From the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to restaurants and retail outlets in and around Phoenix, lighting designed by Arie Louie is guaranteed to help create a sense of place. Keyed into architectural structure and physicality, Louie is as concerned about how people feel in a space as he is about the lighting itself. "I like to create a balance in the space and create drama," says the Israeli-born designer who has resettled in Scottsdale, AZ, just outside of Phoenix. "But it's important to make people comfortable. How do you affect their minds as they enter a space?"
Emily's Restaurant in Scottsdale is a perfect example of Louie's approach to lighting; an approach that in this case has been honored with two awards from the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). The theme of the restaurant is a diner/neighborhood market in the 1940s-50s, a time when home cooking was honored and lighting was soft and cozy. To research the American look of the period, Louie set off for the local library at Arizona State University and pored over books and magazines, making copies of photographs and drawings. "When I showed these to the design team they were very excited," Louie says. He discovered that much of the lighting at that time came from recessed fixtures and hanging pendants or from behind curved linear soffits in dropped ceilings. His research resulted in a redesign of the entire ceiling of the restaurant.
Accordingly, Emily's is designed with a period feel, using recessed task lighting by Prescolite to provide warmth. Brown aluminum bell-shaped pendants from Dac Lighting hang on cords over the bar and condiment areas and accent some of the dining tables; 24V 25,000-hour xenon string lights by Tube Lighting in El Cajon, CA, run in curved recessed soffits, while low-voltage landscape fixtures serve as spots to highlight a mural of New York. "The angles and light levels change within this group of lights to add interest," Louie notes. "The dining area is soft and relaxing, while the serving areas in the restaurant are very colorful."
The color comes from his use of red and orange neon, provided by Paisley Neon in Phoenix, as well as the use of gels and special custom-designed rectangular fixtures of galvanized sheet metal, designed by Louie. These hang below blue-filtered MR-16 cans recessed in the ceiling to reflect soft washes onto the ceiling. "I used special filters to tone down the light for the feel of incandescent," says Louie, who admits that the MR-16s are not of the period. "The space is evenly illuminated yet interesting," he says. "There is a good balance."
Balance and a sense of composition are skills Louie perfected working in the motion picture business in his native Israel and in Europe. Born in Israel in 1956, Louie began working as a teenager alongside his father, a film lighting director. "I started as a freelancer when I was 13 years old," says Louie, whose father was handy at making things as well. "We builtequipment ourselves, as we didn't have much in Israel in those days." After six years in the military when he served as a pilot in the Israeli air force, Louie worked in movie lighting and studied economics at Tel Aviv University.
In 1985, Louie's Lighting was launched in Israel and Louie changed the course of his career, moving into architectural and event lighting. "I'd had enough years in motion pictures," he says. Looking to create his own environments and control the design process, Louie was also somewhat frustrated by the limited control one has in lighting films. Once he announced his intentions, his reputation in the architectural field grew rapidly. "Israel is very small," he points out.
The same smallness that allowed his career to develop quickly also pushed him to look for larger horizons. "There are bigger opportunities in the United States," says Louie, who settled in the Phoenix area in 1993 with his South African-born wife, whom he had met in Israel. "We had lots of friends here and had been here lots of times," he says about choosing Phoenix as his new home. Even so, he found there were adjustments to make. "It was very daring to leave Israel just as I was beginning to enjoy the fruits of building a business over many years, and to start a new company in such a different business climate."
One of the more unusual projects from Louie's Israeli days is the lighting of a series of underground tunnels at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. "These are ancient tunnels that you enter at the Wall," he explains. Using customized high-pressure sodium in-ground sources as uplights, Louie redefined these narrow passages and walls with a warm yellow glow. "It's very dramatic and subtle," he says, pointing out that the indirect lighting adds emphasis to the shapes of the tunnels and accents their architectural form.
Louie's focus on architectural lighting can be seen in a series of seven retail stores he recently completed in Terminal 3 at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport. In several of the stores he used Translite track lighting with MR-16 lamps as accents. In the newsstand, News Travels Fast, there are MR-16s cantilevered on rods in front of the magazines to draw attention to the covers. For Incredibly Arizona, a souvenir shop with a Southwestern theme, Louie opted for monopoints, or pendants, from Translite in San Carlos, CA. These use MR-16 lamps and have 6"-diameter copper stars attached to them, with the brightness of the lamps creating the effect of stars in the sky. Louie also used recessed ambient lights by RSA in Chatsworth, CA, and recessed low-voltage cans to help highlight the product. Other sources include PAR-38s and GE HIR lamps.
"My goal in lighting these stores is to relate the lighting to the product and emphasize it successfully," Louie says. "I want the lighting to contribute to how people feel in the space without having them be aware of it. I also design the lighting to draw attention to the back of the store, as well as create interest from the outside." One of the signatures of Louie's lighting style is a clean look that strives to eliminate chaos.
For a new flower shop called Cactus Flowers, Louie imagines what the space should look like as he searches for possible lighting solutions. "You have to define the purpose of the lighting," he points out, "as every space is not the same. Each one has its own interpretation." For this project, like the others, Louie will work with the client throughout the design process, often showing them mock-ups and a look at possible choices in the demo room and lab at his Scottsdale office.
At LDI98 in Phoenix, Louie will share his personal vision in a full-day course on the basics of architectural lighting design. His curriculum covers such topics as lighting as an integral part of architecture and interior design, the effect lighting has on vision, human physiology and comfort level, and the basic measurement of light. He will also discuss various light sources and their perceived colors, and review lighting technologies typically used in architectural projects, from low-voltage to fiber optics. Aimed at architects and interior designers as well as lighting designers, Louie's course offers 0.7 CEU credits for ASID, IDC, and IIDA members.
"I am both a technical and artistic person," Louie insists. "For me, lighting is the best combination of expression in terms of art, and it lets me use the more mathematical side of my brain." He attributes some of his success to innate skills such as imagination, and acknowledges what he learned at his father's side. "Motion pictures taught me a lot, but you have to have some basic qualities, like a painter or a photographer, such as a sense of color and a feeling for putting things together. Some of this you can't always learn."
Looking back at his early years in movie lighting, Louie admits that this period gave him the opportunity to "study light through experience. Movies are fast-paced with thousands of different sets: That gave me the chance to achieve a different end result every few hours." Looking at light as the camera sees it, Louie learned early on about contrast ratios and comfort levels. "What the camera sees as a problem right away might just make the human eye nervous," he notes. But with the grandeur of Southwestern sunsets for inspiration, Louie is more likely to soothe the eye with his illumination.