James L. Nuckolls occupies a singular place in the history of architectural lighting. Though a lighting designer of note, his greatest impact was as an educator. He took the message of the importance of lighting as an integral component of architecture and interior design across the U.S. to those in allied professions and to students just starting out.
His career began during graduate student days at Carnegie Mellon University with an interest in theatrical lighting design. After graduation, he worked briefly under Stanley McCandless at Century Lighting but soon gravitated towards the developing field of architectural lighting. From the late 1960s through the '70s and '80s, he was involved in lighting design partnerships with Donald Gersztoff, William Warfel, Jeffrey Milham, Carroll Cline and Francesca Bettridge.
At the same time, Nuckolls-probably more than anyone else-worked to promote an understanding of architectural lighting as a discipline. He was a dynamic speaker and his passion for lighting and education inspired countless people throughout the country to recognize the essential connection between lighting, architecture and interior design. His inspirational manner of presenting lighting can account for the line that opens the resumes of many of today's top professionals: 'I took a class on lighting at Parsons with Nuckolls and...'
At Parsons School of Design in New York, with which he was associated throughout the 1970s and '80s, he succeeded in making lighting a separate required course for all undergraduate environmental design students and introduced lighting design to the School's Continuing Education Program. As the profession grew in recognition and stature, he initiated a curriculum that allowed Parsons to offer the first Master of Fine Arts in Lighting Design. Both the continuing education program and the MFA continue to this day and have been joined by other degree programs across the country. In hindsight, colleagues have commented that if it can be said that the lighting design profession started in New York City, then it is equally true that Nuckolls started lighting design at Parsons.
In addition to teaching and public speaking, Nuckolls was instrumental in the establishment of the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), which he, along with other founders, saw as a needed resource and forum for the growing profession. He was IALD president for two years during its early years and active on numerous committees throughout his career.
A sought-after writer for many trade magazines, he was the first lighting editor for Interiors magazine. His book, Interior Lighting for Environmental Designers was published in 1976 and quickly became a definitive text in lighting and interior design courses across the country. The second edition was revised and expanded into a third renamed edition after his death by Gary Gordon and remains in wide use today.
In recognition of Nuckoll's contributions to lighting education, a group of colleagues established a memorial educational fund in 1988. The Nuckolls Fund for Lighting Education provides financial support to schools in North America to enable them to develop and expand courses and curricula in architectural lighting design.
The Fund's mission is consistent with Nuckoll's life's work: To provide students with an understanding of lighting and the possibility of a career in the lighting community. Nuckolls inspired his students-and those who read his articles, his book or heard him speak-with a genuine enthusiasm for the role of lighting in the built environment. He lit that critical spark of interest so necessary to the pursuit of any career. The Nuckolls Fund serves as his legacy and continues that mission.
Above all, Nuckolls lives on in memory as a true lighting renaissance man-a renowned designer, writer, teacher and an IALD statesman-working to elevate the profession.