Roger Narboni is a pioneer. Trained in fine art and electrical engineering, he lived in New York from 1978–80 and was fascinated by the 24-hour life of the city. Returning to France in 1981, he began working with light as a way to bring these interests together. He found it easier to work at the scale of public space and began putting these ideas on paper. In 1986–87, he devised the term “concepteur lumière”—lighting designer—and paved the way for the practice of lighting design in France, using the word to convince others to pursue the field, and in particular to create urban spaces and affect the city’s nighttime atmosphere. In 1988, he founded his firm Concepto. Over the course of his more than 30-year career he has worked around the globe on a variety of projects including the master plans for Paris, Jerusalem, São Paolo, and Hangzhou, China. And at the heart of each project is the individual and his or her experience with light.
How do you start your design process?
The process for a city and the process for an urban object are different. You have to work on many scales, from the global to the intimate.
What intrigues you about light?
It’s a very contemporary material and yet we still have so much more to discover about it.
What are some differences you’ve observed in the way people respond to light?
People share an attraction to light but we are lacking a focus on a local culture of light. Globalization is creating uniformity, the “McDonaldization” of lighting. We need to collect, if it is still possible, the lighting cultures that we are losing. It’s why when I work on a project I always insist on working with a local partner. I want to learn from them, their culture, their story.
What would you like to see happen in lighting that hasn’t happened already?
An educational program that focuses on urban lighting and lighting master planning. There is nothing like that and we need an educational program dedicated to these fields.
What advice would you offer a young lighting designer?
Educate him or herself in many fields, cultures, techniques, and approaches. It’s a long process. You need to be stubborn but open-minded. And never work alone: This is a multidisciplinary field that requires teamwork. •
“Lighting has become a profession that needs a lot of expertise, a lot of specific skills.” -- lighting designer Roger Narboni, principal of Concepto