Issue 40 : Dec / Jan 2007/8
Sharon Stammers PLDA talks to Paul Traynor, a man on a mission for both his practice and his industry.
To say it is a busy time for Paul Traynor would be an understatement. His company Indigo light planning re-launched in November with the new name of Light Bureau. He also juggles running a lighting design consultancy with his position as President of the Professional Lighting Designers Association (PLDA), which incidentally has also re-launched, replacing European (ELDA) with Professional to include the expansion of membership on a global scale.
Indigo is a practice that seems to have crept up on the lighting consultancy measure by stealth. Not one for shouting from the rooftops about their portfolio of work, it has rapidly grown in both scale and client reputation since it was established by Paul in 1999. Based in South West London in the shadow of architectural icon, Battersea Power Station, the office has quietly expanded from two to fourteen staff members to become one of the larger sized practices in the UK.
Paul has always been fascinated with both photography and lighting products. Either of these interests could have claimed him and pushed him down a different path. “I used to trawl through skips to find items I could convert into lights, or fittings I could adapt into something else. There was one fitting I was particularly pleased with made from a glass bulkhead stripped out of a WC that became my bedside lamp for about five years.” His other interest led to him nearly accepting a job as a fashion photographer’s assistant. His photographic ambition lost the battle and he went down the path of engineering, graduating from South Bank University with a BEng (Hons) degree and doesn’t regret his choice. “An engineering degree satisfied my geeky side and I was aware that most lighting schemes seemed to be realised by environmental engineers. My background has given me confidence and technical knowledge. I can design instinctively and freely knowing that technical skills are a foundation on which to rest my creativity.” He still retains a private interest in photography and acknowledges that the abstract play of light and shadow is what figures highly in his personal work.
Paul went on to work as the in-house lighting specialist for two major architectural and design companies - RMJM and Aukett Europe - and feels his time working within these companies was extremely valuable. He learnt how to integrate with all the other disciplines involved on a project such as the in-house consulting engineers, landscape architects and interior designers. But he also considered it a slightly isolated experience. “If you worked in a company that was purely a lighting consultancy, chances are you would have a mentor or at least someone to say whether you were right or wrong. Architecture has magic proportions, formulas for design. Lighting is so subjective. You create your own approach according to your background in the absence of guidance.”
He couldn’t have been doing too badly on his own because Paul went on to form Indigo Light Planning at the tender age of 33. The move was based on the assurance of a multitude of clients that if he went it alone, they would give him work. Right to trust them, on day one Paul was taking a brief on Accenture’s new London headquarters and within three weeks of setting up as an independent consultant, Indigo doubled in size and Paul had his first member of staff. “Running a consultancy in many ways reminds me of my experience of being ‘spare boy’ at the paper shop I worked in when I was about 14. It was like a junior form of middle management and promotion to this position meant that I no longer had to go out on a paper round but to stay at the shop and organise the other paper boys unless someone was sick. I have an amazing team of designers around me and being practice principle equates to the role of spare boy; when someone is away or ill I end up covering for them!” This modest description sums up Paul Traynor very well. He is quick to praise his employees and their role in building up Indigo to its current position.
Indigo has recently been part of the winning team working on the re-development of Farnborough Business Park, the historic aerodrome site in Hampshire which included lighting to a variety of elements; structures, roadways, squares, grade I/II listed buildings and an original airship hangar. The project has notched up among others two RIBA and a BCO award. Paul says of the project; “Farnborough Business Park encapsulates the way we work as a company, creating an overall strategy for a site that all elements of the design are then able to slot into.”
Nine years on, Paul judged it time to re-launch the practice and they will henceforth be known as Light Bureau; “We are in a great position, all of our work has been by referral or invitation and we haven’t had to actively seek commissions. But we have seen that many businesses including several within our sphere of design share the name of Indigo and this began to create confusion and conflict. We thus decided to move on and establish a new name with a clearer set of associations. The inception of Light Bureau marks the rise in profile and the physical expansion of the company.”
Master planning and strategy are words that figure regularly when Paul speaks about Light Bureau’s approach to lighting design and his strong belief that “light is a source and not a product.” Even though he admits his initial interest in the hardware of light, Paul regularly stresses it’s light itself that shapes our environment.
The new identity launched on November 15th with a party for clients of the practice and manufacturers who have supported them over the years. Future success was toasted with a special cocktail in the new company colours called the Light Switch!
The current design portfolio at Light Bureau includes many projects worldwide but the largest is a regeneration scheme in Russia. Moscow Park City is a 46 hectare riverside development in a run down area of Moscow. Working with London offices of Lovejoy and KPF who are creating the masterplan, the project also includes architects from all over the globe. The former industrial site, previously home to both a pencil factory and a brewery will be transformed into an area which will feature elements of work, culture, housing, leisure and heritage for its inhabitants. Light Bureau are providing a lighting masterplan and are set to be involved for around five years of the project overseeing work that will go to local designers. “Yes. There are lighting designers in Russia and in fact a burgeoning lighting industry.” Paul is also speaking at the Russian trade exhibition Interlight on the topic of ‘Lighting as a Strategy’, again, conveying his belief that all good design begins with a rational premise and that lighting schemes, whether a small retail project or a masterplan like Park City are fundamentally more successful if a strategy is first considered.
Paul has long been a supporter of lighting associations. With membership of SLL, CIBSE, IEE and after ten active years in PLDA, ascension to the role of President, he seems a natural choice for an ambassadorial role and presides over PLDA at a time of strength in its drive to create a global network. PLDA is fresh from the success of the PLD Conference held in London in October which saw over a 1000 delegates from around 50 countries attend. “It became a great celebration of what it means to be a lighting designer and a platform to launch a declaration for the Profession of Lighting Designers.”
Paul believes that designers are becoming complacent in the UK. “There is such a high demand for lighting and a lighting designer can be found on most architectural projects, something unheard of a few years back. On one hand this is great, on the other, we can no longer be regarded as exceptional and need to work hard to protect the quality of what we do. Because lighting design is so well established here in the UK, designers feel no need to strive for recognition of the profession or to get their voice heard. PLDA is made up of members from countries where there is little or no lighting design and a designer is a lone voice vying for change. We still need to seek support for the profession both in the UK and globally. There is a clear role for UK designers to be part of the global big picture and help to push things forward. This is in all our interests.”
The project I always think of is that one that gave me confidence as a designer but also taught me a big lesson. It was when I was lighting specialist at Ferguson & Partners and we were working on a refurbishment of the head quarters of Apple Computers at Stockley Park. I had firm ideas about how the lighting should be addressed and the (American) architect kept talking about ceiling mounted ‘cans’, against which I successfully argued. When my lighting scheme was implemented, at a regular design team meeting the client and architect told me that they thought my solution was right after all. It never occurred to me until that point that they might not have thought so or that I might have got it wrong. On the one hand I was flattered; on the other I was relieved. But it did ultimately give me confidence in my ideas and decision-making.
Project he dislikes?
I am extremely anti-colour changing for the sake of it. We do our fair share of such schemes but I hope most have a good reason for changing colour. I once worked on the concept for a high end residential project producing a subtle low level uplit scheme in white light. The electrician thought he was being clever when he visited the wholesaler and changed my spec for colour changing LED uplights with a random cycle. I spent the whole of the opening party with people quizzing me about aspects of the design while I tried to distance myself from the rainbow chaos taking place in the kitchen/diner.
Project he admires?
I have great admiration for the lighting masterplan of Lyon. It was the first masterplan of which I was aware to be undertaken on such a large scale and led the way forward for many other cities to take on a similar approach to lighting. A strategic approach to lighting on a macro level should be the starting point for all projects.
I always cite my great respect for industrial and product designers such as Henningsen and Jakobsen but I think for me Ernesto Gismondi would win. Initially an aeronautics engineer, he went on to found Artemide, creating design wonders with plastic, which at that time was little understood for its potential. It is hard for us to appreciate that this was a material new to the world. I recall a trip to Artemide some fifteen years ago; even the cafeteria luminaries were bespoke and designed with love. I met Gismondi and he was still very sharp and passionate.
Diageo 7HQ: Headquarters building for drinks giant, including the bar and restaurant areas, conference suites, gym and leisure centre. The whole experience from the design team to contractor was good and this comes across in the finished result. The client was exceptional, trusting and always encouraged us to push good ideas.
Young & Rubicam: Advertising Agency located in the Grade Two listed Greater London House. The client was not scared to take some risks and although it was a corporate job, they didn’t want a safe and predictable scheme. We were able to experiment with dark and shadow, creating drama in the building and design many special products.
Chelsea Flower Show: This was a fun experience and as it was a temporary show garden, we played with ideas that turned the space into a stage set, really magical. To listen to the positive comments as visitors passed by was really rewarding.
Dragon Yard: Another small scheme, but simple and completed before we really knew it, so a painless construction process too. The scheme, dare I say it, is a colour-changing installation, but very subtle.
Norton Rose: We have just handed this project over and whilst it’s a big, commercial headquarters space, there are some really interesting details, such as the taxi drop-off tunnel under the building which is the fist glimpse a lot of Norton Rose’s clients will have of the building. There is an interactive (colour-changing) array along the roadway triggered by car movement.
Tom Ford showroom, Milan: Just completed but in the process of being tweaked, this is a tribute to detail and why attention really matters. The client and design team are perfectionists and the result is a great space, flexible for sales, working and parties.
Candy and Candy apartment, Monaco: We have been working on some really high end residential schemes and as a result were engaged to work on the brother’s own apartment in Monaco, which as one would imagine, will be an incredible space when completed.
Hashemite Plaza: A unique project comprising a Roman Amphitheatre and forum in Amman, Jordan with Lovejoy London. This scheme includes new architectural pavilions and a sail canopy structure evoking memories of an ancient river which once ran through the site.
NATO Phoenix HQ, Brussels: Certainly the largest commercial HQ scheme we have ever worked on, it’s huge. The PLDA global network has enabled us to work with Giladi Associates, a lighting practice in Brussels. They are undertaking certain aspects of the design such as daylight modelling and also giving us local site representation, which has a huge benefit in terms of site attendance and logistics.
The Monument: A fantastic project and especially important as Wren’s tower is arguably one of our national treasures. We are undertaking the viewing platform, feature lighting and the internal lighting, which is a challenge as there is little space other than the helical staircase, so you are effectively always on top of the fittings.