“One of the industry’s priorities must be developing the field of lighting education. There are a lot of fantastic, young lighting designers, but there needs to be more who are educated not only with a proper body of theory and technical knowledge, but an understanding of the professional context in which they are working.”
Mark Major didn’t set out to be a lighting designer, or even an architect. “In my heart of hearts I wanted to be a fine artist, a painter,” he admits. Persuaded, however, to take a more “professional” route, he applied himself diligently and pursued architecture—at Brighton and Edinburgh where he completed his degree and diploma, respectively. While in Edinburgh he joined Lighting Design Partnership, the firm founded by André Tammes and Jonathan Speirs. That part-time job would prove significant, laying the foundation for his collaborative partnership with Speirs that would eventually mature into the internationally recognized practice Speirs + Major. The creative opportunity of working across disciplines has remained essential to Major’s design perspective, and he remains an artist at heart, only now his medium is light.
What fascinates you about light?
It’s the unexplored territory. You could take any one word in lighting—reflection, for example—and spend a lifetime just studying that concept.
Do you view lighting and architecture as distinct disciplines?
Divisions are a tricky thing. I’m proud of the fact that I trained as an architect, that I am an architect. Having said that, I have always valued the broader dimension of design.
How has painting impacted your thinking about light and lighting?
Painting is all about light. You can learn a huge amount by looking at the way that light reveals a subject and the way in which paint controls, absorbs, or reflects light.
What is the biggest misconception about lighting design?
That lighting design is exclusively a technical subject. Clients and architects will come wanting a specification service as opposed to seeing lighting as a distinct area of design that can make a significant contribution to a project.
How has technology impacted lighting?
It has completely changed the way we communicate our ideas. On the technical side, knowledge used to be based on understanding when you used a certain type of light source. Now with LEDs you’re dealing with a single source that has a lot of complexity and diversity in its own technology.
What advice would you offer a young lighting designer?
Observe the world around you—the way light falls on a material, the way it casts a shadow. It’s about learning to read the visual environment.