An honors graduate of the interior design program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Va., Jean Sundin started her professional career working for several of the most prestigious lighting design practices—the Mintz Lighting Group, Claude R. Engle Lighting Consultant, and George Sexton Associates. In the late 1990s, she and her husband/business partner/fellow lighting designer Enrique Peiniger moved to New York City and started their own firm—Office for Visual Interaction (OVI). Over time, they have established an international portfolio of work characterized by attention to detail and in-depth design research.
Do you view lighting and architecture as distinct disciplines?
They are distinct but parallel. Both disciplines are required as part of a whole to complete the work. Lighting is the magic of architecture. It’s visible and invisible at the same time.
Was there a person that made an impression on you when you started in lighting?
Two people come to mind. First is Han Schröder. She was a professor of mine at VCU. She grew up in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in the house that her mother had commissioned from architect Gerrit Rietveld in 1924—the Schröder House. She was a demanding professor and proof that design wasn’t just a fantasy. The second person is Danielle Engle, Claude R. Engle III’s late wife. She was also proof that there was a woman in the industry doing significant work.
What fascinates you about light?
Its potential. How light can transform a space.
Is there a text that has influenced your design thinking?
The writing of graphic designer Otl Aicher. He was a great communicator of information.
Does there need to be more critical dialogue in architectural lighting design?
Absolutely. I think lighting can support a distinct body of theory and criticism, building, for example, on the work of Richard Kelly.
How has the practice of lighting design changed since you first started working?
Aside from the technology, the immediacy of communication. The problem is, the nature of design is not an instant process.
Is there a design philosophy at OVI?
We think of it like film music; it has a really important supporting role to architecture, which can make a project fabulous. And you notice it when it’s not there or badly done. It’s about quality of work.
“Perhaps the most misunderstood aspects of lighting design are all the layers behind it: design, technology, codes, manufacturing coordination, design research, testing and mock-ups, and the way the body responds to light. And that’s before you even get to the production of drawings and documents. Lighting design is a multifaceted parallel process to architecture.”
-- Jean Sundin, founder and principal of Office for Visual Interaction