Architects and lighting designers representing the winning projects for the fourth annual A|L Light & Architecture Design Awards competition along with members of the awards jury gathered at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City on Oct. 4, 2007, for an awards presentation and roundtable discussion exploring the topic of excellence in lighting design.
“The target of excellence is constantly moving,” said Nelson Jenkins, principal at New York City–based LumenArch and a 2007 jury member. “To achieve excellence, you really have to be a visionary.”
Moderated by Derek Porter, director of the MFA lighting program at Parsons, the roundtable discussion included 11 participants—some traveling from as far as Germany, Mexico City, and the West Coast—who had much to say about the importance of lighting design and the definition of excellence, using the winning projects as examples.
“I can guarantee you there was wonderful heated discussion,” said Porter, also a member of this year's five-person jury, in his opening remarks. “Each year the pool of submitted projects significantly influences the course of discussion between jury members, which oftentimes rises to a high level of animation.” From a total of 98 unique reviews, 11 projects received acknowledgment, including two for outstanding achievement, eight for commendable achievement, and one for best lighting design on a budget. (See Architectural Lighting, July/Aug 2007.)
“As this relatively young profession of lighting design continues to evolve, it seems quite poignant that this year's focus primarily revolves around the definition of excellence,” Porter stated as he opened the conversation to roundtable participants, who included architect Miguel Angel Aragonés, whose firm is in Mexico City; Ricardo Areias of New York City–based Morris Sato Studio; architect and lighting designer Gustavo Avilés; Stefan Behnisch, principal, Behnisch Architekten in Stuttgart, Germany; Francesca Bettridge, president and principal of New York City–based Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design; Michael Hennes, senior associate, Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design; Jenkins of LumenArch; Garth Rockcastle, professor and dean of the School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at the University of Maryland; lighting designer Steve Rust, of New York City–based Sachs Morgan Studio; Brian Stacy, associate, Arup Lighting in New York; and Michael Tingley, principal of Portland, Oregon–based Boora Architects.
“What I notice more and more when we work in architecture is the value of light,” said Behnisch, whose project Haus im Haus received a commendable achievement award. “With all the discussions around ecology, sustainability, and so on, the light and its source become more and more important.”
As the conversation evolved, Stacy, whose two New York City projects—the Condé Nast cafeteria and the Morgan Library—won commendable achievement awards, pointed out that while we might celebrate daylight here in the United States, “There are definitely…modern cultures that find daylight to be problematic.” As an example, he described a recent project Arup was involved with in Korea. “We had gone through to be able to optimize the daylight…and the client quietly one day said, ‘We would actually prefer to not have so much sun,'” Stacy explained. “They just wanted an electric lighting source, not direct sunlight. It was just kind of an interesting cultural influence.”
Another issue raised is the sometimes difficult task of showcasing lighting design without visiting the space in person. Bettridge, who accepted an outstanding achievement award for 7 World Trade Center, explained that there is a “difference between being in a space physically and looking at a picture. It's very hard to judge what is competent without being in the space.” Those around the table agreed, and the jurors present said that was one of the primary struggles they faced in selecting award winners.
As the formal discussion came to a close, the roundtable participants and audience members had much to think about in terms of design excellence and achieving it through architecture and lighting design, especially given the consensus among the panelists that the definition of excellence constantly is evolving.