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Jeff Miller

Issue 39 : Oct / Nov 2007

Jeff Miller tells Vilma Barr how he balances the personal challenges posed daily as a lighting designer, and the new responsibilities to help lead the profession into a period of abundant change.

Jeffrey I. L. Miller, IALD, will unhesitatingly admit that he is “an architecture groupie, driven by the transformational power of light”. The incoming president of the International Association of Lighting Designers believes that his pursuit of all things light and lighting design has shaped his life. “As a kid from Brooklyn, it’s given me a world perspective that I might not otherwise have had... personal growth, deep knowledge, great relationships,” he says. “The Canadian lighting designer, Phil Gabriel FIALD, recently said to me that lighting design is a platform for lifelong learning. I agree.”
Miller, long active in IALD, officially assumes office in January 2008. He is currently director of Pivotal Lighting Design©, the lighting group of Affiliated Engineers, Inc., a national MEP engineering firm. Previously, he was director of lighting design for NBBJ, and formerly headed his own firm, J. Miller & Associates. His early years in the lighting profession were spent as a theatrical lighting designer in New York City before founding his first lighting design studio, Lightsource.
Many projects with lighting design under his direction have received awards for design excellence. Jeff, and lighting designer Shaun P. Darragh created Biotech company Amgen’s Pedestrian Bridge, in Seattle, cited as “a marvel of engineering and art” in local papers, has twisting steel beams with stainless steel handrails and cables that symbolise the DNA double helix. In prominent downtown Makati, Manila, Jeff and Emiko Nagata, IALD, created lighting for the Ayala Greenbelt Center, an open-air shopping centre, developed by Ayala Land Inc., with its 250 dining, retail, and entertainment establishments, was recognised by both the Urban Land Institute and the International Council of Shopping Centers.
At the Chicago campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Miller was a member of the design team that created the McCormick Tribune Campus Center, by Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. It re-connects IIT with its neighbourhood by dampening the noise of the elevated MRT trains with a stainless steel shroud. The belly of that ‘Tube” forms part of the ceiling of the student center. “The building is wildly popular on campus, a successful ‘mixing chamber’ in Rem-speak,” Miller says.
In his 25 years of architectural lighting experience, Miller has seen the role of lighting designers evolve from a perfunctory technical service (“then, dots for dollars”) to now, as an advocate for quality lighting environments, an advanced technology expert and a critical member of every design team. “This is a professional who knows how to articulate lighting design concepts that are compelling, responsible and heavily weighted on the side of good quality of light for everyone. Beyond being an advocate, today’s lighting designer gets the job done... executes alongside large design and construction teams under compressed time, financial constraints and far off geography. Such has been the success of the lighting design profession that there is a jeopardy of erosion to our design core by our narrowly servicing those whose interests want to define light as a metric, a process or a unit of electricity.”
“One of the main differences between ‘then’ and ‘now’ is a more sophisticated and informed client base that has a heightened user awareness of the quality of natural and artificial light. Today, our clients are far more visual, and know very well what good lighting is, and they expect us to interpret their goals in terms of light,” Miller says. He recalls sessions with the heads of nursing and surgery when he was planning the lighting for their health care facility. “These people were passionate about getting their needs met. They would have arm-wrestled me if it would have come to that,” he says. “Lighting to them was a critical investment in making a healthful environment for patients, family and staff. Light, especially natural light, is understood by healthcare professionals worldwide to be an essential tool in the promotion of positive patient recovery. Integrated daylighting design is the new frontier for architectural lighting designers, breathtaking in dimension.
“The message that light is an irrevocable part of life, like air and water, is getting through at many action-initiating levels,” Miller points out. “It’s not light as an abstraction, or simply a factor of electricity,” he stresses. “For architects, for all of us, sustainable lighting design is not a fad. It’s nothing less than a crack in the universe.”
Even with the surge in business at individual lighting design specialty practices, Miller points to the fact that they top out at about 20 employees for the larger offices. “Worldwide, the median size is a five-person office,” he says. “Take into consideration that projects are becoming increasingly complex, the players are often scattered, and we are all besieged with announcements of new technology. Lighting design is in the throes of a tsunami of change. Tumultuous times are blowing by. The lighting design profession has been turned upside down. Lighting design has grown up to meet these challenges, but change is happening fast,” he urges.
Miller and other IALD board members have just presented at the Enlighten ’08 conference in Montreal where the IALD launched its new brand, representing the distinctive combination of aesthetic and technical expertise found in the best lighting experiences. Miller explains that it is further meant to convey the IALD’s thought leadership and a call to action by members and global partners. “We had to go deep to find out who we are,” he says, “to develop a programme that is inherent to what lighting design is now and into the future. It’s a pivotal moment.”
Already underway is the IALD’s Educational Trust targeted effort to increase the number of universities qualified to offer degree-granting programs in lighting design. “At present, there are only eleven schools worldwide that have college-level courses of study focusing on training lighting professionals,” Miller says. A new programme at the University of Nebraska is being funded by an IALD grant to establish a lighting design course that would encourage students to follow this direction of study. The IALD Education Trust Grant to Enhance Lighting Design Education provides a top student with five years of funding while he or she is working toward a degree in lighting design. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, College of Engineering, was awarded $250,000 earlier this year for its winning response to Project Candle, “Create an Alliance to Nurture Design in Lighting Education”.
Miller has been forthcoming in making his feelings known regarding the ascent of the “Ban the Bulb” balloon. He feels that some of the hot air surrounding the controversy over the possible demise of the incandescent bulb is more political rhetoric than applied scientific theory, comparable to “low-hanging fruit that enables government officials another photo-op for a supposed green success,” he says.
According to Miller, “The mounting international media attention to pronouncements to quash the incandescent light bulb may not only be premature, it is a distraction from the major environmental damage caused by automobiles and dirty coal-fired plants worldwide.”
Canada has announced that it is planning to institute a ban on incandescent light bulb sales by 2012, while Australia is considering the phasing out of incandescent lamp sales by 2009. “Looking at the life cycle costs, we may see that the incandescent lamp is the most energy efficient light source for many situations. Unlike higher technology lamps, the simple filament bulb does not require rare earth gases and phosphors, leaches no mercury, and requires no proprietary manufacturing patents. It is often a locally-produced product, which requires less packaging and less fuel to transport it from factory to market.”
“More important, the incandescent lamp is a beloved cultural icon,” Miller believes. “People don’t use CFL in their most intimate settings, and won’t, ban or no ban. Selling black market light bulbs out of the back of a car trunk will be a good business in 2012.”
“What are our alternatives today?” Miller asks. “LEDs represent an immature technology; yet to be developed are industry-wide technical standards from which professional designers can base their specifications and expect to have the lamps correctly delivered and installed. We’ve hit a temporary ceiling on the wide-scale architectural adoption of SSL... lots of work to be done yet.”
His present opinion of LEED is that it has been phenomenally successful in the creation of green design and construction standards, which are best achieved through an integrated design process. But, unfortunately, he adds, LEED is still a quantitative approach to lighting design, warping the real way we live with light. In our drive to save the planet, Miller warns that we may miss the person in the accounting department who is slowly developing vision problems from deficient lighting.
“Likewise,” he points out, “we should take into consideration that eliminating uplight and luminous lighting in the evening to suit Dark Skies concerns can inhibit public celebration, creating dour, pessimistic places. The future must hold a place for light to entertain, to reveal truth and to transform us.”
Miller’s optimistic vision of the future places lighting designers in a leadership role to create quality environments where people, live, work, and congregate that are also highly energy efficient. “We’re in the thick of it,” Miller emphasises.

Any projects you would like to change?
Once a project is completed, it is no longer yours. The design belongs to everyone who worked on it. It’s not your private canvas to paint over when it’s done, should you not like the outcome. I think of such collaborations as part of a larger effort where you put your shoulder into it to complete it, and then back off. Fortunately, sometimes you can admire a truly virtuosic performance, and know that your effort made it happen.

Memorable jobs
The Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong, which opened in 1990, still looks great. The design, by Hirsch Bedner Associates, is timeless, a combination of east/west Art Deco influences. It was an exciting project for a terrific client who gave us a free hand. The Reebok headquarters near Boston, which was completed in 2000, was the first experience with integrated design. The pressure was really on... it had to work. And it did; and looks great.
We received an Award of Merit for lighting the McCormick Tribune Student Center at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, designed by Rem Koolhaas, his first completed project in the U.S.

Lighting hero
Tadao Ando, the Japanese architect. He innately understands how to capture and mould light. He’s a genius of design, one-of-a-kind.

Projects he likes and dislikes.
Hong Kong at night becomes such a significant, vibrant element. The Ginza in Tokyo, too; it makes one vibrate with the energy and the importance of light in the area. Jonathan Spiers’ Millennium Bridge is terrific. And the temporary lighting tribute that Paul Morantz created in memory of the September 11 tragedy was a wonderful, elegant sign, done in light. Project I don’t care for: The Seattle Library.

Notable projects
Manitoba Hydro Headquarters, Winnipeg, Canada.
A LEED Gold high rise, it will be a significant daylit building for North America, in a locale that had previously been seen as incompatible with natural lighting techniques. It’s a demonstration of just how much the world of building design has changed, regarding the awareness of natural lighting and its impact on energy savings, personal comfort, public image, and productivity.

The Bibliothèque Nationale du Québec by Patkau Architects, is a 350,000 sqft central library, located in the Latin Quarter of Montréal. Wooden rooms house the general and historic collections within a glass and copper-clad building. Between the wooden rooms and exterior skin are rich and complex spaces that reflect the diversity of the program, through a variety of light conditions.

Banner Estrella Hospital, Phoenix, designed by NBBJ. The Banner organisation joined the Concord, California-based Center for Health Design’s Pebble Project to study how the built environment can improve patient outcomes. Pebble Project research influenced many of the building’s design strategies, and the prominence of daylight and the ability to view daylight had a significant effect on building form and planning.

Current projects
• Lighting Africa Project for the World Bank aims to leverage the private sector to accelerate the development of modern off-grid lighting markets for 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. I am participating as a lighting designer, specifically pertaining to human factor design, and representing the IALD, which is a partner with the World Bank Group, on this project.
• The Toronto International Film Festival is in a building now called the “Bell Lightbox”. It is lit as a metaphor for the evocative power of film to captivate and illuminate our world.
• Now in design is Pearl River Tower, a 69-storey tower by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill that will be the world’s first zero-net-energy buildings, to be constructed in Guangzhou, China. The building is designed to harvest wind and solar energy, maximising daylighting, reducing solar gain in air conditioned spaces, and using the sun to heat the hot water supply.

• We are also working on the lighting for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Civic Center and Theatre, Jedda, Saudi Arabia by HOK Architecture.


Jeff Miller
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