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Interview with Beatrice Witzgall of I3D Lighting Design

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We recently had a chance to sit down with Beatrice Witzgall of I3D Lighting Design to discuss her recent experience working on superyachts. She is probably best known within the yachting world for her work on Pacific or the recent launch of A&R #6492 Amaryllis, but she has also been involved with many confidential, undisclosed projects.

Beatrice started her lighting career when she won an architectural competition for the EXPO 2000. At the MIT Media LAB as well as with her graduate students at the Parsons School of Design in New York, Beatrice researched how lighting and LEDs can act as an interactive technology and ambient information source, influencing people’s behaviours and movement patterns. She eventually started working with the world-renowned lighting design boutique firm L’Observatoire International. This led her to work on major projects such as Frank Gehry’s Novartis Headquarters, the politically controversial New York Jets & Olympic Stadium, and various large-scale hospitality and casino projects, including The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. She has won awards for her work within the architectural field such as the renowned “Lumen Award” for Alice Tully Hall, the Lincoln Center Renovation in NYC in 2010. We asked her about the current state of lighting in the world of superyachts.

SYT: So please tell us something about what you do…
BW: As lighting designers, we bridge the gap between art and technology. We are architects, but we are also simultaneously engineers. I am an architect, but I have been doing lighting design for over a decade. In addition to this, I am also a competitive sailor, and I am passionate about spending every free minute on a boat, which has made me fully appreciate the challenges of the marine environment. Merging all of these complimentary passions in the form of doing lighting design for yachts has been my greatest pleasure and strength.

One day, about 4 years ago while sailing in St Barts, I realized that although superyachts are the most exclusive, personalized and expensive environments in the world, they don’t really have lighting that matches the qualities of their other highly designed and representative aspects. Exterior lighting is primarily functional, very basic, and usually done by the shipyards electrical engineer. It doesn’t illuminate the shape or volume of the yacht. Lighting should be so much more. Exterior lighting should define a recognizable night time identity and provide a mood and atmosphere when owners entertain, have dinners, or throw parties. Light should also adjust to different functions and user modes at different times of the night, setting the mood unconsciously. On most of these yachts, all this is missing. All you’ll find is a range of down lights and decorative lamp shades. We do downlight layouts, but lighting design is all so much more than that.

In architecture, I have had the privilege of working with some great personalities and exceptional designers such Frank Gehry, Steven Holl, Toyo Ito, Diller Scofidio, and Patrick Jouin. Lighting is acknowledged as environment-changing, and is an aspect of design capable of bringing forth architectural design characteristics. In architecture, lighting is a key element of design, not just an afterthought. On many famous signature and award-winning projects, we were with them when they started the design process, collaborating from the very beginning. In these high profile projects, lighting designers are recognized as part of the design team. This results in a strong and successful signature project.

Why is this not happening and recognized in the yachting industry, where some of the most high-end quality and expensive environments are created?

SYT: Do you have any idea why that hasn’t happened yet?
BW: There are different components; but mostly it comes down to education and ego. The lighting industry has changed, and for good reasons. It has become a specialized profession. Most people in the yachting industry don’t realize what value a lighting designer adds and what they can bring to a project. The still feel that it adds costs or takes away fees from others and fear it complicates the process by adding another consultant.

However, quality of light, design opportunities, atmosphere, and a comprehensive overall composition of different lighting elements create a unique identity for a high-end environment. Considering the increasing technical complexities and multitude of choices as well as objective product selection to meet budgets make an independent lighting consultants a necessary additions to any serious project.

Traditionally, lighting is sold by manufacturers who then offer complimentary lighting design services which mostly feature their own products. Obviously, these manufacturers are biased and can’t necessarily see the whole project. They are unable to consult and understand what is best for a given situation. They are sales people and they are not trained as designers. Lighting designers provide multiple solutions that not only consider the specific task, but also consider the overall composition and the specific context of a project. As lighting designers, we understand the opportunities and the potential for a given project design. We select the most ideal product for the task, independent from sales. Architects can also provide a lighting design direction, but they typically focus on decorative aspects and leave the architectural components to the engineers. This gap is where a lot of potential for creativity is lost.

Lighting consultation doesn’t just stop there: We also focus on other responsibilities that are crucial for a successful end result, but which are also very technical. These include designing the zoning, creating dimming scenarios, and making sure that the products from different manufacturers match. We also become the problem solver. For example, on a recent megayacht launch, we had a problem where beautiful, glowing, large-scale custom features from one manufacturer were too cool-colored in comparison to the warm white LED cove and the dimmed halogen spots from a different manufacturer. Even though each manufacturer provided what they were supposed to provide, the color temperatures and mood did not match. We came up with a quick, inexpensive solution for color-correcting which did not require much additional labor and resulted in a beautiful, coherent spatial composition.

SYT: Tell us about your projects in the world of yachting…
BW: My first project was the 66’ Gunboat PHAEDO, a high-performance, luxury catamaran, where we didn’t just work on lighting, but also on the interior layouts and signature graphics. Lighting was just one component of what we were doing, and because this was such a high-performance yacht, we looked primarily at technical, energy, and weight aspects. Shortly after, we were invited to work on the exterior and interior scope of Pacific, which was an amazing, intense 3-year project, and was ultimately recognized at the 2011 Super Yacht Awards. Parallel to this, we also collaborated with Reymond Langton Design and have since then worked with them on numerous projects. We obviously have also been involved in a wide range of confidential projects – exterior as well as interior. Some are full design concepts and others are more specific, technical consultancies. I am mostly interested in increasing awareness about exterior lighting design. There is a need from the owner’s side to do something unique, different, and recognizable, but most owners don’t know what is possible and how to approach this topic. Over the last two-and-a-half years we have been involved in several exterior designs -- schematic designs as well as full scope implementations -- and we look forward to the day when some of these ideas will finally become publicly visible.

So how do you usually get involved in a project? Are you usually brought in through owners or through the yards?
At this point, it comes down to the owner or the designer. Usually, owners only have limited knowledge about building their own yacht. They rely on their team, mostly their designer and their yacht management company. Only sometimes does the shipyard get involved. This team must introduce and propose a lighting designer. Sometimes owners have worked with lighting designers on their houses and offices and so they bring them to their yacht project. For us, every case has been different, but usually we get involved through recommendations and introductions.

SYT: Have you been talking to a lot of shipyards?
BW: Yes, but they often take the point of view that they are just builders, executing instead of offering clients alternatives and choices. Unfortunately, shipyards try to keep things simple, and like to control everything “in-house” in order to minimize unknowns. They feel more comfortable always doing the same thing, conveniently and cheaply repeating the same downlighting and steplighting approach to every project. These designs are defined as x-hundred “lighting points” in a standard shipyard contract for the exterior designer to allocate. In a recent owner-shipyard contract negotiation, I reviewed the exterior lighting spec and all it had was one page; ultimately this defines the exterior night time identity for a superyacht. In the same spec, the AV equipment received over 20 pages. This is why change and innovation is so hard to implement if it doesn’t come early from the owners side.

Wouldn’t it make the shipyards more competitive, increase their brand and provide a better value if they would offer their clients the recognizable night time identity that sophisticated lighting provides? These shipyards could easily offer a more sophisticated exterior lighting package as a menu item or add-on features to choose from, in the same way that a car maker offers heated seats or xenon head lamps. We would love to work with shipyards on this concept. I already have a range of ideas I would love to discuss with them in more detail that would bring their exterior lighting and night-time identity to a whole different level.

SYT: Have the designers warmed up to it?
BW: It depends on the designer. I see that the younger generation is much more open. They understand what sophisticated lighting can mean for the quality, mood, and design of a space. They also often have a more minimal, clean design style in which it is desirable that fixtures are integrated, not glary and not visible. As a result, these younger designers try to incorporate lighting designers when they can. The more established designers prefer to stick with the formulas they have developed over several decades and are less open to it. Technology is changing every day. Today things are possible that simply weren’t around 15 years ago. Tomorrow, things will be different again.

If you look at two of the most successful yachts during the recent Monaco Yacht show -- Satori and Numptia -- both of them featured integrated lighting design. Though you could tell these yachts were different, you might not have realized that lighting design played such an important role in creating this individuality. Lighting is one of those intangible things that is not immediately obvious. I believe successful lighting design is when you “feel” the light, not “see it.”

SYT: And what about the owners? They spend so much money building these yachts -- how are you going to make them more aware of the possibilities?
BW: First of all the industry will need to become more aware, recognizing the possibilities of sophisticated lighting and creating a better understanding of the options and advantages. More media attention will obviously help do that. I also would love to create a better platform for dialog about lighting in some of the industry events. Ultimately, the industry will change once more yachts are out there that have lighting designers integrated. Right now, more projects are in the works than ever before. It is only a matter of time before they are released and recognized.

Lighting needs to be an early part of a project to really unleash the full impact. This means that it is best if owners and designers bring us in even before their shipyard contract is signed. This has happened to us on two instances in the past year, and this is where we have been truly able to come up with innovative and exciting design concepts. I hope we can get people and the industry to see the potential of lighting design and open up. Yachts are the most high-end spaces in the world, yet they still have very basic lighting… a world of possibilities to discover.

SYT: What about ‘greener’ advantages?
BW: Green is a big word. LEDs are obviously more energy-efficient and are usually associated with this idea. But LEDs also come with their own set of technical issues and many misperceptions. LEDs are as different as cars. You have Hondas and you have Mercedes. You get different values at different price points from different manufacturers. Good LEDs are not cheap. It’s a complex, ever-evolving technology with hard-to-manage colour consistency, heat, and dimming issues. LED do not yet have fully developed optics and beam angle adjustments. There are a lot of different technical considerations involved in any project when you go “green.” These difficulties are what we specialize in and what we must keep up with on a daily basis.

I3D Lighting Design
Beatrice Witzgall
+ 1 646 729 4330
Beatrice@in3design.com
www.In3Design.com