Progress with Female Ambassadors in Lighting Design

Light Collective, founders of the project "Women in Lighting", conclude that although female designers seem to make up possibly half of the lighting design profession, their profile appears much lower than men when looking at judges in awards and speakers at major conferences. Sharon Stammers and Martin Lupton started a project with interviews of female lighting designers and contacted conference organizers to enhance their visibility. 

The British lighting designer duo Light Collective were surprised when a viewer remarked after screening their documentary "The Perfect Light" that hardly any female lighting designers were involved. This was a revealing moment for them because they have actually met many female lighting designers but not so much as speakers in conferences and as leaders of design studios. As a consequence, they started the initiative "Women in lighting" with a network of worldwide female ambassadors for lighting.

When looking at the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) one could see that already 45% of the American members are female. But looking at keynote speakers at lighting conference like Light Fair shows a clear gender gap with only 15% women. Even if the lighting design profession lists a couple of male designers in the early age an ever-growing

The history of architectural lighting design lists male pioneers in the 1930s to 1950s like Richard Kelly with his lighting scheme for the Seagram Building, William M.C. Lam whose design is still visible at the Washington Metro or Howard Brandston who designed, for instance, the lighting for the Petrona Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. However, the first female lighting designer emerged with Leslie Wheel in the 1960s, according to a lighting design lineage, compiled by Elizabeth Donoff. Leslie was inspired by the Seagram Building and developed the illumination for many Hilton International hotels and corporate headquarters. In addition, she founded an internship program to support young designers.

A second notable female lighting designer is Motoko Ishii from Japan, who started her own studio in the late 1960s and received several awards for her outstanding design like the Tokyo Tower. In the USA, Suzan Tillotson has started the first major lighting design consultancy with a female principal in 2004 leading to prestigious projects like Bloomberg’s European HQ with Foster + Partners, The Broad Museum or Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center with Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

For Florence Lam, global lighting design leader for Arup for 30 years and first woman recipient of the Lighting Designer of the Year Award at the Lighting Design Awards in London 2013, remarks that female lighting designer tend to have less self-ambition, but they are more driven if they can find a purpose of bringing themselves forward. With her long professional lighting career, Florence has already become a role model for the younger generation. But even she is faced with the unconscious bias as a woman. A site meeting in Azerbaijan was a revealing experience for her. 20 people joined a meeting with half of them Turkish contractors and the other half Korean designers and design managers. Florence never took notice of the only lady who appeared first in the room taking notes during the presentation, because she thought she would be the secretary. However, at the end she asked the most intelligent questions and appeared to be the principal architect of the stadium project. Due to the fact that Florence has not seen leading females in her normal work environment at that time, her view was unintendedly biased. However, the perception of women in lighting has changed in the recent years.

Jill Entwistle, writing for more than 20 years about lighting and being executive editor for the magazine Lighting, has tried to find more women judges with a high-profile for lighting awards to change the field of competitions. She regards two topics as essential to close the gender gap in lighting: Educating more women in lighting as a career and supporting them at the workplaces to be more outgoing. Younger women in lighting are already pretty assertive, remarked Jill in her interview with Light Collective.

Katia Kolovea belongs to this younger generation. She is a key member of the "Women in Lighting" team and works as a creative lighting designer for Urban Electric. Katia has already benefited from the growing female role models. She participated in two student lighting competitions, the "SLL Young Lighter of the Year" and "PLDC - The Challenge", where all finalists were women.

Her Swedish friend Fanny Englund, lighting designer for ÅF Lighting in Stockholm, sees many female talents coming up as well. But Fanny points out as well that this development requires women to dare to apply for higher positions and to speak at conferences. Therefore, Fanny encourages women to overcome their fear that they might not have sufficient confidence.

Even though Light Collective started with lighting designers as ambassadors for their "Women in Lighting" project, they have already planned to include women in lighting working as educators, in art or research, and as manufacturers. For viewing all interviews created by Light Collective visit “Women in Lighting”.

Light matters, a column on light and space, is written by Dr. Thomas Schielke. Based in Germany, he is fascinated by architectural lighting and works as an editor for the lighting company ERCO. He has published numerous articles and co-authored the books “Light Perspectives” and “SuperLux”. For more information check, or follow him @arcspaces.

About this author
Cite: Thomas Schielke. "Progress with Female Ambassadors in Lighting Design" 24 Aug 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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