DesignMENA Summit 2018: Lee Sweetman talks about the most effective principles of lighting design

DesignMENA Summit 2018: Lee Sweetman talks about the most effective principles of lighting design

DPA Lighting's director explains why it's important to consider the various layers in lighting design while citing the example of The Constellation, Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi

The Constellation, Founder's Memorial, Abu Dhabi
The Constellation, Founder's Memorial, Abu Dhabi

At the recently concluded designMENA Summit, Lee Sweetman, director, DPA Lighting,  which has been operating in the region for the past 15 years, shared why subliminal lighting and integrating spaces with the surrounding environment is the most challenging task for lighting designers. Referring to the panel discussion on the social impact of urban design, he said: “It was interesting to hear the experts talk about public spaces and their transformative nature. Especially, lighting can have an amazing impact on the identity of public spaces.”

Lee Sweetman DPA Lighting

The subtle dimensions of lighting
Sweetman illustrated his point with the example of The Constellation, Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi, which was created by the American sculptor and artist, Ralph Helmick. “Light is a difficult medium to work with and it has many nuances,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and it’s only now that I’m beginning to get the hang of it. DPA’s approach to lighting focuses on quality and not quantity. Lighting can change the ambiance of architecture, interior and any public space. It should ideally highlight shadows, colours, contrasts, textures and it should be about the revelation of materials, which is inherent within any project.”

Stressing that within the region, especially in the UAE, there is a dynamic, illuminated environment, Sweetman explained that light can be both subtle and bold. “The environment we live in presents lighting designers with immense challenges. Light within a cityscape can be overpowering, so it’s challenging in terms of how we interpret the illuminated cityscape in the evening, while also maintaining sensitivity and subtlety towards our built environment.”

Balancing light and shadow
The lighting expert further observed that achieving optimum lighting results is about finding a balance between natural and artificial media. “Natural lighting plays an important role in how we perceive the city, forms, textures and silhouettes in a densely populated environment. Lighting designers have their work cut out in terms of how we can create a sophisticated environment. We’ve to understand the materials, textures and what works well within a given setting. Illuminating is easy; but doing it well is challenging.” 
Sweetman further added: “Shadows are an important part of illumination, which should be embraced. Without shadows, there is no balance and contrast to the spaces. Shadows and darkness can often frighten people, but there are important considerations as to what needs to be lit and what doesn’t. Lighting is all about textures and materiality.  Composition is also an important tool to attaining the best results.”

Reducing energy consumption
Highlighting the significance of energy consumption in lighting, Sweetman said that lighting is, essentially, a combination of energy and power. “Light is a very visible form of energy usage. It’s a big responsibility on designers to mitigate this consumption, by analysing where and when is it required.”

The Constellation
The sculpture is a series of platonic solids, resembling a kind of polyhedron, which fit inside a sphere. Made up of 1,200 differently-shaped solids, the structure is rather complex. “Integrating lighting into this sculpture involved in-depth conversation with the client. We used up lighting, down lighting and a combination of the two to achieve both direct and indirect illumination. The transformation of ambiance from day to evening can transform a work of art and make a public space more enjoyable and contemplative. The sculpture has an identity and character during the day, but in the evening, it has a different personality. It’s a simple project executed in a subtle way, where it integrates with the landscape around it.”

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