The life of light E-10 June 2019

Singapore – Shanghai/Xitang – Singapore
Weekend 7-8 June 2019

The last two weeks have been pretty full on; project deadlines, coordination meetings, sample reviews, conference calls, fee proposals, interviews…and a bit of travel. We are fortunate to have been appointed to some exciting new projects, which just kick started. Project cycles are always unpredictable and balancing new projects with ongoing work, making sure the team has ongoing work without over working, can be quite challenging. We have been interviewing new staff to make sure we can cope with our current work requirements. As I write this blog I am on my way back from Shanghai after an intensive but very satisfying 3 days on our project site in Xitang, about an hours’ drive out of Shanghai.


Going to site facing the hard realities of your own design are the most rewarding and revealing times of a project. I always tell my clients that my design is as good as its final implementation and being allowed to be part of that implementation gives the lighting designer the opportunity to cross the T’s and dot the I’s, making sure the very best can be achieved. The famous 80-20 rule applies here as well…80% of the project’s success lays in the last 20% of the implementation. Having a client that appreciates that and gives you the opportunity (like our Xitang client) to have a near free hand in completing the project is very gratifying as a designer.

Design and reality
Every designer should have the opportunity to see his or her design come to fruition to be physically involved to the very end. It is a very educational process and even after nearly 40 years I am amazed how much I learn each time I am on site. The issues you encounter on site help you to better design and anticipate for your next design. Our site visit to Xitang takes place about 1-2 months before the expected opening, a critical time when you still have the opportunity to change or correct things. With an understanding and willing client this is a great opportunity. Through an active Wechat group and constant communication with the project team, we have been kept up to date since our last visit in April, so we pretty much knew what to expect on site and we set on to work our way through the issues from the moment we set foot on site.

Site marathon
A project of this size, stretched over a large area, with many buildings and several floors are a recipe for a lot of physical endurance. Over the past few days I have done more than 20,000 steps/ day, climbed up and down countless stairs and step ladders, got down and dirty from early in the morning till late at night, 15 hours a day, with short meal breaks for lunch and dinner. These are the site marathons, where you try to achieve all you can during your trip. Good advance planning is crucial and we had the complete site team continuously at our disposal as were the programmers, electricians and lighting supplier. They followed us wherever we needed to go. When Grace and I split up to work in parallel the “support team” split up accordingly as well. We even had people carrying our bags for us! Water was brought when we were thirsty.

Site team follow up
We have a great team (the same site team that worked with us on the Yangshuo project) that know us and our way of thinking which helps a lot. They anticipate and understand quickly what you want. Instructions to change or correct lighting issues were executed immediately and on numerous occasions we found the lighting to already be rectified or installed when previously missing, at our next inspection. I cant emphasise enough how critical to the success of a project a supportive and understanding site contractor is! This team shows they are also eager to successfully complete this project and respect us as the expert consultant, never really questioning our judgement other then suggesting possible improvements! We happily understandably put in all the extra hours during our visit!

What did we do?
For those not often going to project sites ( or even for those who do) I am happy to share the typical routines we go through. On arrival we generally first tour the whole site to take stock of the progress and understand what is and what not. It provides us with the base to prioritise our work for the next days. It shows us what is completed, missing or yet to be installed, etc. Then we set out to work our way through area by area, floor by floor.

The most common issue are poorly installed cove lights. No matter how well you document the installation details we always find that we need to adjust these on site mainly because the actual mill work/ installation detail is different then the original drawings and contractors then use their own interpretation to install. We practically had to instruct each and every linear cove light to be re-installed, which the contractor did without a protest and in record time!

Lights missing, wrongly installed or in a “wrong” position are another favourite on the menu 😊. Things change on site due to constraints, unexpected obstructions, last minute change of designs or layouts, etc. Only when you are onsite and can directly discuss with the rest of the team (interior designer, architect, landscaper, electrical engineer, who were all following us!) quick action can be taken to correct of modify. A project is always a moving object…

Last but not least the lighting controls…ooohhh the lighting controls, (sigh 😊). For some reason the programmers always seem totally, inadequately equipped to deal with the requirements of programming the controls. Finding the correct circuit and then being able to dim it seems like a mountain to climb for them at time!

Light show
In this project we have the unique integration of a light show. The buildings that surround and face the central courtyard have been designed with an additional layer of coloured RGB dynamic light that will be part of an integrated light show, probably every 30 mins every evening. Our challenge is to integrate these six designated areas both as part of our architectural lighting scheme as well as the light show. DMX controlled RGB lighting mixed with our regular architectural dimmable lighting controls. I don’t need to explain the extra level of complexity (and frustration) that comes along. However, the initial results look magical (see pictures below). It will be a show stopper!

Everyone has an opinion
Having a big team following you also opens up a lot of discussions…its amazing how many people have an opinion when it comes to lighting. Most of all if their “opinion is based on unfinished work! Very little people have the ability to visualise the end result and having to explain that some lights have not yet been installed, not yet been aimed or not yet been programmed can be a frustrating affair!
Part of our work also requires us to walk our site progress through with the “boss”. It is a necessary part of our presence and serves to satisfy their peace of mind that it will all be ok! Explaining yet be done works to the boss is part and parcel of our responsibility, at the end of the day they are investing a lot of money and are anxious to see that it all comes successfully together. Having to clarify the same to every Tom Dick and Harry who hobs around with you is a bit more frustrating, but we take that in our stride, certainly as we are very confident, we have another winner on our hands!

Enjoy your time ahead!

Notice: To all my readers, I will be away for a couple of weeks and will resume my blog by the end of July.

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09. June 2019 by Martin Klaasen
Categories: Light and inspiration, light watch, lighting and culture, lighting design, lighting design practice | Leave a comment

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