Established in the era when the discipline of architectural lighting was still in its infancy in India, Design Matrix helped to pioneer specialist lighting design into the field of architecture. Today the firm has over 100,000 hours of specialised lighting design consultancy across 30 cities and 5 countries. Nivedita Sehrawat, Creative Director at Design Matrix sheds light on different aspects of lighting designing. Edited excerpts from her interview with Subhajit Roy:
FASCINATION WITH LIGHT
I am always reminded of Uncle Ben’s famous words from Spider Man – “with great power comes great responsibility.” Light has that immense power and as lighting designers we have the ability to shape people’s experiences and perceptions. Mankind has always been fascinated with light especially because we don’t fully understand how it works. And as I watch my four-month-old daughter drawn towards the wall-lamps in the house, I try not to get excited about a potential lighting designer in the making, but remind myself that it’s just her looking for visual stimulation. It’s the biological, emotional, feel-good aspect of light that interests me and if handled adeptly, how light can drastically alter the way we live and function.
LIGHTING DESIGN PHILOSOPHY
My philosophy is simple and may be summed up in a few words – give light where it’s desired; put a light fixture where it’s needed. At Design Matrix, we have always been champions of less light – not less than what is required but doing more with less; with fewer light fixtures, with lesser watts. And the rest is dependent on context and situation, on function and intent, on technique and technology, and the science and art of it all.
SUCCESSFULLY LIGHTING A SPACE (para)
Two things, vision and collaboration. While designing, the most important consideration is visualisation and to be able to conceive what you want the space to look, and therefore feel; only then can you design for that intent. Most projects are greenfield – so you’re designing on paper for the future without the luxury of seeing it come up alongside. So, without a proper and ‘sound’ vision, contradictory as it may seem, you’re just fooling around with people’s time, money, resources, efforts.
The second most important ‘secret’ if you may, to a successful project is collaboration. It’s something we have learnt from our exposure to international projects, forums, firms but often struggle with it in our home turf. An architect who is willing to listen and go along with you and take you along on the design journey, is more precious than a client who is vouching for you! The most successful of our projects didn’t necessarily have big names from the design fraternity. But what they did have was a team that was willing to collaborate – to listen, discuss and move forward. It’s very evident in one of our recent projects as it nears completion – the Max towers, at Sector 16B, Noida, part of the development known as Delhi One. Conceived by Gensler, USA and Esteva i Esteva, Spain, we came on board when concept was being translated to reality by the executive architectural firm Progressive Designs. The project not only defies the norm in terms of the simplicity of design, but stands out more importantly in the extremely well-detailed and integrated design – both interiors and façade.
I don’t believe in today’s time and age, saving energy is an option. It is the only way to go. And fortunately for lighting, newer technology has empowered us to do so. As lamp wattages drop down and light output goes up, we are better poised to do ‘more with less’ than ever before and why not! There’s a saying in our office – “Lighting, if designed, is always green!” It’s the lighting that has not been designed or thought through, that is frivolous in its usage of material and energy that we need to save ourselves from.
The good news is that there is no reason and nothing to ‘break’ into. The percentage of projects that actually have a specialised lighting consultant on board is miniscule in the overall number of projects that get built and delivered. So, there’s space for everyone. And at the risk of sounding very clichéd, one just needs to keep the faith and get going when the going gets tough! You just need to put yourself out there and work, work, work.
Technology has never really made anyone a better designer. With the advent of AutoCAD people didn’t become better architects. Some would argue that capability went the other way. In the same way smart lighting is a tool in the designers’ hand – it definitely gives some flexibility in terms of being able to tune the light but ultimately it needs to be composed and thought through in order to be able to apply it successfully. As lighting designers, we design and try to verify it through simulations and mock-up or back it up with experience. And technology forms the backbone of all our designs. Harmeet Issar and Sanjeev Nangia – founder partners at Design Matrix are, ahem, both engineers. Harmeet in fact studied electronics and communications and dealt with LEDs before they became our go-to sources of light! So, at Design Matrix we are happily balanced in our aesthetic / design and technological expertise and hope that this difference and advantage is extremely evident in our design approach, our drawings and documents and execution of our projects. Vendors, manufacturers, even lighting designers who are allegedly competition have called on Harmeet to help solve their ‘smart’ lighting problems onsite in projects. And while it getting extremely intuitive, having an understanding of how smart lighting actually works is extremely crucial for a successful lighting designer.
Four of our most remarkable, successful or award-winning projects are included here and they are all memorable for varied reasons. In a sense they showcase also the width of our work and the depth of our expertise.
All projects come with their own set of challenges. But at this point in time, we are looking for work that’s truly challenging and exciting. Such projects we understand are few and far between, and our daily bread and butter may not come from them. They may not be vast in scale – sometimes it’s the small boutique projects that are most rewarding to work on. There’s a lot of inspiring work happening internationally but that does not mean that we are not looking inward. But it would definitely be a project with exceptional design, a team that’s willingly to push the frontiers and a client thats willing and able to spark and sustain creativity.
TO BUDDING LIGHTING DESIGNERS
The awareness of the profession is of course much more now than what it was when I started out. For the generation getting into the discipline the foundation has already been laid, the stage, as they say, is set. However, there is still a long way to go. As pioneers, not just us but the whole fraternity felt very strongly and it was, and is a conscious and collective effort to strive for the profession, its recognition, setting up professional bodies, bringing in international events, advocating the profession in design forums. And much work remains to be done. I would urge budding designers to use this base and build on it. Exposure is key. We are continually learning and relearning from our projects and also from stalwarts of the industry globally. Andre Tammes, who looks after Business Development at Design Matrix, whose personal contribution to the global emergence of architectural lighting design discipline is immense, joined us in our endeavours and in his words ‘to tell the world how good it is to have well-lit environments’.
The City Palace, Jaipur with Maharaja Sawai Mansingh II MuseumTrust
Even before we were architects, Rajasthan has taught us architecture! I remember so many school projects, excursions, holiday home-works based on its rich culture and heritage. Doing the lighting for the City Palace felt almost reminiscent of being back in school and college. The project came to us after more than a yearlong shortlisting process, and of course came with its own challenges of delicately handling the heritage structure.
The intention was to revive the palace for night tourism. The buildings needed very little design, only a lot of TLC. We kept it simple – the only play is in the use of varying colour temperatures, not colour; and an attempt at places to rekindle the romance of the flickering diya but through technology.
Intersekt by Marmo, New Delhi
Intersekt is an avant garde retail format by Marmo Home, a national level player of interior finishes and fittings. It is a project that we are delighted to be a part of. Designed by architect Kapil Aggarwal of Spaces Architects@ka, the showroom was already completed, lights installed and ready to be opened when the owner decided that something was not quite right!
The lighting conceptualisation, wiring for the automation, procurement of fixtures for 30,000 sqft of retail space was reinitiated and redone. The result is a retail theatre of sorts where the merchandise on display take centre-stage and the setting and surrounds seem to recede back.
Antara Senoir Living
Antara Senior Living in Purukul
Too often design for seniors has been restricted to barrier free access. But in this project several small, often surprising targeted lighting design interventions have been executed. The project stands out because of its truly holistic lighting design – the concept presentations did not just talk about horizontal and vertical illuminance but also the dangers of glossy reflective flooring, the importance of window dressings and the need for more artificial lighting during daylight hours! The project was completed in 2017, DM came on board towards the end of 2012 and was with Antara in its journey since then, even as it passed hands from different architectural and interior design firms.
‘anant’, New Delhi
‘anant’, is a light art installation that we did at the iconic Le Méridien in New Delhi. In a sense it was a coming back full circle. We had recently completed the façade lighting for Sunshine Towers, Mumbai with the legendary architect Raja Aederi. It is the tallest steel structure in the country at 160m. And now we were back into the building that brought him so much fame for its truly avant-garde application of curtain wall glazing and its suspended restaurant 200ft level above the lobby. The installation is inspired by the context in which it sits – the 21-storey high inward-looking atrium – the multitude of experiences which surround it, magnified by the innumerable guest rooms stacked above it. The installation seeks to blur the boundaries between architecture, art, engineering, and lighting design, as one is surrounded by myriad echoes – infinite reflections of programmed sources of light, surfaces and people.