Bengaluru-based Veda Lighting Design & Systems Pvt Ltd is an independent lighting design consultancy that brings in global best practices to India. In an interview with Lighting India, the company’s Director and Principal Lighting Consultant Ranjith K Kartha narrates his journey in the field of lighting. Excerpts:
You have studied lighting from the prestigious Lighting Research Center (LRC), New York. What’s your take on the status of lighting design practices in India?
I would say the awareness of good lighting has definitely grown in India among the user or builder community and the architect community. But for the number of architecture or interior design practitioners across India, we are just a handful.
One of the primary factors that determine good lighting is the allocation of the ‘right’ budget for lighting when it comes to projects. Everything in India is budget driven. If I consider interior lighting – the proportions have to be re-looked at. There is a lot spent on finishing, granites and other decorations while the essential tool (that is light) that helps highlight all these is not given its due. Lighting should move from an expense to an investment mindset for the industry to really kick off – because we are not thinking of lighting as a means of illumination alone, we are concerned of user comfort, brand communication and a lot of other emotional and intangible elements that you cannot put on an excel sheet. It is also important that those who wish to get into the lighting design profession undergo a proper course of study. There are in numerous lighting suppliers who become lighting designers overnight just to push sales. Of course, one picks up a lot of lighting knowledge while selling products over a long time, but what is most important here is whether they are providing the right advice and whether they are looking at things holistically. What happens is that when people don’t advise right, it drags the whole industry down. For example, any civil contractor can build a house without an architect, but having an architect onboard brings in aesthetics, user dynamics, better use of colour, texture and form, elements of daylight etc. This is the real knowledge through training and learning!
What brought you into this profession?
I have been in lighting since 002. I started with manufacturing and custom design after my bachelors in mechanical engineering. So naturally, I built my skills around that in managing people, marketing, sales etc., but the true pivot to learn further and deepen my knowledge happened during my stint at Dubai in the year 2005 when I was exposed to the magnificent projects there. Later I went to LRC on a scholarship for the MS program and worked a short while in New York before getting back to establish the practice. So, it’s been a journey of discovery…one leading to the other.
What is it that fascinates you about light?
The more you work with lighting, there is more to learn every day. People think it’s a small niche but in truth the areas that lighting touches and influences directly and indirectly in a project is immense. The creative and artistic input is at least 80 per cent.
So, you never get bored. And it’s not linear thinking. I am always on a learning and absorbing mode. Keeps me on my toes. Keeps me feeling young.
What’s your lighting designing philosophy?
Good lighting in addition to illumination should heighten the user experience. We try to look at all projects with a fresh pair of eyes and try not to bring in biases from previous projects. At a home, how should the family and guest experience be? At a lobby, how should the visitor experience be?
At a hospital, how should a patient experience be? On a lawn, how should the evening experience be? These thoughts drive our design process and visual language.
What are the challenges you faced at the beginning of your journey in the field of lighting?
We started in early 2011. As any design practice, it takes a lot of time meeting people, getting a project, executing it and seeing the end result, then taking that as a reference to your next client and then the next! Unlike an architect or a graphic designer who is starting up, my additional challenge was and to a certain extent even today is in convincing why they need a lighting designer on board, and most importantly why he should also be paid well.
What does it take to successfully lighting a space?
I think the most important elements are to drill deep down to understanding the client, his needs, his aspirations, then of course the space – what is it doing, how is the space flowing, who is using, when, how, how will it change over time etc. And, mastery on the tools available in terms of luminaires, controls, software, lighting methods, installation etc.
What was your most challenging experience in a project you’ve worked on, and why?
I am unable to recall ‘one’ specific instance. Every project comes with multiple challenges. In one, it could be a heightened level of frustration from not able to get your design across to the end client, in another one the client just wouldn’t budge an inch on the budgets to get a better lighting., in another it is confusions that arise when coordination falls apart at a site – drawings are not right, things at site do not reflect on paper etc. Sometimes it is the collaboration with the primary designer. Sometimes we have a polished granite that we would like to change to matt, or similarly take out or add things against what an architect or interior designer has previously imagined. These are all part of any project. End of the day everybody has a learning experience.
What advice would you suggest to budding lighting designers?
My advice to anyone who takes up any profession is to really immerse themselves in it. Don’t do anything for the sake of external validation. Write your own story and believe in your own story though the other’s story might seem more fascinating. As Warren Buffett said long ago, the biggest investment that you would ever make in life is on yourself. So be mindful of the time spent, the experiences gained and challenges you put yourself into.