Growing up, Gustavo Avilés only wanted to be one thing: an architect. Inspired to pursue the profession because of his older brother, Pablo, also an architect, Avilés earned his degree from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. Lighting design came later when a client asked him to illuminate an art collection. After several unsuccessful attempts, he sought advice from John Case, a San Diego–based designer who specialized in lighting art. That tutorial introduced the idea of how one can compose with light. Since then, Avilés has developed his own unique poetic design expression and has mentored subsequent generations of designers while maintaining his youthful and energetic approach to life—and light.
How does architecture inform your approach to lighting design?
Light embraces all disciplines. It’s not the main actor, but it is the link that makes it possible for other things to happen.
Is there a need for more critical discussion specific to architectural lighting design?
If you speak to a businessman, light is money. If you speak to a priest, light is faith. There are many kinds of light, and they are all real. This creates the possibility of deeper dialogue.
Do you have a design or a lighting philosophy?
Instead of designing with light, we have to compose with it. It’s like music: Musicians take the elements that nature has already created, and they make a composition. In lighting, we have the same possibility.
How do you “teach” lighting?
You have to open your eyes—you have to train the muscles of your eyes to see.
What changes have you observed in the profession since you started working?
It used to be that you just had to know something about light, but now it’s a complex trans-disciplinary experience.
What role does technology play in your work?
Technology has become so sensual, so beautiful, so sexy. But, you have to remember yourself and use technology with your own hands, your own criteria, your own sense and feeling. Otherwise, you are just an extension of the machine.
What advice would you give to a young lighting designer just starting out?
Open your eyes. Travel. Smoke. Drink. Make love. Understand how light affects everything. Be able to risk yourself to make some kind of a mistake. You cannot be a good lighting designer if you are not able to dare.