Principal of his own New York City-based firm since 1985, native New Yorker Gary Gordon was named a Fellow of the IALD at the organization's fall meeting in Chicago last November. A champion of the total integration of light and architecture, Gordon's philosophy rests on a strong understanding of space and a thorough knowledge of the newest light sources and systems. With over 1,000 corporate, institutional, residential, and retail projects on its résumé, the firm has been honored with numerous awards for outstanding lighting design. Ellen Lampert-Gréaux has an informal chat with Gordon to get his angle on light.
ELG: How did you get involved in the field of architectural lighting design?
GG: After studying architecture at Columbia University, I began my career working for an architectural firm. We started to receive requests for energy-efficient lighting, which we knew little about. I went to Parsons to take two lighting classes in the continuing education department at night. My professor was James Nuckolls. He offered me a position as the assistant to his partner, Carroll Cline, one of the world's finest architectural lighting designers. I thought that I could go to work for Carroll for three months, learn all there was to know about architectural lighting design, and then return a more informed architect. Instead, I worked with Carroll for three years, from 1982 until 1985.
ELG: What led you to open your own firm?
GG: After Carroll and Jim disbanded their partnership, I began answering freelance requests for architectural lighting design projects from my apartment. I became very busy, and it grew into a business.
ELG: What is the process for beginning a new project?
GG: We begin by gathering information about the activities in each space, the architectural concept, the structure, materials, finishes, aesthetic criteria, and project constraints (budget, schedule). We then determine the emotional setting that will reinforce the activities in the spaces, the lighting condition that will produce the emotional setting, and how to best integrate the luminaires into the architecture. We create full-size mock-ups from foam core and Gatorfoam® board to test our ideas in a mock-up room filled with lamps and luminaires. When the project requirements cannot be satisfied with existing products, we design new luminaires ourselves. We then provide all of the contract documents, including lighting layouts, specifications, and detail drawings showing the luminaires in their actual setting.
ELG: Are there projects that stand out as favorites?
GG: There are many. A recent one that comes to mind is the Yale School of Art. We designed a combination incandescent and fluorescent lighting system (manufactured by Lightron with a Kurt Versen component) that provides power distribution, receptacles, uplight, perfectly even downlight with excellent glare shielding, and balanced color for art studios and classrooms. We are currently working on a private museum in Greenwich, CT, and an outdoor sculpture park in Omaha, NE, with a series of one-and-a-half-size bronze sculptures depicting the 19th-century Westward expansion. The sculpture will be lighted with T6 ceramic metal-halide lamps in precision spotlights manufactured by Bega on 35' poles, with careful shielding to inhibit glare.
ELG: How do you define good architectural lighting design?
GG: Lighting that answers all of the technical challenges while at the same time reinforcing the activities of people in the space. Good lighting design must also satisfy the criteria for energy effectiveness, glare control, quantity of illuminance, and the proper balance of luminances.
ELG: Is there a project that was particularly challenging?
GG: The most challenging projects often turn out to have the most innovative solutions. An example is a corporate cafeteria that had such a small budget for luminaires. We asked for the ceiling budget as well, and made the entire ceiling a large lighting fixture using 50 satellite dishes 10' in diameter. These serve as perfect parabolic reflectors to redirect the uplight from incandescent silver-bowl lamps in a soft, even pattern to accommodate table locations. This project won several awards, including a GE Edison Award.
ELG: How do you decide on lamps and fixtures?
GG: First we determine the quality of the light that will reinforce the desired emotional setting and decide which surfaces and objects will receive light and which ones will be left in relative darkness. Then we work backwards to choose lamps and luminaires by narrowing the field through physical mock-ups, computer calculations, and selecting the color rendering and temperature of the source. There are not too many lamps that will fit all of the criteria. Once we find the correct lamp, we modify the distribution of the source and control its glare to create the luminaire.
ELG: Is there a specific project you would like to do?
GG: Yes. I would like to provide lighting for a zoo. We have done an airport, and I'd like to say that we design lighting from A to Z.