On June 18 lighting designer and architect Jonathan Speirs lost his two-year battle with cancer. He was 54.
A versatile and talented designer who was comfortable working across design fields, Speirs studied architecture at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture in Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Edinburgh College of Art, in Edinburgh, Scotland. As a primary school student, he developed a passion for music and theater, a passion that would come into focus during his time in architecture school. In a 2011 interview with architectural lighting, he said, "I was into music, but equally I was always interested in productions. I took that with me in terms of considering light when I was studying architecture. I wrote my thesis for my degree about architects using stage lighting techniques and technology to create atmosphere in buildings."
The combination of architecture and lighting design in a multidisciplinary practice was unheard of in the United Kingdom in the early 1980s, and there was nothing like a lighting consultancy when Speirs graduated. So, in 1984, soon after he qualified as an architect, he cofounded the Lighting Design Partnership (LDP) with lighting designer Andres Tammes. In 1992, he left LDP and formed Jonathan Speirs and Associates in Edinburgh. The following year he formed a working partnership with Mark Major in London, which developed into Speirs + Major.
Speirs helped grow Speirs + Major into one of the most highly respected lighting design practices in the world, working with prominent architects such as Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, and Wilkinson Eyre Architects. (Major and firm codirector Keith Bradshaw continue that work today.) In 2008, 2009, and 2010, the firm won the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) Radiance Award, the IALD's highest award, an unprecedented three successive times. Most recently, in March 2012, the firm received the Design Practice of the Decade at the 10th-annual Lighting Design Awards, which was held in London.
Throughout his career, Speirs received considerable recognition for his work. His highly successful collaborations with architects and fellow lighting colleagues includes an impressive portfolio that lists some of the most notable projects of our time: the Barajas International Airport in Madrid, the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the Burj al Arab in Dubai, and the Copenhagen Opera House. No matter the project scale, or the project program, Speirs's work was infused with creativity and elegant technical solutions.
Education and teaching were key to his thinking and design process. He lectured widely, both in academic and professional settings. In 2005, with Mark Major, the duo conceived of and created "Made of Light: The Art of Light and Architecture" an educational project that explored "important elements about architecture and light." The 17-minute-long projection show was first exhibited at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London. The exhibit also featured a companion book of the same name, co-authored by Speirs, Major, and Anthony Tischhauser.
Active in the architecture and lighting communities, Speirs was a member of a number of professional organizations, including the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Professional Lighting Designers Association. He was also a fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, an honorary fellow of the Society of Light and Lighting, and an honorary fellow of the IALD. In October 2010, he received the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland's Gold Medal, which is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a Scottish architect.
That year he also received an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. In 2011 Speirs was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from Professional Lighting Design magazine.
A fitting tribute to this talented designer and most generous of individuals will be the establishment of the Jonathan Speirs Scholarship Trust, the goal of which is to provide financial support to aspiring young architects interested in entering the lighting design profession, just as he did. Details about the fund will be made available on the Speirs + Major website—speirsandmajor.com. On the firm's site, you will also find a visual tribute and remembrance by Mark Major.
Ever the consummate professional, and a man devoted to his family—wife Liz and two daughters Lucie and Erin, plus his sister, brothers, and father—andfriends and colleagues, Jonathan Speirs's is a legacy of creative genius and excellence. As he remarked during the aforementioned 2011 interview with us, "Design and creative thinking are fundamental to what gets us out of bed in the morning, what drives us to work stupid hours and sit on planes going to far distant lands. It is about creativity and the idea."