Lighting the Public Realm

Linnaea Tillett in Mumbai on March 23, 2009. (Asia Society India Centre)

MUMBAI, March 23, 2009 – Lighting designer and visual artist Linnaea Tillett shared some of the psychological, aesthetic, and ecological concerns inherent in lighting design in a lecture hosted by Asia Society India Centre and Jnanapravaha.

Tillett told the audience that as a native New Yorker she saw lighting design as akin to urban landscaping, and that she was regularly engaged in lighting "the public realm," or spaces where strangers can meet in a civilized environment. Lighting these spaces, she said, means not just illuminating them but giving them a particular feel; in other words, her commissions require a balance between aesthetic concerns and functionality.

Tillett went to describe how her firm, Tillett Lighting Design, focuses on four primary attributes of light—reflection and the play of light; the spiritual and evocative dimension of light (or the mood light sets—coziness, for example); delight and, finally, curiosity. Tillet cited the last two elements as being particularly important to her company.

Tillett also discussed how she collaborates with performing artists to achieve the artists' desired effects through lighting. For her, these collaborations involve not just the lighting designer and the artist but also the public—which is after all the end user for whom a given space is ultimately being designed. For that reason, Tillett went on, the manner in which the public will use any space guides the way in which it is both designed and lit.

Tillett also touched on various environmental concerns related to the use of artificial light, arguing that at present most developed societies tend to use far too much of it. In the US, for example, illumination levels were determined by energy providers until roughly 15 years ago, when power deficits forced energy providers to look at reducing illumination levels. Tillett added that solar-powered public lighting is something her firm is interested in, but that because of the legacy infrastructure that exists in many cities today, widespread use of solar power can't be implemented just yet.

Reported by Angeline Thangaperakasam, Asia Society India Centre

Audio Excerpt: Linnaea Tillett defines "the public realm" and the logic of lighting such spaces (2 min., 3 sec.)