighting is LED. Can you comment on this?
The present is LED! The future will be the evolution of LED and of its characteristics (color, consistency, spectrum, etc.) but also the adoption of cableless lights.
• How do you measure the success of a lighting project? Do you measure the effect on people and their well-being as well as technical requirements?
I would put aesthetics together with well-being, because I believe that as human beings, we need beauty around us much in the same way as we need air, food and water. Beauty is of significant importance for our well-being, and good lighting indoors or outdoors is therefore an integral part of that. As with many other things in our modern society, this is also a matter of proper education…
Regarding success… Well, I have to say that we never think in terms of ‘success’ when we design the lighting for a project. We try to get a sense and feel of the building first, the architecture, the needs and desires of the inhabitants, then we break down the logistics… The pragmatic elements, if you will, and then we put everything down on paper. Success comes when we see that what we had envisioned has become reality, and this reality is also welcomed by the client and / or owner, or embraced by the public if it is such a type of project.
Success is when we don’t have to compromise, and all in our team are dedicated to not doing so!