What is the role of a lighting designer?

Lead designers and developers are "not quite sure" what lighting designers do and what they ultimately deliver, a Dubai-based expert says

Lighting can transform spaces, but the role of designers must be appreciated [representational image of Oman's Royal Opera House].
Lighting can transform spaces, but the role of designers must be appreciated [representational image of Oman's Royal Opera House].
Marcus Taylor, Taylor Sterling Associates.
Marcus Taylor, Taylor Sterling Associates.

Marcus Taylor, managing partner at Taylor Sterling Associates, talks to the founder of Dubai-based lighting firm CD+M, Bill Johnson, about how innovative lighting design can transform spaces.

What are some of the pain-points within the lighting sector?

Accreditation would be near the top of my list. Unlike engineering, architecture or interiors, the qualifications and accreditations for lighting designers have been slow to evolve, which is why we still see lighting suppliers offering lighting design services to the market. That is finally starting to change, with eight global schools of architecture now offering master’s degree programmes in lighting design as well as many interior design programmes with concentrations on lighting design.

Although lighting design has been a recognised discipline for more than 50 years, we still find that many of the lead designers and developers we work for are not quite sure what it is we do, how we fit into the design process, and what we ultimately deliver. This is perhaps one of the most pressing issues for our discipline.

Given complete artistic freedom to create a public space in a hotel, what would be your objective for lighting?

This may sound a bit abstract, but I believe that one of the reasons clients hire lighting designers is to bring the game of contrast to their projects, and we push that envelope wherever appropriate. Contrast means dialling back ambient brightness in a space and introducing focal light to elements such as art, objects, carpets, or merchandise.

How do lighting techniques differ depending on the space and materials?

Lighting invariably always follows architecture and interior design or, in other words, the materials, finishes, and furniture. We have had many clients over the years call us in to try to “fix” spaces through the use of light, where it is immediately clear the space is suffering from a material, finish, or space problem. We spend a lot of time talking about these issues with our clients.

As an example, façade materials such as aluminium clad panel do not take light well at all, but we can work to make the best of it if we must. Ultimately, every project is a blend of two primary efforts – art and science.

What does CD+M Lighting Design Group offer to market?

I believe that what sets CD+M apart is the quality and depth of our design teams. Our talent in Dubai is exceptional, with six experienced designers onboard, leading and managing projects.

Also, our studio-based approach widens our range of work and experiences, which feed off each other creatively. What we learn in our theme-park work makes its way into our hospitality work, and what we learn in our five-star hospitality projects finds its way into our retail work.

In addition, we are a global firm, and this contributes to the diversity and unique style of not only our design work, but also the basket of products from which we specify lighting. With offices in Los Angeles, Beijing, and Dubai, we observe regional design trends, specify equipment equally from North America, Europe, and Asia, attend tradeshows in all these places, and are participating members of the official regional lighting organisations.

Finally, with 18 full-time site engineers and technicians present at our construction sites, we are quite visible during the construction and commissioning phases of our projects. That last push towards the grand opening is a major differentiator between award-winning work and mediocrity.

What was your career path to get to where you are now?

I began my career 27 years ago, working for lighting manufacturers on the sales and marketing side of the business in North America. In 1997, I was posted to a position in Kuala Lumpur in which I led the development of the Asia Pacific region for what was then the US’s largest lighting manufacturer.

In 2003, I worked on a project in Taiwan that was designed by CD+M, where I met my US-based partner, Ted Ferreira. Several years later, in 2007, I moved to Dubai, where Ted and I established CD+M, which has since grown to a team of more than 35 designers and site engineers.

What is your outlook for the future of the lighting industry in this region?

From a development and construction perspective, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has nowhere to go but up, so we are very confident, and are no doubt here for the long haul.

The UAE, like any other economy, will obviously see its ups and downs, but the determined, dynamic and vision-based leadership of the country will ensure the UAE’s role of leading by example and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Dubai has become a regional design and engineering hub and is already the Singapore of the Middle East – a city of the future.

Lighting design has become a request for proposal mandate on a large number of projects within the MENA region. The market requires a bit of maturity, but the outlook for what we do looks very bright.

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