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Dhruvajyoti ‘DJ’ Ghose

Issue 74 August / September 2013

In a career that has taken him half way around the world and back again, Lighting Design Partnership Director Dhruvajyoti ‘DJ’ Ghose has developed a keen eye for emotionally intelligent lighting design. Pete Brewis visits LDP’s Sydney headquarters to hear the case for light schemes that amplify architecture and resonate with local sensibilities.

“I landed into architecture almost by accident, or perhaps one can think of it as destiny,” says Dhruvajyoti ‘DJ’ Ghose as he begins the story of his journey from architecture student to Director of Sydney-based Lighting Design Partnership. Quietly spoken, with a precise gentility and an occasionally zen-like turn of phrase, Ghose has a pleasing knack of making the process of lighting design seem as much philosophical exploration as design solution.

Indeed it is the process of constant discovery that has stoked his passion for lighting design over his twenty year career.
“Every project that I work on informs and educates me further in my approach,” he says. “One of the reasons that I continue to remain interested in this field is because I never know if I will have the right answers in the next project. Each project seems to present a unique set of new issues never encountered before and this requires us to experiment and explore. We have never been able to create a ‘template’ for design solutions and perhaps this is because we look for the differences – the subtle variations that bring identity and uniqueness to every project.”

His love of light is clear, but the attraction was far from instant. In his early years as an architect, Ghose was particularly drawn to the study of day-lighting design, but artificial lighting left him cold – something to be passed on to a project’s electrical consultants. “It was a moment of epiphany when I considered the oddity of being comfortable modulating variable daylight but hesitant to take control of a predictable light source just because it ran off electricity!” he says.

A few weeks of “mental reorganisation” followed, before embarking on a path that eventually saw him leaving his architectural practice, attending the lighting course at The Bartlett and focusing on professional lighting design.

After working in London, Ghose moved to Sydney in 2000 from where, together with colleague Andre Tames, he began building the Lighting Design Partnership brand across the Asia-Pacific region.
Today LDP provides lighting solutions throughout the Eastern hemisphere. From their studios in Sydney and Singapore, the team service projects as far west as the Middle East, taking in India, South East Asia, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Korea, New Zealand and, of course, Australia.With a portfolio of completed projects in over 20 countries in the region, says Ghose, the practice’s network of designers is well versed in responding to the cultural nuances that bring identity to each location. Do attitudes to light differ across the Asia-Pacific?
“It is difficult to generalise, but differences do exist and can be quite apparent at times. One needs to keep an open mind and absorb the influences and aspirations of the client and context,” he says.

The greatest differences are, he suggests, deeply rooted in our cultural histories: “There is a stark opposition of views between the Orient and Occident when one looks at the philosophy of light – and perhaps it is embedded in our psyche through religion and parable. The West treats darkness as the unknown, something to be feared and dispelled by knowledge, represented by light. In the Orient, it is exactly the opposite: darkness is the fountainhead of creativity, which nurtures and rejuvenates to allow enjoyment of the limited bits revealed in light. This perhaps allows us to be more tolerant of darkness.”

He notes that regional projects are influenced more than ever by the proliferation of both online and print media that showcase stand-out projects from around the world and warns against what he refers to as the ‘imagification’ of lighting – the shift towards creating the photogenic rather than the experiential. To guard against this, he calls for more informed criticism and research in lighting design, a means of ensuring projects deliver a more considered response to local needs.

Technological advances have also brought unforeseen shifts in attitude, he says. Rapid improvements in LED technology have led to the indiscriminate and often unnecessary use of coloured light, while an increased dependence on simulations has made it harder to evaluate the subtle and more complex aspects of lighting. “Clients, designers and the profession at large are all responsible for keeping this balance,” he says.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given his early career, Ghose believes the best schemes are those that emphasis the original architectural intent of a space. “I believe that well designed lighting plays the role of an ‘amplifier’ of the sensory and emotive nuances generated by architecture and the interior,” he says. “As with any good amplifier, it is our role to maintain maximum fidelity and avoid introducing visual noise; sometimes we need to creatively edit to bring the essence into greater focus. We consciously prevent ourselves from preconceived ‘good solutions’ and try to remain responsive in our interpretation of the visual environment. In our studios it is an oft quoted adage that ‘good lighting is invisible’ and it is important to bear in mind that the stars of the show are always the surfaces we light – not the lighting equipment.”
Most importantly, a successful lighting scheme is one that resonates with the viewer and end user. “The idea of resonance is one that pervades our design processes and is applied to the creative inputs that we receive from the design team, the client, the constructors, users and critics!” says Ghose. “The complexity is that each observer has their own paradigms to satisfy and, unlike a theatrical show, architectural lighting has a longevity which exposes it to long term scrutiny. Good lighting is able to negotiate the inherent contradictions of the built environment. It represents an equilibrium between opposing paradigms, unlike engineering solutions, which represent an optimal compromise. Thus the quality of lighting design is highly dependent on the lead designer – it involves their world view, beliefs and conscience.”

It is this, says Ghose, that sets lighting design apart from other technical disciplines where decisions can be validated by a rational evaluation alone. Unfortunately the distinction is still not generally understood, with clients often conflating quality with quantity.
“I find it hilarious that the client brief for even the most experiential spaces - hotel guest rooms - will often demand an outcome measured in lux,” says Ghose. “It completely misses the point - try defining a good steak by weight. It is understandable that empirical measures are quoted as it makes experts of bureaucrats and amateurs. I have encountered individuals walking around site with an illuminance meter in hand pontificating that the design does not meet requirement. This was based on a 15% variation in measured levels!”

Ghose has many such examples: a client who questioned the use of 3000K instead of 4000K because, it transpired, they assumed the ‘higher number’ made it a better option; or the Mayor of Sydney’s decree that the street lighting in the city’s CBD should be 30% brighter than the highest vehicular road lighting category in the Australian standard – a decision that has resulted in “excessive lighting hardware, glare, and overall an unpleasant night-time experience.”

A key part of the problem, he says, is a general misunderstanding of how perception works. “Most people imagine the eye as a camera, where the lens creates an image on the retina similar to photographic film. This creates a belief that the eye responds to ‘quantity’ of light, where more light results in a better image. However, this has now been proved to be incorrect. The visual system is tuned to detect ‘contrast’ or variation in light levels; we are acutely sensitive to transitions from highlights to shadows. It is these changes that inform our visual system about our environment. A pleasing environment is determined by the range and extent of these gradients, and we as designers need to be conscious of this.”

For Ghose, however, the rewards of lighting design far outweigh its frustrations. “The opportunity to work with creative teams and act as the glue that cements all the different bits of craft is a wonderful experience,” he says. “The constant development of technological innovation allows an ever expanding range of creative solutions; there are few disciplines where one is learning every day and utilising that knowledge almost immediately in real-life situations.”

It’s an enthusiastic endorsement for his chosen profession – and perhaps the Fates that nudged him towards it. But luck, one suspects, has only been a bit part player in his success. What advice can he pass on to budding lighting designers entering the industry, I ask? His response could almost be a credo for life in general, and perhaps for DJ Ghose it is just that: “Keep your eyes open, watch the detail and follow your heart,” he says.




Projects that you would like to change:
The exterior lighting of the Sydney Opera House – as a world icon it deserves better!

Projects you admire:
The twin towers of Kuala Lumpur.

Projects you dislike:

Buildings with facades lit using indiscriminate coloured lighting. Projects with unfriendly control systems.

Lighting Hero:

I am still looking! My hero will be technically sound, creatively innovative and totally unpredictable.

Notable projects:
Federation Square, Melbourne (LAB Architecture); Sydney Opera House exteriors (JPW); Jal Mahal, Jaipur (a huge team of great designers); Canberra Airport (GMB Architects); Clarke Quay, Singapore (Alsop and SPARCH); Shanghai International Cruise Terminal (Alsop and SPARCH); Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (Philip Cox); Al Bustan Palace Hotel, Muscat (Crone Partners).

Most memorable project:
Lighting Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi for the Aga Khan Foundation Award presentation. It was an incredible experience handcrafting the lighting for the world Heritage monument using easily available rental equipment. Due to lack of temporary power, nothing could be tested beforehand, and on the night before the event, it went all foggy making testing impossible! The first time we saw the outcome was during the event - nail-biting stuff.

Current projects:
I am currently working on over 15 projects, but notably:
the redevelopment of the Adelaide Convention Centre (Woods Bagot); Solis Hotel in Doha (King Roselli and P&T with HBA); Brunei Museum of Islamic History (Pei Partnership); Falcon Towers, Bangalore (RSP Architects)
Lalu Hotel Mixed use, Nanjing (SCDA); Shimao Shen Ken Intercontinental Hotel (Atkins).


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