Web Exclusive: Read a Q and A with Rogier van der Heide
» Perhaps not surprisingly, Rogier van der Heide started in theater. Many of his professional peers also began their career there, but the real hint is in the personality of his work. The Dutch lighting designer's projects exhibit a theatricality that intends to captivate-the multimedia façade of the Galleria West Shopping Center in Seoul, for example, which garnered him a 2005 Radiance Award, the IALD's highest project honor ('All Dressed Up,' Jan/Feb 2005). With parents in the performing arts and music, he spent most of his childhood 'on stage, or in a concert hall or the orchestra pit,' and gravitated toward a related field of study, cinematography, at the Institut Supérieur des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. But, for him, theater lighting was a lonely existence, lacking the intensity and dialogue among the different participants that he would later find working in architecture. 'You come in late-at best, three weeks before opening night-so you interfere with a team that is very close. You're a stranger. And after opening night, you're gone again to the next show.' Approached by an architect about lighting an exhibition, Van der Heide immediately understood what he was missing, and by 1995, the designer had founded his Amsterdam-based architectural lighting practice, Hollands Licht.
Van der Heide's affinity for the team interaction inherent in the architectural design process has continued to influence the trajectory of his career, playing a key role in his decision to sell Hollands Licht to the global engineering, design, and planning firm Arup in 2003. 'It took awhile to convince me.' But what he appreciated in the organization's interdisciplinary approach was the ability 'to share ideas, and to work concepts up to feasible designs.' True to his maverick personality, he adds, 'It was not always easy in the beginning-a big company can be a big monster.' As the global leader of Arup Lighting, Van der Heide directs just over 30 practitioners. 'I like the process with the younger designers, seeing how they are improving and exploring their talents,' he says.
The theme of interaction carries over into the life of Van der Heide's product, his designs. 'I am very much into the experiential part of lighting, how it is perceived, how it can set a mood.' He describes his process as analytical, 'trying to discover the real self of the client, and then finding an expression of that in light.' The concept of holistic design-the built environment as a total system of things that work together-also features prominently in his professional exploration. 'On the one hand, the way technology is moving requires specialized professionals in every field. On the other, we can only improve the built environment if we think about it as generalists. I am interested in how to solve that paradox.'
His enthusiasm for light is infectious and inclusive. (Van der Heide insisted that his client be on stage for the acceptance of the 2005 Radiance Award.) It inspires and realizes projects, seemingly conceptualized for the sheer pleasure of considering what could be possible-work that is simultaneously playful and poetic. Last year, Van der Heide participated in a project, organized by a group of Estonian architects and conceived by Dutch architecture firm MVRDV, to launch 500 illuminated meteorological balloons, each 6 feet in diameter, over a town square in Tallinn, Estonia, during February. The installation was, more or less, for the fun of it, an exploration of light's ability to cheer a city in the depths of winter.
But for Van der Heide, fun is all in a day's work: 'I need the excitement and pleasure to perform, and I can usually find a way to make that happen for the whole team. I consider that part of my job.'