Having arrived at lighting via architecture, Sean O'Connor has established a lighting practice that works across design disciplines. Drawing inspiration from art, music, and fashion, as well as from architecture and lighting, his work rigorously explores the fundamentals of the visual world. But aesthetics alone do not fuel his work. Incorporating an interest in how things are crafted, coupled with an understanding of the mechanics of lighting, his firm's portfolio includes both project and product design. Although O'Connor is young (38), there is a credibility to his work; it respects tradition while staying in tune with contemporary cultural currents.
Who has influenced you in your design career?
My grandmother, Ruth O'Connor. She taught me to oil paint when I was five years old. There's also Eric Kahn, my first-year studio instructor at SCI-Arc, and, once I started working, Anthony Schmitt at Barneys New York, Bill Schwinghammer in New York, and Darrell Hawthorne in San Francisco.
You opened your own firm when you were just 25. Did that present any particular challenges?
Absolutely, I had no intention of starting a practice at the time. I was fortunate, I had existing client relationships and they encouraged me to go out on my own. Unlike fashion, where a 25-year-old can run an entire house, in architecture, and even lighting design, it seems that age equals credibility, so there were challenges when initially meeting new clients.
What role does lighting play in architecture?
Lighting should help tell the architecture's story, to celebrate it. Lighting designers are curators of sorts, helping to navigate a person through a space and create a sense of emotion.
How does your architectural background inform your work?
It ensures that lighting is not a topical discussion but integrated, and in turn becomes part of the project's common vision.
How are changes in technology impacting practice today?
Our toolbox is both growing and shrinking. Knowing how to use both codes and equipment to your advantage is critical.
Where do you see lighting heading?
The lighting designer's role is becoming increasingly important; lighting is the one thing that can tie all the complexities of a project together.