Architectural Lighting + Lighting Artist

Chicago Pavilion Interior by The Gray Circle

An exciting addition seen in recent proposal requests is an increase in clients that want their project to have more of a video image or animated lighting component.  As architectural lighting designer’s, we find ourselves seeking out and collaborating more with these unique lighting artists.

Architects and artists have always collaborated on projects. The architect + artist relationship on a project has us asking the question where does art begin and architecture end? The architect’s role places  them back in the design crit fishbowl  (University of Illinois reference) having to justify their concept under the blade of professor Kim. There is not the same opportunity for the professional architect to push into the realm of the artist. Likewise the artist is not creating under the same constraints put on the architect and is free to develop their art without certain limitations.

I reference the architect + artist relationship on projects because it has very similar connections to the collaboration of the architectural lighting designer + lighting artist. Before I make comparisons, I would like to describe a few contributions a lighting designer brings to an architect’s project. The LD needs to compliment the architect’s design in a manner that is subtle, yet plays into the rhythm and repetition of a space while also maintaining the appropriate light levels for the occupants. The architecture needs to be accentuated with a vibrant or exciting lighting solution and yet still meet code or LEED requirements. Within every architectural lighting design firm the LDs have the ability to bring colorful well developed lighting solutions to projects. A firm’s LDs can create the next award winning casino, or hotel exterior. While the architectural LD is very creative on their own, they typically are not given the latitude to pursue the animated lighting ideas of the lighting artist.

When I mention lighting artists, people like Michael Hayden who developed the colorful neon solution “Sky’s the Limit” in O’Hares Terminal One come to mind.  Other current day artists that bring their own unique image or lighting to architectural projects include Thomas Gray of The Gray Circle that designed a multi-layered film installation titled “Chicago Past, Present, and Future” for Chicago’s Millinium Park, and Rafael Lozano-Hemmers that developed “Pulse Park” in New York City.

The relationship of the architectural lighting designer + lighting artist is similar to the architect + artist relationship on a project. We have some of the same dynamics as we collaborate together to develop an exciting well thought out lighting solution for a project. Like the architect, the lighting designer brings both the art + science to create the perfect lighting solution for the architecture and its intended use. The lighting artist, who typically has been developing their brand of an image or lighting medium for years brings that edgy theatrical moment to the project. The lighting artist has the freedom to create without concern about light levels or energy codes. Combine this with the architectural lighting designer’s creativity and overall vision and the completed project is one that will reach beyond client expectations.


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