The role of lighting in architecture is a fascinating area of research not only from an aesthetics/functional perspective but also from an energy efficiency, environmental and wellbeing perspective.

Amardeep Dugar, our next pathbreaker, Founder & Principal at Lighting Research & Design (LR&D), offers research and design consultancy in architectural lighting for diverse projects.

Amardeep talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about doing his PhD (Lighting Controls) in Architectural Lighting in order to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of lighting in futuristic design and architecture.

For students, Lighting Design is a very integral part of architecture because it factors in the advantages of natural light, electrical light, or both, to serve and advance human action.

Hi Amardeep !, Your background?

I did my schooling in a small town called Vellore in Tamil Nadu. I had very humble beginnings as my father was a cloth merchant and my mother was a homemaker. During my school days I was interested in electronics and liked to repair old battery-operated toys, especially toys with small lights.  Drawing was one of my favourite pastimes. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I wanted to pursue a career with a mix of art and science, and found architecture as an ideal career option. I completed a Bachelor in Architecture (B.Arch) at the GGSIP University in Delhi, a Masters in Architectural Lighting Design (MA) from the University of Wismar, Germany and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Architectural Lighting Design from the University of Wellington, New Zealand. Architectural lighting design imagines, creates, integrates, infuses and organizes lighting into a coordinated system by factoring for the fact and advantage of natural light, electrical light, or both, to serve and advance human action.

What were some of the drivers that led you on such an offbeat and unique career path?

During my 4th year of my architectural studies, we had to undertake a dissertation project, which required researching on particular topics of relevance to architects. While researching for an appropriate dissertation topic, a chance meeting with an electrician determined my dissertation topic in lighting, thereby paving the way for my career in architectural lighting design. This electrician’s acumen for detail in the appropriate use of lighting and his criticism about how architects have very little understanding about this subject had a lasting influence on me. My Dean of Architecture and Dissertation Coordinator were some of the other key influencers who provided timely guidance in pursuing this subject of architectural lighting design as a dissertation topic. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

Architectural Lighting Design is a relatively new profession, especially in India where it was almost a non-entity. Here again my Dean of Architecture provided timely advice about various universities around the world that offer specialised post-graduate courses in architectural lighting design. Hence began my daily Internet searches at cyber cafes (internet connections at home were uncommon during those days!) on the available courses in architectural lighting design around the globe and more importantly about any available fellowships or scholarships. Meanwhile, I also joined an architectural firm as a junior architect, which allowed me to explore the practical aspects of architecture. During this brief yet important stint, I had the opportunity to work on the building performance of a hostel building analysing the use of daylight in buildings. After several unsuccessful attempts, I was granted admission to the Masters program in Architectural Lighting Design at the University of Wismar, Germany. Considering my excellent grades in architecture, my portfolio of works and work experience in daylight design, the European Lighting Designers’ Association granted me a partial scholarship to pursue this course. During my time in Germany, I worked as an intern at an architectural lighting design firm in Berlin, as a journalist at a lighting publication office, and as a guest lecturer at my university. 

All these experiences strengthened my belief towards pursuing a PhD in architectural lighting design. However, a PhD, like any other dissertation topic, requires a focused topic of research. As I was particular about researching a topic in applied research, it was imperative to gain practical knowledge and experience by working in the field of architectural lighting design. Therefore I worked for a couple of years as an architectural lighting designer in India with the intention of identifying gaps (in the profession) that require researching. These formative years working in India really helped me understand the areas in architectural lighting that require further research, which was lighting controls. And after having gained adequate experience and identifying a topic of research, I was granted admission to the PhD program in Architectural Lighting Design at University of Wellington, New Zealand. While I did apply to various PhD programs in different parts of the world, New Zealand was one of the few countries that was open to unique research topics and was offering specific PhD scholarships to meritorious candidates to pursue their education. Considering the uniqueness of my topic in the area of architectural lighting design and particularly in lighting controls, my past credentials, published articles in various international magazines along with work experience in the field, Education New Zealand granted me a full scholarship to pursue this course.

How did you get your first break?

Having worked at so many different international offices and organisations, I had built a fairly decent body of work and network of contacts when I started my own firm. It was through one of these contacts that I got my first project as an independent lighting designer. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

The biggest challenge when I started out was that architectural lighting design was a relatively unknown profession in India. Hence, it required constantly educating clients and other project team members about the importance of good lighting.

Can you tell us about your firm, Lighting Research & Design (LR&D)?

I established my own firm, Lighting Research & Design (LR&D) in 2010. LR&D is a Chennai-based independent third-party firm that offers research and design consultancy in architectural lighting. It strives to build an international reputation of being the premier consultancy that critically addresses applied research issues by undertaking real-life projects in architectural lighting. The services offered are: 

  • Lighting Research – formulate comprehensive strategies for collecting, documenting and evaluating data on lighting
  • Lighting Design – demonstrate the holistic applications of lighting that respects architecture and meet human needs
  • Lighting Education – develop pedagogical models for training programs in the effective use of light

An architectural lighting designer is a professional whose role relates to exterior and interior lighting design. It is their responsibility to design a lighting concept for a project that is both functional and appealing, with due consideration given to the health and wellbeing of the intended occupants. Two of my project examples that I can quote are Hyatt Place in Rameswaram, and MGM Healthcare in Chennai.

Hyatt Place required a hospitality lighting concept that is sensitive to the culture of the small pilgrimage town of Rameswaram while providing a warm welcoming ambience to its guests.

Hyatt Place, Rameshwaram

MGM Healthcare was a super specialty hospital where lighting had to support doctors and therapists during treatments, while promoting the healing process in patients with an increased sense of wellbeing. Both projects have won international awards!

MGM Healthcare, Chennai

How does your work benefit society?

Darkness and Light formulate the very essence of life on earth. Most life forms on earth including animals, birds, humans, and even several plants are exposed to highly rhythmic and extremely predictable changes in darkness and lighting that occur with the daily events of sunrise and sunset, and this light-dark cycle has shaped Earth’s life for at least 3.7 billion years. I feel privileged to be working in a field that is at the very essence of life on our planet.   

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

As a lighting designer and researcher, I had the privilege to work on several large- and small-scale projects of varied importance. However, my most memorable projects are the lighting design workshops with students. These workshops have been designed as a model for teaching the lighting design process with practical hands-on experience, where students get a chance to learn how to implement good concepts using light as a critical tool. The creativity and zeal with which the students have designed the temporary lighting installations is truly satisfying, as they have transformed rundown buildings into marvellous installations using the power of darkness and light.

Student Workshop

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My only advice to students is to think out-of-the-box when it comes to choosing a career path. Too many have tread down the beaten path, hence its time to break this trend and blaze a trail…

Future Plans?

Keep researching for newer trends in architectural lighting and design unique paths.