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MONDO ARC

Nathan Savage

Issue 64 Dec / Jan 2011/2


Nathan Savage, Lighting Designer and Partner at Light Touch PLD, talks openly about his lighting influences and the new independent design consultancy shaping the industry in the Middle East.
Liz Moody reports.

Raised in a practical family of creatives; a father who is a trained cabinet maker and a mother with a gift for all things design, it was inevitable that Savage would carry an artistic gene or two. “There wasn’t much left in the house that hadn’t been crafted by either parent,” explains Savage. From his father’s chiseled interiors: “the fitted bespoke kitchen, tables, chairs, even the beds we slept in,” he recalls.

All accessorised by his mother’s metalwork, textiles & ceramics. The family home was certainly an embodiment of their love of art, design and craftsmanship. An apt memory, Savage recalls, is of his mother using clay to create a three dimensional structure to house a light fitting; making hand carved and pierced shapes for the light to escape.

The distribution of light and its atmospheric impact on the living room was an early influence on the young Savage. Their hands-on approach certainly nurtured his own originality and his awareness to the effect lighting could have on an environment. Throughout his early years this lighting theme continued in his own artistic creations, cultivating his discipline; though he admits himself, somewhat subconsciously at the time.

By his teens Savage was heavily interested in sculptural forms and the use of materials both natural and manmade. A specific love of glass and acrylic, and the dynamics of lighting through these led to him spending hours in his father’s workshop experimenting. Blown plastics resulted in lenses through which light was shone and the resulting colours, shapes and forms noted for future reference.

Following an Art Foundation course, his design aspirations led him to the University of Wales, College Newport; where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Design. His desire was not to venture down the conventional art and design route but to combine technical and artistic disciplines within three elements; art and design history; product design; and Installation and site, creating site specific art exhibits that gained regional news recognition.

During this time Savage explored his fascination and love of nomadic culture and transportable furniture, and following his degree installed kilns in his parent’s garage and attended short courses with the likes of famous glass sculptor Danny Lane. Savage combined the decorative with the functional; casting acoustic loudspeakers in recycled glass, and later only acrylic, and designed indirect table lamps with, often found, materials such as rusted metal to produce attractive and relaxing reflected warm light. It was whilst marketing these objects (he exhibited and sold pieces in Turin, Italy) that he took his first formal steps into the lighting arena as technical sales and lighting design for Illuma. There he became aware of the specialist lighting design profession which has had him hooked ever since, it [lighting], in his own words: “Has captivated and at times ‘trapped’ me, and will hopefully do so for many more years.”

This realisation of the discipline led him to independent designer’s dpa lighting consultants. Firstly based in rural Oxfordshire and subsequently the Dubai office; where he was promoted to Associate, accountable for a team of designers and numerous high profile international projects. He is keen to express the move was for life experience, self progression and the opportunity to explore other geographical landscapes and cultures; and not the financial gains so often associated with the region.

“Learning how business is conducted and how people perceive light in the region is different to how we consider it in the UK, it was an opportunity I relished,” Savage states.

It was also a region he instinctively took to his heart; after five years of living and working in the Middle East, mastering the diverse working practices and cultures, he has laid down permanent roots. Purchasing a home in the desirable Dubai Marina district and launching independent lighting design consultancy, Light Touch PLD, in collaboration with fellow British expat Paul Miles (previously Head of Lighting Design at WSP Middle East) and in partnership with distinguished International consultants Project Lighting Design.

It was ironically the distraction of the badly lit greens during a round of golf that sparked the idea of their collaboration; Miles and Savage bore the concept of their consultancy. Savage retells: “There were many contributing factors, we were both ready to take on new challenges and we wanted to step outside the confines and limits of working within boundaries. But predominately, we believed there was space in the market for an environmental lighting design company.”

Smiling, he continues: “It was a huge decision; there was that nervous moment, like being stood at the top of a black run for the first time, sometimes you have just got to go for it! We recognised that the lighting industry is going through a massive period of change and subsequently the approach towards design had to react, grow and develop accordingly. We were at the stage where after years of working under limitations we wanted ‘fun’ and to unleash our creativity, without corporate restrictions. The role of a lighting designer is recognised but I think widely misunderstood and with the speed at which technology is changing we felt it an ideal time to really promote the value of considered and well designed lighting solutions. At Light Touch our aim is to work with our clients to help them understand the benefits of good quality light, regardless of the project size or complexity.”

And now Light Touch PLD is born? “With only a handful of lighting specialists in the region the area is hungry for education on the subject, yet many still with reservations,” Savage explains. “This is crucial and why we believe we are different. Perhaps some would say more open-minded to easing clients into the concept of lighting designers. We are very much receptive to our clients’ unique requirements and those whom initially do not feel the need for a full lighting design service.

They want assistance, with flexibility, in accommodating and addressing their project need. We commence relationships with clients that previously may not have considered employing a lighting design specialist, yet, after the first collaboration, they appreciate the value we bring to the table; our contribution to realising their overall commercial objectives. They instantly recognise our wealth, enlisting us for their following project and so on. With lots of rogues in the market we offer valuable protection to the client.”

This approach is proving a success; still relatively young Light Touch PLD has already outgrown its primary offices, have and continue to, recruit new talent to its team and are winning local projects. From a Royal Palace to high end offices in the prestigious financial centre; hospitals to luxury retail outlets; whilst extending beyond the gulf with the likes of a Gentleman’s Club in China, and hotels in parts of Africa.

After fourteen years in the lighting industry Savage’s enthusiasm for the subject is uplifting to witness. He participates in regional lighting steering groups and actively contributes to lecture programmes at universities and architectural design establishments and conferences.

He also doesn’t pull any punches on hot topics such as ‘the meaning of energy efficiency’. “All too often too much emphasis is placed on energy efficiency; lighting should also be enjoyed,” Savage stresses. The subject of banning the GLS lamp is one that Savage fervently disagrees with, in fact he is keen to highlight the larger picture is often forgotten by the marketing spiel. “It is true that it (GLS) is an inefficient light source in terms of producing visible light, but converting to CFL lamps for every application because they are meant to be environmentally friendly is not the answer. If you look at the overall cradle-to-grave carbon footprint of a CFL lamp it is hugely worse than a GLS lamp. Most are not recycled correctly ending up in landfill sites polluting the earth, whereas the GLS is just metal and glass and therefore has no environmentally damaging afterlife.”

As a blogger, and recently a speaker at the Index - International Design Exhibition in Dubai, Savage is championing the discipline to those that may not necessarily be up on the latest lighting trends in the region. He illustrates: “There is still a massive misunderstanding and undervaluing of lighting on a whole; we all appreciate the value of sunlight and its health benefits, particularly in our hot climate, yet when it comes to artificial lighting people compromise their lifestyle, choosing light sources that are often inappropriate because they are perceived to save energy. My home is lit purely with GLS lamps and low voltage, not that I don’t wish to save energy, I’m very environmentally conscious, I just don’t believe in all cases the perceived energy saving sources are always the most efficient. People often take light for granted, it’s not there to be abused, the simple notion of the use of dimmer switches is all too easy to overlook.”

Savage continues: “To be honest, education plays a major influence. I’m passionate about people understanding light; I gain satisfaction when people recognise the quality of good lighting design and I use personal time to convey this message.”

Savage’s passion for education continues: “I firmly believe I’ll never stop learning, technology is constantly moving, at present the general consensus appears to be that LED is here to save the world and will replace every light source. This current, misconception opens exciting opportunities for lighting designers and gives us real possibilities to promote the pros and cons of every light source. However fantastic the LED revolution may be, I for one hope that we never lose sight of what traditional light sources like our old friend the GLS lamp have done for our industry and the world of lighting.

“Peoples’ focus is often misdirected and as they did with incandescent lamps they tend to focus on energy saving as the main driving tool behind the use of new technologies. They see how much money they are ‘saving’ but in many instances appear to lose sight that it may not be the correct light source for the application or a healthy light to be under. With further advances in technology there is evidence to suggest that LEDs may be able to produce a full and even spectral distribution (healthy light) but we are not there yet and we should also look at the bigger picture. People see a new technology and want to love it because it is so called ‘green’. I am by no means condemning the solution I just believe it has its place. Using the right light in the appropriate application regardless of technological advancement is also paramount.”

When Savage does have a spare minute you will find him running on the public beach (he completed the half marathon in neighbouring Emirate Ras Al Khaimah earlier in the year), cycling at Dubai’s Autodrome, playing tennis, or swinging his clubs with ‘The Dubai Divots’, an expat golf society which Light Touch PLD fittingly sponsor.

Lastly, Savage’s hopes for the future? “Apart from world domination?” he teases. “I would like to see darker skies and brighter stars.”

www.lighttouchpld.com

 

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