He’s got bright ideas
If you think the team for your new home is complete with an architect and interior designer, then meet Abhay Wadhwa. He is one of a handful of specialists who practise the art and science of lighting design. Based in New York with offices in India, the Middle East and Asia, Mr. Wadhwa’s firm, AWA Associates, designs everything from the complete lighting of homes, nightclubs and retail interiors to entire buildings. One of his recent projects is lighting the world’s largest and tallest spanning-arch bridge — the 1.7-kilometrelong, $817-million crossing at Dubai Creek in the United Arab Emirates. He also designs custom residences with lighting budgets from $100,000 to more than $10-million.
Trained as an architect in his native India, Mr. Wadhwa worked as a theatre set and lighting designer before doing graduate studies at the Lighting Research Centre at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. The globetrotting Mr. Wadhwa, who now teaches part-time at his alma mater, is not a mere specifier of lamps and light bulbs. His firm has gained a reputation for its sensitivity to context, its use of lighting as a “building material” and a high-design content and theatricality. For the Peak Tower in Hong Kong, he designed lighting for the huge atrium at the top of the building that feels like you’re inside a glass of champagne.
National Post caught up with Mr. Wadhwa when he was in Toronto as a keynote speaker at IIDEX/NeoCon Canada trade show for the contract furniture industry. We were interested in gaining perspective on lighting in residential projects. NP What changes have you seen in the way lighting is used in the home? Abhay Wadhwa Over the past 100 years, we’ve seen changes that are the result of both technology and culture. People used to go from bright interiors to dark interiors, now they go from bright interiors to bright interiors. But that’s changing, too. Lighting is becoming subtle. It’s no longer the notion that “more light is better sight.” Shadows actually help humanize our environment, and technology has been both a blessing and a curse. NP How so? AW We’re going through an interesting period. Because of the price of energy, people are interested in energy-saving lighting solutions. But there are a lot of technologies that will take time to sort out. There’s great promises and expectations around LED lights and compact fluorescent lights. But there are other technologies in the wings like LED polymers that will come down in price and will be appropriate for homes. Beyond the source of light there is the control of light. Smart homes now allow us to control every device in the home from our computers. But people still want the experience of switching on a light. NP Is there a difference in how people in different countries react to light and use it ? AW In hot places, people want cool or neutral light in their homes. In northern Europe and parts of North America, people crave warmer light. In warm climate what we call “glare,” they call “sparkle.” It’s about geography and the quality of the natural light. This influences what people want in their homes. NP What other trends do you see? AW When we are working in emerging economies like India and China, wealthy people want extravagant lighting fixtures. They tend to the more baroque interiors and lighting that is more ostentatious. In North America and Europe, clients allow us to design in a more minimal way. Even in the elaborate interiors where we may have a chandelier that costs thousands of dollars, most of the light comes from concealed sources. But you still need to see these “modern-day candelabras” because people don’t feel comfortable if they can’t see the source of the light.
Lighting designer Abhay Wadhwa.