Smart Design Studio - Sydney Architects

Lighting Design Conversation with Stephen Todd

When Stephen Todd was preparing an article for Fuse magazine, he sat down with William Smart to discuss Smart Design Studio’s approach to lighting. The following is the edited transcript of the conversation:

Tell me about your approach to lighting within your projects?
When it comes to lighting, Smart Design Studio takes the principal to not uniformly light a space – and we acknowledge and accept that people are going to bring their own lighting, such as floor and table lamps, to their interiors.
Across a block of units, some areas we will light very well, and other areas are left to remain in shadow. For example, in a bedroom, we will light the wall opposite the bed, but not the area where we anticipate the bed head will be; in a living room we will light one wall and not light another. The floor lamps or bedside lamps that people own, complete the picture. Light and shadow can be used to create beautiful and interesting patterns.

There are two parts to the question of lighting: What does the light do; and, How does the light perform?
We have, as a rule, a preference for a top-down lighting approach because lighting the tops of objects creates great highlights and shadows. It’s this combination of light and shadow that makes objects and furniture look beautiful and I prefer this type of lighting to blanket lighting, which generally gives uniform but flat lighting outcomes. The trick is in creating this effect of shadow and light and still retain a strong and simple ceiling, with the right amount for lighting sources.
The balance of the two is the work that we need to undertake.
Where possible, we prefer to create a seamless lighting system, usually flangeless white on white – and then we position the light sources asymmetrically within the space. This results in a simple interior with depth in the lighting.

Are there any specific lighting products you have been using?
Recently we’ve been using an interesting product called Barrisol for lighting large spaces. This can be done in a very subtle way, where the light source is almost invisible or in a strong and dramatic way, where the light feature is almost like a generous artwork. The Barrisol product is a very thin, large piece of plastic that is stretched across a huge frame, like a canvas for a painting, and then backlit with an array of LED lights. The results can be extraordinary.

A lot of developers want uniform lighting throughout a space (they’re expecting a grid of downlights), but we generally persuade them towards an asymmetrical effect, where we light the wall as well as the floor of the room. Asymmetric lighting adds drama, which along with a top-down approach creates a more natural lighting effect. Different developers have different approaches to decorative lighting, typically over the dining table. Some provide a simple electrical point for someone to connect their own pendant to. This approach acknowledges that the pendant, as a decorative light piece, is a very individual expression.
If the budget allows for it, we will use a lighting designer. Recently we’ve been working with Steensen Varming on Indigo Slam and Petra Kleegraefe on the Pomeroy penthouse. Together we develop the vision for the lighting and then we use their expertise to create beautiful lighting effects.
In Connor, our apartment building in Chippendale, we’ve been very dramatic in the common areas. The entry foyer is three storeys high and lit by a tall, back-lit Barrisol feature. The lighting design here has been conceived as a giant artwork as well as a lighting source for the room. We have used a matrix of LED lights that change colour to transform the room. Having both gradual transformations and sharp changes, our goal here is Light as Art.

Can lighting be used to brand a building, to create an identity?
Lighting can reinforce the essence of a building and therefore ‘brand’. Sometimes this can be achieved with the form of the building, and at other times by reinforcing the values of the building’s occupant(s). In our upgrade of Town Hall House for the City of Sydney, we used lighting as the main feature of the entry lobbies. These custom disc lights are dramatic, decorative and functional at the same time and underscore the cities values of efficiency, sustainability and transparency. Sending a strong message about excellence in design, they bring an abundance of light to an otherwise dark space. The lights effectively replaced a ceiling, therefore allowing all building services to be exposed and the use of the latest LED technology means they consume very little energy.

Creating bespoke lighting designs across a range of projects is a strength of Smart Design Studio’s, this is achieved through ensuring the design is “Suited to the requirements of the brief and developed in response to the unique qualities of each space.” Using light and shadow instills a sense of drama, expression and art to the space which can transform ordinary to exceptional.

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