As vice president of Lighting Design Alliance in Long Beach, California, Andy Powell brings more than 32 years of lighting design and electrical engineering experience to his client’s projects. The fast-paced lighting industry has taken a number of unexpected twists and turns throughout his career, but he’s always remained one step ahead thanks to his rare set of talents and expert communication skills. Powell has a solid idea as to where the industry is headed in the next few years, and he’s taking big steps to make a lasting impact.
We interviewed Powell to learn more about his most memorable projects, approaches to streamlining the design process and predictions for the lighting design industry’s future. Read our interview to learn more about Powell and gain inspiration for your next project—or career move.
Lighting Design Industry Trends
How has lighting design evolved in the last decade?
In the last 10 years, the “LED Revolution” happened. We’ve had to completely adapt to a new reality. If I had stopped practicing 10 years ago and came back now I would be completely lost. Meanwhile, the lighting design profession has changed. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a lighting designer only worked on high-end projects, big hotels and theme parks. Now, we work on single family residences, the biggest projects imaginable and everything in between.
The Lighting Design Process
How do you balance the use of light as a functional tool with using light to add to the customer experience?
Sometimes, it may be hard to balance because of code requirements. But any lighting designer will tell you that we think of lighting in layers. There’s accent lighting, decorative lighting and general lighting. Artwork, the lighting of feature walls or bar details are all accent lighting, things we are trying to reveal in certain features and finishes of the interior design. The decorative fixtures are the jewelry, usually selected by the interior designer. We work with them on some of the more technical details. Then there’s general lighting, which usually provides the bulk of the functional lighting.
On most projects, we have a dimming system that we can zone to help create the balance. We may dim the general lighting so the accent and decorative lighting pop. Lesley Wheel, one of the founders of our profession, worked on hotel projects all over the world. She told me once that she often would see how little lighting she could put in a hotel or hotel lobby. She did this in an effort to create an interesting ambience with the desire to see how little she could get away with.
What are clients looking for in a lighting design partner?
They’re looking for someone with both technical knowledge and artistic or design sense. Some architects, interior designers and even landscape architects like being involved in it. But even ones that do can recognize they’re not experts at it or don’t have the time. As an independent lighting firm such as the Lighting Design Alliance company, we have always differentiated ourselves from lighting reps and others who may have motivations beyond what’s best for the client.
I also think it’s important to have a full scope of services so we can be their advocate during construction. They are hiring us for our knowledge and experience.
What barriers do you have to overcome, from concept to execution?
The biggest thing that affects us during the design process is budget. We don’t usually get a budget to start with, so sometimes you have to go to Plan B or Plan C.
How do you know when a project has gone well?
Owners and architects who are open to listening to our ideas is one key factor. When I think of the most successful projects, they have great ownership and a design team that collaborates well. Then the drawings are complete and detailed well. I have a few examples where we were able to talk to the owner at the beginning of the project and discuss lighting and the purchasing of lighting and how complex that process is. The owner was willing to do a few key things, resulting in a smoother process. Things like that can make a big difference.
The Lighting Design Community
Tell us how you discovered lighting design as a profession?
I went to college thinking I wanted to be an aerospace engineer because I like planes. But after taking my first course, I realized I hated it. Over the summer, I took a job at a resort in the mountains and one of my coworkers was going to school to be an architect and he talked about architecture being an art and a science. That intrigued me, so upon return to school and discussing with a counselor, I ended up in an architectural engineering program.
I took my first lighting course during my fourth year and I found that it had both the art and the science that appealed to me. I wanted to be involved with what you see and how you experience the space, and lighting did that for me. So I stuck with it.
What do you enjoy most about being a part of the lighting design community?
I’ve had a blast and have been given the opportunity to work with lots of creative people, travel and flex the creative muscles in my brain. It’s also consistently challenging. I never get bored because it’s still hard. I’m always doing stuff that I’ve never done and that’s thrilling and stressful at times. But we all kind of like that.
Working With Optic Arts (now part of Luminii)
Tell us about some of your most memorable Optic Arts projects.
The Wilshire Grand Tower / Hotel in Los Angeles was a memorable project. Optic Arts (OA) was really helpful in solving problems throughout the process. They jumped right in to help out. So we appreciate the fact that OA has always been very responsive.
The Optics Arts product line was featured in a vast majority of this project including: The Chairman’s Suite, the Health Club which required intricate color-changing features, the main lobby, and restaurants. Because of the complexity and some unusual features the client required, we were really pleased with the level of service we received from the OA team. For example, they had no objection when we asked for support in creating mock-ups, and took it a step further going out in the field and installing to ensure it all worked to perfection.
What does Optic Arts bring to the table that helps you do your job better?
First of all, they have a baseline of products that is flexible and useful. And the service and responsiveness—I can’t tell you how helpful that is. They can modify things and even develop products if they see a need for something unique to better support a project. And if we run into issues, the team is 100% accessible. All this makes our lives easier.