Stefan Hester

“In all aspects of what we do as professionals, there's a teaching component—with clients, with colleagues, with students. You have to open your eyes to everything you perceive.”

One of lighting's most respected practitioners and spokesmen (he served as IALD president from 1996–1997, and is currently chair of the IALD Metrics of Quality Committee), Burkett has earned the admiration of his colleagues and clients by letting his work speak for itself. His firm's St. Louis location hasn't been an obstacle to establishing and growing a practice that has a global portfolio—from the U.S. to Mexico and China. An early interest in photography provided an awareness about light. While studying at Penn State University, this awareness about light grew into an understanding that aesthetics didn't have to be sacrificed at the expense of technical pursuits. Instead, aesthetics and technical execution could come together in architectural engineering. Still, Burkett is a designer at heart. He understands light's ability to have an emotional impact, which is at the core of creating environments that champion light.

How do you start the design process?
Whether it's a highly technical or a highly aesthetic project, its best to get to know as much as you can about the project outside of the lighting.

Is every project somewhat unique or are there certain universals went it comes to lighting?
I think there are universals in our understanding of how light is perceived in space, but as you move into a project very quickly there are unique elements.

What current lighting trends are you seeing?
There are technology-driven trends, such as LEDs, and also in how we deliver our projects, i.e., AutoCAD. Put perhaps the greatest trend is the public's increased awareness and acknowledgement of lighting as a viable difference maker in social environments and interactions.

Best lighting lesson that you learned from working with clients?
There's great satisfaction working with clients time and again and developing that relationship, gaining their confidence and having them understand the value of lighting.

Pros and cons of working in the Midwest?
It can cut both ways. There are times it means a client won't know who you are because you aren't in a major city like New York or Los Angeles. On the other hand, once you do establish a practice and start working worldwide, local clients might get the mis-impression that you wouldn't be interested in working locally.