Our architectural lighting coverage took off in the late 1980s via editors inspired by the illumination of built environments

A notable sign of the times here at Lighting Dimensions as we mark our 20th anniversary is that this overview of our architectural lighting coverage is being written by an in-house architecture editor, yours truly. Although the magazine was launched in the summer of 1977 as a trade journal covering the entertainment lighting industries of concerts, clubs, film, and theatre--from Neil Diamond and Rocky to illuminated dance floors and mirrored disco balls--for the past decade we have upheld a strong commitment to covering the architectural segment of the lighting industry. Today, as the worlds of theatrical lighting and architectural illumination often tread the same turf in a world teeming with themed environments (think Las Vegas, Orlando, The Disney Store, and your friendly neighborhood strip mall or family restaurant), it appears that in some ways our coverage has come full circle.

In August 1993 I began my tenure as the first full-time architecture editor in LD's history. The thinking at the time was that, indeed, concert and theatrical lighting would always remain the magazine's backbone, but that architectural lighting had matured to a point meriting the attention of a staff editor. To further enhance the magazine's coverage of the built environment, in the fall of 1994 we brought aboard Robert Cashill as themed entertainment editor. In 1996, Bob was kicked upstairs as LD editor, but I'm getting ahead of the story. Let's take a look back at the cornerstones upon which our architectural coverage rose.

The commitment to a change in the magazine's editorial focus was clearly evident with the first issue produced by Patricia MacKay and partners in the spring of 1986. The last issue (March/April 1986) mounted by the previous Laguna Beach, CA, regime still featured a "groovy" colorful 3D cover logo and a story line-up firmly entrenched in Broadway and its ken: Ming Cho Lee, Lily Tomlin's The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, and Yale's production of Fugard's The Blood Knot jockeyed for space. The first issue of the revamped LD, produced quickly in New York City by a completely new staff, thrust its readers into a decidedly different spotlight; astonishingly enough to the largely theatrical readership, the "New and Improved LD" presented a cover story special report entitled "Architectural Lighting: The Dramatic Influence." Recalls former LD editorial director and publisher MacKay, "It was clear that there was a great need for architectural lighting coverage. At that time there was no magazine covering it regularly. There were occasional articles in one of the interior-design magazines, while the tremendous success of architectural lighting trade shows indicated that there was a need for information on the part of the designers and a lot of manufacturers."

Out of the starting gate, the new team of writers and editors reported on such architectural-oriented leading lightsas Abe Feder, James Nuckolls, David Mintz, Paul Marantz, Leslie Wheel, and Donald Gersztoff. The magazine's trademark white cover with black-and-white legend also set a lasting precedent. Later in the year, LD continued to cover architectural projects, manufacturers, and designers, and in November served up another special report on the Illuminating Engineering Society's then 80 light years.

Barbara Knox, the first New York-based managing editor of LD, had previously been the editor of a magazine covering the hospitality design industry, and it was her interest in the worlds of architecture and interior design that helped build a network of contacts among design professionals and freelance contributors. At the same time, a bridge to the existing LD readership of entertainment experts was maintained by our early nightclub coverage. As one leading LD has often noted, it was really the disco era in the late 1970s and early 80s that spurred the creation of high-tech-illuminated interior spaces. The massive budgets spent on club lighting at the time began to spill over into restaurants, lobbies, and other genres of interior architecture, while technological improvements developed for clubs and theatre were passed on to the architectural luminaire market. You may still cry "Disco Sucks"--now that it's baaaaack in the late 90s--but the genre helped to change the luminous landscape.

"Architectural lighting really became a 'named' discipline when Jim Nuckolls looked around in the early- to mid-70s and said, 'There are too many people in the theatre lighting business,' and he was right," says MacKay. "Of course, he was not the first person to practice lighting in architecture, but he is generally acknowledged as one of the leaders who coalesced it into a profession via his book, his columns in LD and elsewhere, and his participation in founding the International Association of Lighting Designers [IALD]."

By the May/June issue of 1988, a new writer to the magazine made his debut, William Weathersby. (To my father's chagrin, an overzealous copyeditor decided to lop off the "Junior" from my first bylines.) At the time finishing up graduate work in architecture and design criticism at Parsons School of Design and having previously written for several design journals, I had sent over-the-transom query letters to virtually every design magazine I could find in the school library. (Freelance writing may not seem the most lucrative career option--don't ask my father's opinion--but I was at least admirably fighting an urge to remain a grad student in perpetuity). After receiving a prompt call from LD managing editor Ann Daly, I was on my way to pocketing several assignments--plus enjoying a free lunch at a Flatiron bistro to boot! That spring issue I weighed in with two feature articles, which covered the pristine lighting of Chicago's Nikko Hotel by Imero Fiorentino and Santa Monica's Archilla men's store by LD Alena Appia. (At the last minute before deadline I noticed I had typed her name as Apnia in my hard copy.) Although I was still refining my ability to tell an MR-16 from a PAR-64, I benefited from tutoring by LD's crack staff of technical experts and seasoned editors.

A seminal milestone in the magazine's evolving architectural coverage was the May/June 1987 cover story, "Architects on Lighting." Frank Gehry, Robert A.M. Stern, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Helmut Jahn, and Morphosis were the heavy-hitters profiled in the special section. Within one year in New York, LD had already earned its architectural trade publishing pedigree; architects no longer asked us over the phone, "You're calling from Lighting Dementia?" In hindsight, that particular issue was a daring one, since architects were given the chance to sound off on their roles as the clients of lighting consultants. And sound off they did, at times from a shaky soapbox: "I always say that if you let a lighting consultant design a building it will look like a lampshade," said Murphy/Jahn's James Goettsch, while Stern decreed that all downlighting was "ceilingacne," pronounced America "overlit," and admitted to once advancing the theory that fluorescent lighting caused cancer. Luckily, other more moderate architects in the group sang the praises of their lighting designers and reaffirmed the crucial need for such specialists. (Whew!)

While the first LDI trade show was getting underway in 1988, LD began to rely upon the network of design stars who were already being profiled in its sister publication, TCI (then Theatre Crafts). It was an experimental time when many top theatre LDs were venturing into architectural work as well, so the magazine profiled such trailblazing crossover artists as Ken Billington (his restaurant work with designer Sam Lopata in the 80s now seems to capture a particular turning point in the evolution of hospitality design), David Hersey, Jules Fisher, Marilyn Lowey, and others. By the end of the decade, new names were being "discovered" in our pages, such as a young New York firm called Johnson Schwinghammer (March 1989), with their retail-heavy roster of clients including Henri Bendel, Barneys, and Ebel. Today, of course, that firm tops the A-list of commercial lighting experts with clients from Jil Sander (November 1993) to the SoHo Grand Hotel (April 1997). Meanwhile, at the dawn of the 90s, I remained an LD freelancer, covering stories such as the lighting of a Hyatt hotel in Melbourne, Australia, designed by Seattle-based Lightsource, and a round-up of new and improved supermarket lighting. (Well, I was willing to check out trends down any aisle, as it were. No free canned goods, though.)

By the summer of 1993, LD had established itself as the only US trade journal covering all aspects of lighting, including architectural projects. I signed on as a full-time scribe the same day David Johnson (now the editor of TCI) arrived as an associate editor covering the business beat for LD. Weeks into the job, we helped pack boxes to move into our current suite of offices. I soon drew the assignment to write about the lighting of our new space (November 1993), where plans were percolating for the ETEC website and editors were struggling to acclimate themselves to a truly "designed" office, in contrast to the shabby college-newspaper-like bullpen whence LD came. Meanwhile, prominent architects such as Antoine Predock were signed up as keynote speakers at LDI (the roster later including principals of Arquitectonica and Venturi, Scott Brown), further strengthening our presence in the world of architecture.

So, what else have we LD architecture groupies been up to for the past few years? We've produced annual issues on resort, exterior, museum, and office lighting assignments; covered the trade show waterfront from Hannover, Germany, to Hong Kong; reported from sites such as the Atlanta Olympics and luminaire factories in Milan; profiled scores of tyros and veterans; and built lasting professional relationships (friendships, even) with talented lighting designers, notable architects, knowledgeable manufacturers' reps, undeterrable PR flacks, and other assorted talking heads from around the globe. The maturation of the architectural lighting profession--as demonstrated via the growth and sophistication of the IALD (we covered its 25th birthday in 1994), the Designers Lighting Forum, the IES, and the Themed Entertainment Association, among others--has been a pleasure for us to observe during the 90s. Meanwhile, the advancements in architectural lighting technology witnessed during our watch--including compact fluorescents, the MR-16 lamp and low-voltage options, sulfur lamps, color changers, and the now rapidly growing fiber-optic field--continue to point toward great potential for growth and experimentation in this market sector.

Leading lights such as Abe Feder, who passed away last summer, have not dimmed, but merely passed on their breadth of knowledge to the next generation of torchbearers, and we hope we have been there to lend support. As the new millennium approaches, architectural lighting designers continue to be influenced by, and in turn inspire, their counterparts in the worlds of film, concerts, theatre, even cyberspace. Further indicating the extent to which the architectural lighting mainstream may stretch its boundaries, several of our staffers have cited recent upgrades in ecclesiastical presentations and interiors and have commented, while maintaining straight faces, "Churches are entertainment too." So it might help to bear in mind when pondering your next design assignment that it was architectural icon Mies van der Rohe who first said, "God is in the details."