You can call them emotions, if you like. Interview with Dean Skira

Roundabout pula
Roundabout pula, 20000 Photo©Danijel BArtolic

In your opinion, what is the relationship between artificial light and the human being? In terms of well-being, visual comfort and quality of life.
Light is not important for architecture, but for the people who live in it. This sentence concludes all my lectures, because the true value of light is the value of human experience. We distinguish between biological elements that imply eye response to certain light stimuli, whereas visual preconditions create emotional response. If we join these components, we get the value of experience in a certain space. Emotions and atmospheres created in a space defined by light are the starting point of each lighting project, whether the project is about architecture, public lighting, or interior lighting. For me, that is the basis of everything. Also, we have to be aware that light is invisible, but has form. The first form of light is in the source, the second is the invisible form of light itself, the third is the form of the object revealed by light before it touches it, the fourth is the form of the shadow, and the fifth is the form of the consequence that comprises all the previous four forms, as well as the way we feel and experience the space considering the four forms. 

Many critics think that the recently built environments have an untidy, sleepy, and uniform atmosphere. Lighting designers are criticized for creating only approved environments, all the same or very similar. Do you agree?
Light, or light design that precedes it, is always site-specific in architecture. The site usually evokes clear mental pictures in my mind of what I see on that specific scene during the night, and this applies mostly to all lighting projects that I have done so far. This happens mostly when the spirit of place, the Genius loci, brings to me the decisive moment of inspiration, based on that site-specific that is always different. On the other hand, regardless of trends, every human being has almost the same needs for light. Man and his needs are the same, or similar. Night is always night, eye is always eye, and biologically nothing has changed. The difference is only in the technology available at some point and in the increasing scientific knowledge about the impact of light on humans and its surroundings. Regardless of whether the architectural and decorative space is traditional, minimalist, or eclectic, good lighting must meet all the needs of end users. That means that the deep thought of light is without boundaries. It flows, and it should flow globally regardless of cultural or any other difference.  

What advice would you give to European manufacturers of lighting fixtures? To small companies but also to large companies. 
Too often I see trends by mean that someone is following followers, there are not that many leaders. The market is the one that pushes certain trends and actually requires certain direction or certain products, but the basic principles are similar, we are only transmitting the technology into fulfilling those needs. The close cooperation between lighting designers and manufacturers is indispensable; in large and complex projects especially, we have to work together with architects, interior designers, and all the others to achieve a positive result. Lighting fixtures are like my paint brush in space. The Evolution Tower, Eurasia Tunnel, and many others, products like TrickPolesanoUnderscore, or Lun up, would not exist without the manufacturers. It is also important that the whole process is supported by an enthusiastic investor. In 2017, at the PLDC in Paris, I read a short manifesto to my peers, to young lighting designers, and also a part to manufacturers, and it sounded like this: “Thank you for your support. Some people would not be here without you. Stop copying, start listening to us, because we are your most valuable R&D and salesmen. If you innovate and listen, you won’t need a big sales department”.

evolution Tower
Evolution Tower Photo©Multivideo

Can Light Art influence the way in which lighting fixtures are used, at home and at work? Can it provide ideas to the industry? What is your experience?
My professional experience shows that my lifework is obviously the result of my deepest inner self. I built my office building, the House of Light, in which light is shown as an integral part of the architecture; having in mind how to integrate light within the building, going so far as designing furniture with subtle line of light within. I needed to physically present my personal approach towards architecture, form, light, and “design”, so that the clients could recognize the possibility for stronger cooperation and my understanding of architectural space, the ability to develop architectural details that contain a light source or a lighting instrument that is properly integrated within the structure itself. I think we must be able to demonstrate to our clients the technology and the tools we use, and what we are capable of doing with them. If we analyse our tendencies in which we try to literally avoid the visibility of the light source, then it is achieved in this case. What is visible is only the reflected light of the house, which takes over the function of a luminous object, so to speak. In this house we also have a lot of examples of light integration that, construction-wise, were extremely demanding in execution. These were, in large part, successfully accomplished because of my role of lighting designer, client, and interior designer at the same time, so I was able to supervise the realization of the idea from the moment it was created. The House of Light was designed with the aim of ensuring that people in it feel good and become inspired, where the priority is always to ensure added value for our client through that synergy. 

Skira office
Skira office Photo©Skira

Public administrators often ask that the lighting of parks and gardens also perform the function of removal of delinquency. What would you say?
Main requirements of citizens were always safety and well-being. Safety first. Some astrophile activists are pushing the theory that light has no influence on safety, but common knowledge and recent unfortunate events in Caracas and New York City in the 80s during a black-out proved very different. Public representatives lately tend to invest a part of the public budget also into city beautification, making visual improvements to a town, city, or urban area. In urban lighting, the balance among rhythm, break, light, and dark is extremely important in order to create a complete picture, since that which is pleasant and unpleasant in the exterior can be controlled rather easily. The principles of urban lighting today are not much different from the ones in the 19thcentury. The lighting of the future I am referring to, and would like to see applied today, is the light that is not perceived on the level of the lamp, but a dynamic and adaptable network, since all lamps are connected not only within a street or church, but within the whole city. On the basis of different conditions, you can control the scenography of the whole city. The technology nowadays permits us to create dynamic public lighting, and maybe a very good example would be the illumination of town of Motovun project, which is in the concept phase but implements all necessary elements of a human centric lighting design. Light should be always designed beyond utilitarian, otherwise it is not designed, and people deserve to live in a well-designed world. 

Hotel Bellevue
Hotel Bellevue Photo©Hrvoje Serdar

What are the light sources you use at home and in your studio?
In all my projects, including my home, I try to set up different scenographies by means of light, depending on what a given space is used for: are you watching television, reading or vacuuming. I always leave room for the creation of scenes. Purposeful light illuminates space, it is always of the same intensity regardless of what you use a given space for, but the ambience comes from the quality of light. The colour of light, in terms of its warmth, must correspond to the amount of light. Cold light is preferred if there is lots of light, and if there is less light, it should be warmer. This is related to our biology, because we are accustomed to the fact that, at dawn and at dusk, the sun gravitates towards the red end of the spectrum, and that at high noon the sky is blue. This biological, human component will not change for as long as we live under the Sun. Night-time light functions the same way: quieter light is warmer, while bright light highlights its cooler component. I pay a lot of attention to these shades. Also, what is important to me is not the way the lamps look, but the way they work, which is why all the luminaires I have designed have a very specific function. Personally, I prefer the good old incandescent light bulb, because it is still the highest quality electric light available. In my home it will probably be for many more years, while in the garden I replaced all landscape lighting with the latest LEDs, because I think they are good for this purpose, although they are still not good enough for use in our living rooms.

This article was originally published on LUCE n°331, 2020.