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Posts tagged ‘Thoughts’

What Does it Feel Like to Be Immersed in Video?


projection light lighting design architecture video immersive environment experimental installation "Focus Lighting"

In honor of the arrival of Spring (at least according to the calendar, maybe not the thermometer), our office recently held a party for friends and family to debut an experimental installation we’ve been working on that immerses visitors in an ever-changing video environment.

As lighting and video become increasingly more intertwined in everything from theatrical design to architectural media facades to the mobile devices we carry around, this installation poses the question: what does it feel like to be immersed in an environment created entirely with video?

projection light lighting design architecture video immersive environment experimental installation "Focus Lighting"

For this particular event, the video content was thematically related to Spring (flowers, nature, landscapes, etc.), but occasionally branched out into other areas such as panoramic cityscapes, abstract moving backgrounds, and projected architecture.  I was responsible for finding and programming the video content using Dataton Watchout software.

The event, as expected, delivered many more questions than answers.  For instance, it was fascinating to see the ebb and flow of guests in and out of the room as the “wallpaper” changed from static images to moving video; although, since we placed food in one room and drinks in the other, it was hard to tell if the movement of people was due to the video content or their need for liquid refreshment!  Several of my coworkers and I tried to directly manipulate the movement of people by making the background of the room more, or less, attractive. While the results weren’t definitive it was certainly interesting to watch. Little did our guests know they would be subject to a sociological experiment at our party! (Insert villainous laugh here.)

A big thank you goes out to the friends and family who served as our “guinea pigs” for this trial event. We received a lot of helpful feedback, and we look forward to using what we’ve learned from this experience to continue to design beautiful and interesting environments.  Here’s hoping our “Spring Fling” will bring some actual warm weather soon!

projection light lighting design architecture video immersive environment experimental installation "Focus Lighting"

Lessons from Architecture School – Separation of Ego and Debate

March 2, 2013


architecture crit critique school

Architecture school critique sessions, or “crits” as they’re lovingly known — love ’em or hate ’em, they were always a learning experience .  I found that there was something incredibly engaging and accessible about throwing all of your ideas and work up on a wall and having colleagues and mentors offer feedback.  It was a win/win: the presenters got got to practice their presentation skills and received fresh insights into their work, and the critics got to practice verbally articulating their constructive criticisms.  While nerve-wracking at times, I always came out of them with notebook pages full of interesting and exciting new ideas.

The challenge of crits wasn’t usually the presentation, though; it was the actual “critique” session, which, as the word implies, wasn’t meant to be a smile-and-a-pat-on-the-back affair.  No, architecture school crits are notorious for making stressed, overtired, vulnerable students bawl uncontrollably by their conclusion.  But that wasn’t the point.  Not even close to it, actually.   Read more

Lighting a Las Vegas Gastropub – Public House at the Venetian

"public house" venetian "las vegas" vegas restaurant gastropub light lighting design architecture architectural

If you work in a creative or visual field, never underestimate the value of documenting your work as it’s happening.  You never know if you’ll get a second chance.

I’ve never really had trouble with documentation before, because, as a theatrical lighting designer, I was always in the same room as my work, right down to the end of the project.  I’d simply whip out my camera in tech rehearsal, setup my tripod, and take as many photos as I could fit on a memory card.  Often, the set designer and costume designer would be right next to me doing the exact same thing.  As an architectural lighting designer, I’ve learned, however, it isn’t always that easy.

Such was my experience on one of my first outside-of-New-York-City projects that opened in December of 2011: Public House, a new gastropub at the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

"public house" venetian "las vegas" vegas restaurant gastropub light lighting design architecture architectural

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Rooftop Theatre: Lincoln Center’s New Venue, The Claire Tow Theater, and the Opening Production of “Slowgirl”

June 10, 2012


Lincoln Center Theatre facade night light lighting LCT LCT3 "Vivian Beaumont" "Claire Tow" "New York" NYC architecture

Someone at Lincoln Center knows what they’re doing, and it makes me really happy.

A new theatre in Manhattan has just popped up in the most unlikely of places — on the roof of another theatre!  And it’s not just any roof; it’s the roof of the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, the home of the Lincoln Center Theater and the current production of War Horse, a building originally designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen in 1965.  (You may recognize Eero Saarinen’s other prominent works of American architecture such as Washington-Dulles International Airport or the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.)

Designed by H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, the new Claire Tow Theater sits lightly atop the monumental Saarinen structure, just barely peeking over the thick concrete roof as it looks down onto the reflecting pool and plaza below.  If you weren’t paying attention you’d almost miss it during the day, as its blue-green glass facade and low profile almost make it disappear into the sky vault above.  At night, though, the structure glows with light, providing a trim illuminated “cap” to the Beaumont Theater below.

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Why Lighting Design Makes Me Happy – And Why it Might Make You Happy Too

November 19, 2011


nyc "new york" city skyline lights glow night

A few nights ago I had the good fortune to run across a good friend who I hadn’t seen since I left grad school almost six months ago. We quickly got to chatting about life updates, and I started filling him in on the details of my new job (which I started almost three months agohow time flies). As I rattled on about new projects and learning experiences he stopped me and made an observation that, unexpectedly, hit me like a ton of bricks.

“You look really happy,” he said.

I paused. I hadn’t really thought about it lately. And then there was a moment of instant clarity, as if the clouds had parted and a ray of sunshine had suddenly burst through …

I realized: I am. I’m very happy.


Why am I so happy?

I’m happy because good lighting makes me happy.

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It’s All About the Experience

June 19, 2011


“It’s all about the experience.”

That’s what my friends at the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas like to say. They offer an unparalleled eight-week summer intensive training course in every area of stagecraft, from set painting to audio and from moving lights to automated rigging, and every one of their classes is hands-on with the technology or craft being taught. It’s quite a quick and effective way to learn, to say the least.

Now, four weeks into my summer internship at Focus Lighting in New York, I’m finding, once again, that it really is “all about the experience.”

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The Importance of Handling Light

April 16, 2011


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my experience with light has changed since moving from theatrical lighting design to architectural lighting design.  I’m three weeks away from finishing my first year of two in the Parsons MFA program in Lighting Design, and after spending increasingly long hours in the studio working seven days a week to finish all of the work left before my final presentation I finally got the chance to get some perspective the other day by (gasp!) getting out into the daylight.

As a part of our final studio projects we were assigned to build a 3/8″ scale model of the student center for which we are designing the daylighting, so that we could take it outside and measure its performance under real conditions.  This past Friday, after several weeks of planning and construction, the model had finally coalesced itself into a coherent collection of foam and paper, and it was barking at the door to be let outside for a walk.  After the amount of time I had spent inside building the thing I was ready to do the same!

So, after awkwardly squeezing the loveseat-sized model through several tiny New-York-sized doors, being questioned by a park ranger in Union Square, and being photographed by several groups of passing tourists, the payoff finally arrived: a set of gorgeous photos perfectly capturing the daylighting design for the student center’s library.

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It was then that I realized just how much time I had spent indoors sitting at a desk recently.  Being able to see the effects of my design with my own two eyes out in the natural daylight made me realize that I had fallen prey to the plague of the architecture school student: sitting inside from the time the sun comes up in the morning until well after it goes down at night, designing from a desk and a computer with little time spent physically handling light.  It wasn’t the long hours that bothered me (in fact, I hardly even notice the time anymore), it was the fact that I hadn’t challenged myself enough to break away from the deadlines and the assignments and just spend some time in the light lab like I used to in theatre.

One of my favorite parts about studying theatre lighting in college was the light lab, because it was always an open opportunity to get hands-on experience with light, to learn what it can and cannot do.  I never chose colors or lighting angles for a show sitting at a desk — I would always book a few hours in the light lab and see exactly how my ideas would come together right before my eyes.  Then I would get to sit in a dark theatre during tech for a show and play with light for hours on end, mixing color, texture, angle, and intensity in long sessions that were ten times more effective in teaching me about light than any classroom session.  Standing outside in Union Square park with the building model I realized that’s what I was missing from my architectural education — the massive amounts of hands-on experience that I got during my theatre education.

An architectural lighting design, as you can imagine, doesn’t happen in a day, or even in a few weeks as a theatrical production might.  It takes incredible amounts of planning, coordination, equipment, people, and time, and as a result, most of the work we do in the classroom is theoretical.  Yes, we do have a light lab, and yes, I occasionally use it, however, I have to remind myself to spend more time experimenting there, or better yet, getting out into the city and observing light in the real world.  Artists don’t learn to paint by reading textbooks, and lighting designers definitely don’t learn to use light by sitting at a desk all day. If I’m ever going to improve as a lighting designer, I’m going to need to challenge myself to stand up and test my theories in person more often.  As these glorious (if I do say so myself) pictures prove, it’s definitely worth the extra time it takes to see how an idea can become a reality.

A Delicate Balance of Light and Life

January 9, 2011


light lighting lamp bulb happy design life

A gift to me: it's a stress ball!

Here we are at the end of the first week of 2011! Is everybody still here? Raise your hand if you’re not here! I’ll be caught up in a minute … I just have to recover from that INTENSE week I just had.

What made it so intense?  Well, I spent the first week of the year living the 9-to-5er lifestyle in a marathon week at the offices of Focus Lighting.

All I can say is: it’s been one educational week!  Many thanks to the staff at Focus for putting up with me all week long.

To be honest, I couldn’t really even begin to describe the specifics of what I did over the course of the week.  My memory right now is a blur of AutoCAD draftings, lighting fixture schedules, lighting mockups, and a few other small side projects.  It all happened so fast, but spending that amount time allowed me to learn valuable information that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to grasp had I continued in my once-a-week routine of visits to the office.  I learned a great deal about how projects and information flow through a lighting design office, how the construction process works, and how different people can contribute different things to a project based on their skill set and expertise.  The most important thing I learned, though, is this: they don’t call it a full-time job for no reason.

Working full-time hours for the first time in almost two years made me realize just how important it is to be able to find a balance between your passion and everything else, because it becomes incredibly easy for time to slip away during the week.

As much as I love to talk about, think about, and work with light, I know that I also need a balance of other things in my life to help me grow both as a person and as a professional.  I need time with friends: to find out how they’re doing, to have them help me discuss ideas, decompress, and process information.  I need time to read: to catch up on news, to maintain a connection to the outside world.  I need time to write: to get my thoughts down on paper, to sort out the clutter in my brain.  I need time to have new experiences: to see and try new things, to enjoy this city and the place that I live.  Finally, I need personal time: to rest and refresh so that I can stay on top of my game.

This first week of 2011, while it was a ton of fun and a whirlwind of activity, completely jarred my sense of balance and threw me a bit off guard.  Of course, it wasn’t anywhere near a normal week for me, so I’m not surprised that happened, but it taught me that I have to maintain a clear view of the big picture at all times to maintain a positive balance in my life that allows me to grow and mature as a person.

I hope your week was more level than mine was, but if it wasn’t I’m hoping this post will remind you to get back on track!  It’s only the first week of the year!  Let’s get back on it!  We can’t let things start slipping out of control until at least April.

Architectural Lighting Calls vs. Theatre Lighting Calls

December 21, 2010


Remember that time when I haven’t worked a theatrical lighting call in a year?  Well, I got a taste of those late-night hours again on Sunday night/Monday morning at my first architectural lighting focus call with Focus Lighting, where we aimed, accessorized, and reprogrammed almost all of the over 150 lighting fixtures at a new bar/restaurant on the Lower East Side between the hours of midnight and 8AM. You know, no big deal.

Despite the odd hours I was thankful for the experience because it was a huge opportunity to observe and learn first-hand how architectural lighting differs from theatrical lighting.  Plus, it really was a ton of fun!

The story was that Focus had been briefly consulted (read: called at the last minute) on the lighting design for this space, and the purpose of this work call was to follow up to ensure the space looked its best with the equipment that was installed.  The restaurant had already opened during the first week of December without having any of their massive number of adjustable accent lights aimed or accessorized by a lighting designer, so, since we couldn’t work during business hours (or during daylight, for that matter, due to the large skylight in the main dining room), we had to start at midnight.

We started to work just as the last few guests were leaving for the night, pulling all of the recessed accent lights out of the ceiling and adding diffusion, color, and louvers to them before replacing them and properly focusing them in their intended locations.  As we found out, almost all of the over 100 of these fixtures were mis-aimed, making the space feel unbalanced and underlit.  We fixed that problem quickly.  Other tasks on our list included refocusing all of the track fixtures in the main dining room, adding color to the effects niches in the same dining room, adding color to the lighted liquor stands behind the bars, and properly readjusting all of the lighting levels with the new colors and accessories in place.  It may seem like a short list, but when you have to maneuver a tall ladder around tables, sofas, and liquor bottles, it takes a bit of time.  We ended up finishing the focus portion of the evening at around 6AM, leaving just enough time before sunrise to reprogram all of the light levels in the restaurant.  One of the Focus staff trained me on the lighting controls and by the end of the night I was setting light levels like a pro!  We ended up leaving the restaurant at 8AM, just as the sun was lighting up the sky in the dining room skylight.

It certainly was a long night, but I learned a ton from the experience, including that architectural lighting focus calls aren’t that much different from their theatrical counterparts.  Aside from the fact that we aren’t responsible for hanging or circuiting the lights, we go in, add color and accessories, aim the lights, and set their dimmer levels — the same types of activities you’d find at a theatre lighting focus call.  They happen in very different venues, obviously, but are otherwise very similar.  The change of scenery, for me, was fun though.  It was fun to know that the changes we were making would be seen by people every day in a venue that wasn’t a theatre.  And look at the pictures — who wouldn’t want to spend a few hours working in a space as nice as that?

Many thanks to Focus designers Josh and Victoria for bringing me along and teaching me throughout the night!  It was great to finally get a hands-on experience that I would never find at school.  Like I’ve told a few people, you need to observe and experience light in a real space to have the knowledge to design with it — theories and principles are great for school, but they won’t develop your eye for design nearly as effectively as will manipulating light firsthand.  I hope I can continue to tag along and assist more in the future!

Light and Storytelling

October 15, 2010


I’ve figured it out.  A month and a half into grad school I’ve finally realized what’s been missing from my lighting education (and my life).  I’ve felt something has been missing from my lighting studies ever since I arrived here in New York.  I don’t know why I haven’t been able to pinpoint it until now, but now that I have I feel such a sense of clarity! It all makes sense!

My lighting has been lacking a story.

I first noticed a glimmer of this a few months ago as I was sitting in a dark auditorium at The New School, listening to convocation speeches from notable alumni.  This particular group of alumni had been gathered to commemorate the start of classes at the School of Constructed Environments (which includes the architectural, lighting, interior, and product design programs) through a presentation of their career successes and notable projects for the faculty and new students.  The catch, which was cleverly designed to prevent marathon portfolio presentations, was that the evening was going to follow the Pecha Kucha format, with each presenter being limited to 20 slides, each displayed for a maximum of 20 seconds.  I had never heard of such an event before, but the idea intrigued me, so a few of my lighting classmates and I decided to attend.

An hour and a half later in the auditorium, having heard from only five out of the ten presenters, all of whom so far were architects or architectural consultants, I was supremely regretting that decision.  Apparently none of those five people got the “20 seconds” memo, and so they sat on each slide, dryly discussing the work on it in overly-elaborate detail, for at least five minutes (and usually longer).  Lesson learned: never give an architect a microphone.

As drained as I was by that time, though, I was determined to sit through the presentations long enough to hear one speaker in particular: Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting in New York City.  I had already done a good amount of research on the award-winning lighting design firm in the past because of its connections to the theatrical lighting design community, so I was determined to hear from its founder and principal designer.

Let me tell you, Mr. Gregory did not disappoint.  He was not only the first (and only) of the presenters to adhere to the strict presentation formatting challenge that night, his presentation was the most compelling, informative, and fun!  It ebbed and flowed, quickened and slowed, instigated laughter, and elicited emotion, flying by quicker than the blink of an eye but lasting ten times as long in the memory. So what made his presentation so different from the others (aside from the pace)? He told a story. He told the story of how he came to love lighting and the theatre at an early age and how he used the skills he learned as a theatrical designer to successfully transition to the world of architectural lighting, succinctly, with passion and a great sense of humor!

I remember thinking to myself, “thank God theatre people know how to tell stories!”

Fast forward a month and a half and I find myself sitting in another dark room, staring at a projection screen, awaiting a presentation from an industry professional – only this time I know exactly what I’m in for.  I’m awaiting a presentation from Jonathan Speirs of the internationally-ranked, highly-awarded UK lighting firm Speirs and Major about lighting design and some of his firm’s recent works. Again, I wasn’t disappointed.

Jonathan began his presentation, “we like to tell stories with light.”  At first I was surprised, as his background was primarily in architecture, not theatre.  He certainly proved himself atypical of the architect-type, though, illustrating and describing each project for the audience beautifully, telling a story of how each project came to fruition, and demonstrating for us the exact slides he used to present the story of the proposed lighting design to the client. At every turn, too, he would stop to tell a small anecdote about a meeting with a high-profile client, or a design decision that changed dramatically on short notice, all the while progressing fluidly through his images and photos, keeping the audience engaged and entertained for over 90 minutes.

Just to give you a taste, the design for his concluding project, The Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi (for which his firm won one of the most prestigious awards in lighting design, the IALD Radiance Award) was impressive not only for its sheer massive scale, but for its use of storytelling in illuminating the structure.  The exterior illumination of the mosque, opting against a uniform appearance, has the unique textural quality of clouds slowly drifting by, a feat accomplished by thousands of projectors covering the entire surface of the mosque.  The clouds are not just flowing in any direction, however; they always move in the direction of Mecca, the holiest of all Muslim sites and the direction of prayer for Muslims.  In addition, the color of the clouds flowing across the structure mirrors the phases of the moon (a highly important element of Muslim religious tradition), fading from a pristine white during a full moon to a deeply saturated blue as the moon waxes and wanes over its 28-day cycle.  Thus, the illumination of the building is constantly in motion, telling a story of the mosque, it’s location, and the Muslim faith.  It’s quite a moving project (no pun intended).

After Jonathan’s presentation it hit me like a ton of bricks – I’ve been missing the chance to tell a story with my lighting, like I used to when I was designing for theatre.  Lighting is such an integral part of the story in theatre that its storytelling abilities are often taken for granted; yet having spent the past seven weeks in architecture school I realize just how much it really is taken for granted in the often conceptually-static world of architecture.  I’ve somehow lost that storytelling mindset in favor of a static, single-shot thought process.  I need to remember where I’ve come from.

Lighting for architecture can reveal a form just like lighting for theatre or dance.  It can fade in and out, reveal a detail here, a form there, entice you inside, make you take a second look, or simply open your eyes and your mind to the feeling of being alive.  There’s no reason a design can’t have an elaborate story behind it – in fact, I think it results in a stronger outcome.

From now on I’m going to make it my duty to remember where I’ve come from and how my background can inform my design process.  I want to bring the same passion and energy to my architectural lighting as I have when I’m cueing in a tightly-choreographed lighting sequence in a theatre.  I want to live in the moment that the light first hits your eye after the house lights dim out, and the moment after the final lighting cue has faded to black.  I want to hear the music and see the dance in my work, and I want others to see it too.

I want to tell a story with light … because that is what makes me happy.

What makes you happy?