In the opening sequence of the 2006 documentary film, Sketches of Frank Gehry, director Sydney Pollack asks Frank Gehry, “Is starting hard?” Gehry replies, “You know it is.” He pauses then continues, “I don't know what you do when you start, but I clean my desk, I make a lot of stupid appointments that I make sound important. Avoidance. Delay. Denial. I'm always scared that I'm not going to know what to do. It's a terrifying moment. And then when I start I'm always amazed—so that wasn't so bad.”

For this issue, ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING's annual Light & Architecture Design Awards, the lighting designers and architects behind this year's winning projects share their thoughts on the “starting process.” The topic posed is: How do you start the design process? Is there a clear moment of “beginning”? What did you do to set about creating a working environment that led to this award-winning work? A sampling of excerpted responses follows below. All responses are available online at

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Starting in design means to touch the process as a non-time entity.

Design means being aware at all times.

Starting is not hard.

Stopping is impossible.

The process has no limit entity.

It is a matter of survival in terms of a dream.


Whenever I'm given the opportunity to design a new project, it always invokes a period of anticipation alternating with trepidation. The central question for each project is finding what the project itself wants to be. What are its unique and essential driving impulses? Initially, I try to educate myself on critical new and innovative ways to approach the building's program and use, while at the same time considering the client's background, personality, and vision of the project.

I then begin a period of research and dreaming long before pencil meets paper. I like to spend time on the site, imagining the presence the project may have. How does the site's character shape the building? How does the building's character affect the site? How will the qualities of each change through the day? I also gather imagery that acts as inspiration for the project. These images might be found objects, artwork, technical solutions, material samples, or other architectural spaces.

Slowly but firmly, the more intangible qualities of a project's character evolve out of this meditation on the client, desired experiential qualities of the program, and site impacts.

This gestation leads eventually to sketches, diagrams and the beginning of a singular and evocative language for the project. Every choice simultaneously makes the project materialize while closing the door on other possibilities. It is a process of adding ideas and editing impulses, seeking clarity in the developing design, and finding what emerges as essential. This is the core that will hold the project together as it faces functional, technical and budgetary constraints. If the project is successful, the final form will feel like it was an obvious solution, simple but rich in content and true to those initial ideals.