The Light Maker

The Light Maker

CID finds out how Croatian lighting designer Dean Skira came into his field of work and formed the company Skira

The first time we met Croatian lighting designer, Dean Skira, was at the first edition of the DesignMENA Summit in early December 2013. In his presentation, he caught the audience’s attention by starting with: “Lighting design in architecture is something that’s been following me for 20 years.

At Skira, our colleagues came up with a constitution, and [they said] human experience should be on top of the list, because lighting design adds value to human experience, whether biological, visual [or] emotional.

In order to understand the process and the thought of vision, we have a particular language that we use, which may sound like a cliché, but I think it’s important to understand that lighting, like music, has two particular features. They are both invisible and tangible, but they both create very strong emotions.”

He continued: “The easy thing for a composer is that he has very precise tools that he can write music with and anyone that can play any instrument can reproduce it. In lighting, it’s not that easy. We have our language, our symbols, but it’s not as easy to reproduce that as music.

Lighting has to be involved from the very beginning … so the words that we are using in this profession are not always very understandable for our customers, but they are simple when we talk about light in nature, people are very comfortable with that language.”

Throughout his presentation, Skira showed a number of different lighting projects and choreographed a series of images to a soundtrack that equalled the designs in the power of first impressions. Skira showed us that he was as serious about his analogy as he is about lighting in general.

And when CID caught up with him after the presentation, we found that he not only has an affinity for endearing terms and expressions, but he also has a profound understanding of light. And perhaps that sounds like an understatement, but in this day and age, it’s a rather unique gift that can tie a person to their career on a deeper level.

Skira, who was born in the Baalkan country of Croatia in the early 1960s grew up in a rather artistically inclined home with a father whose profession was creating stained glass.

Having worked with light, while in another artistic sense, it seemed that Skira’s father passed down the ‘gene for light’, as the young man would grow up to become one of the world’s leading architectural lighting designers. And with the scientific age evolving the technology of light, Skira and his company would work to develop its design aspect.

“My father’s profession [which was working with] stained glass is connected to light, but somehow in the opposite way to my work. However, it is interesting how both of us work with light. He is using natural light in his art, while I’m more concentrated in designing with artificial light.

I think that reproducing natural light obviously crosses the mind of every lighting designer, but very soon we realise that it’s a task we must give up because of apparent reasons,” explains Skira.

He adds: “But at the same time, I think that the language of artificial light is nothing but a slightly modified language of natural light.

Also, living in an area where four seasons are clearly changing our daily perception of light, shadow and colour, probably has some influence on understanding or ‘learning to see’ the light. I think that it’s crucial to be aware of everyday pictures that we are surrounded with and are so dependent on light.”

Having always gravitated toward architecture, form and light, Skira moved to New York in 1986 to pursue studies at the FIT University.

The programme allowed him and the other students to work in a laboratory with top-quality equipment under the supervision of professors who had a long history in the industry and could properly train the students on “everything about this field of work.” It wouldn’t be until 1991 that Skira would set up the lighting design company of his namesake.

As an architectural lighting design company, Skira specialises in all aspects of commercial, landscape, urban and residential lighting projects.

“Our work,” the designer explains, “is based on architectural lighting design solutions and high-end integration systems. We are offering a full service from conceptual simulations to engineering of lighting and control systems, up to scene setting, fine tuning and programming. Our team consists of 15 members.

Besides management and administration, we have designers, engineers and programmers working on projects, which makes our final product and service a complete unit because of its creative and technological value.”

For Skira, the difference between lighting design and lighting decoration is a large one, with a line dividing the two that’s thick enough for him to avoid crossing. For Skira, the limitations that he often deals with are working with existing sources of artificial light and fittings. “We are technologically limited, but there are no creative boundaries, and that ends up as maybe the biggest problem in our profession,” he says.

Skira adds: “When you’re trying to achieve a certain effect, you always feel that the vision in your head can be accomplished and permanently maintained, which is why it isn’t desirable to install lighting objects at inaccessible places—a facade is damaged if the bulb stops working and it can’t be replaced easily.”

When he approaches the integration of lighting with building design, Skira opts to integrate “with inspiration”. This ultimately means that the design process doesn’t only apply to the building itself, but also to its environment and cultural tradition.

He explains: “The form of the light follows the form of the object, and it should be unobtrusive to the viewer. That means that lighting design is beyond utilitarian as the deep thought of light is without boundaries. It flows and it should flow globally regardless of cultural difference or areas of application.”

For Skira, successful projects are the result of good collaborations. He tends to emphasise the importance of integration of lighting design, which implies a close cooperation with architects and interior designers from the start of every project.

The lighting designer explains that he often finds himself in situations where he and the architect mutually inspire each other, creating lighting and structural installations inside of a space.

Skira adds: “When the deep thought of a design process is present and takes part in each project that is on the table, new ideas always develop and connect. I share lighting in architecture in my lectures by raising the awareness of the influence of light, which is more profound and wider than just the area or object being illuminated.

“We created very specific lighting design methodology with a holistic and sustainable approach that benefits the user of [the] illuminated space, but also the surrounding area regardless [of it being] urban or rural.

This is very difficult to achieve in the existing and given situations, but we are trying to pursue this idea on newly developed resorts [and] urban areas, where each and every light source takes part of the dynamic grid working under certain conditions and influencing directly the visual experience of an entire area.”

Currently, the lighting company is involved in a number of very large projects, and it looks to extend its office to Dubai.

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