Keith Bradshaw, CEO and co-owner of Speirs Major Light Architecture, had spent over two decades working on a wide range of projects, from grand civic buildings to intimate retail spaces, from performance venues to hospitality spaces. His work is celebrated for its diversity and the meticulous attention to detail brought to each project.
At the IALD Enlighten Europe conference last week, Keith delivered a thought-provoking talk titled “More with Less.” He questioned whether the concept was an oxymoron or a challenge, exploring how creativity could thrive in an age of impatience and heightened expectations. Keith acknowledged that lighting design had created disruptive changes, borrowing elements from the engineering profession and collaborating closely with manufacturers to carve out its unique space.
The CEO stressed the importance of moving beyond mere aesthetics and pretty pictures. While visual appeal had its place, Keith believed that true success in a complex project goes deeper. The design had to be not only captivating but also maintainable over time. He delved into the notion of less as an aesthetic principle, drawing parallels with other fields such as architecture, art, music, and fashion. However, Keith posed a question: Did the results have to be less exciting or less innovative? His resounding answer was no.
Lighting designers work in the visual arts and creations needed to look and feel interesting. Yet, perhaps, on some jobs, the conventional process of adding layers upon layers of light had become outdated. He proposes the concept of Subtractive Design, as a straightforward and mindful approach. Designers should analyze and assess their goals, ensuring they were not wasteful or excessive in their pursuit. A good design, he argued, should be reductive, not expansive.
To implement Subtractive Design, he offers three key steps:
- Setting parameters and defining ambitions, understanding the context in which the design would exist, and comprehending and adhering to applicable codes and regulations. He cautioned that when working with limited resources, every element had to work efficiently and effectively.
- Keith sheds light on the belief that less did not always equate to darkness. Darkness had complex connotations in the world of lighting. While it could be associated with reduced energy consumption and safety considerations, it also held a certain luxury. Sadly, not everyone could afford the luxury of darkness, and this aspect had to be taken into account.
- And, he shares an intriguing case study involving lighting design for Bay Street in Toronto. Rather than pushing for extensive façade lighting, Keith and his team chose a different path. They embarked on a mission to ensure the building’s aesthetics seamlessly integrated with the rest of the city.
Recognizing that Toronto had a reputation for being a dark city, with most residents adhering to the façade lighting code, they embarked on research. Keith and his team measured the brightness of the skyline from Toronto Island, taking into account factors such as the iconic CN Tower Spire and the Toronto Green Standard. Considering the migration route of birds and the importance of minimizing disturbance during their journeys, they made a bold recommendation to the client: no façade lighting. This recommendation effectively was accepted.
Sometimes no light….is the best light.