With a career that has spanned more than 35 years, Len Auerbach is that rare lighting designer whose practice successfully bridges the worlds of theater and architecture. His two San Francisco–based firms—Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, which specializes in performing arts facilities, and Auerbach Glasow French, which concentrates on architectural lighting design—are responsible for a diverse project portfolio that includes the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and the Cirque du Soleil spectacles “Kà” and “Love.” Auerbach caught the theater bug as a student working in summer stock productions, and his passion was reinforced during a stint at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Not one to conform to cookie-cutter approaches, Auerbach's work offers compelling lighting solutions that defy categorization. Whether he's working in theater or architecture, creating light in space has always been Auerbach's focus.
How are architectural and theatrical lighting different? In the theater you have the audience in a fixed viewing environment. In an architectural setting the audience moves through the space; they are the performers.
What first intrigued you about the theater? I was fascinated with the intensity and the control of stage lighting, and the separation between the performer's view and the audience's experience because of lighting's ability to create mood, movement, color, and space.
How does available technology impact the design process? New light sources continue to come out; however, few fixtures are designed to utilize them. We see this with LEDs. They are great for the right application, but there are still many designers who use them just for the sake of using the technology, even if it has nothing to do with the architecture. Designers need to understand architecture is not just a canvas for light. Light should give form to architectural space.
What are your most memorable projects? My early work with Kenzo Tange at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Children's Theatre Co. More recently our work with Santiago Calatrava for the new Atlanta Symphony Hall.
What do you try to impart to colleagues and young designers? Ultimately nothing in design is new. We just have a lot more to work with today, and because we have so many more tools we have to be much more selective in our choices.