Andrea Hartranft

22nd April 2024

Ahead of IALD Enlighten Europe, taking place in London this June, arc editor Matt Waring sits down with the IALD President, Andrea Hartranft, to discuss her career to date, and the ongoing evolution of the IALD.

Within the close-knit community of the lighting world, we are all very aware of the value of good quality lighting design, and the benefits that this can bring to a piece of architecture, a space, and most importantly, the users of the space.

However, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that outside of our lighting community, that awareness isn’t quite as strong. But this is something that Andrea Hartranft, Principal of Hartranft Lighting Design and President of the IALD, is hoping to change.

“Inside our lighting walls, we’re roaring to each other,” she tells arc. “But when you are standing outside of the walls of the lighting industry, it’s more of a meow. We need a louder voice. We need to be able to sing the values, roar the values of what quality light brings to the built environment, and to help and improve people’s lives in all the ways that we’re able. We need that voice, and my hope for the future of the IALD is that our voice strengthens, and that we can send our message outside of those walls loudly and clearly.”

Hartranft took over as President of the IALD earlier this year, succeeding Monica Luz Lobo – the culmination of a journey that began at Penn State University in the 1980s, although it was one that almost didn’t happen at all.

“I started at Penn State in journalism, because I thought I was going to write,” she recalls. “But after about a year, I wasn’t bored with Penn State as such, but I was bored; I wasn’t taking journalism classes yet, it was a lot of liberal arts that was interesting, but it wasn’t challenging. My grades didn’t show it that way, but it wasn’t challenging like I thought something like engineering might be. My dad was an engineer, but I had never really thought about it as a career. But one morning I woke up and had the words ‘architectural engineering’ in my head, and that afternoon I transferred into architectural engineering. I didn’t even know what it was, I had no clue what I was doing, but something told me that it was the path that I ought to take.”

After a couple of years, Hartranft had the opportunity to work with Craig Bernecker in the lighting lab – an experience that she feels showed her “the power of light in the human existence, how light can benefit people”. An experience, she says, that was powerful enough to guide her onto the path of lighting design.

“For the first 10 years or so of my career, I worked in engineering and lighting, working for architectural engineering firms, learning everything. But with every year that went by, it became clearer and clearer that I really wanted to just do lighting.”

With that, Hartranft began working at CM Kling + Associates, under the tutelage of her mentor, Candace Kling. Hartranft explains how the two met, and how they came to work together: “I’d had to have a hard conversation with somebody in the lighting industry, and I didn’t really know Candy at the time. We were at an event, and another person in the lighting industry came up to me and just railed into me, and Candy stood up for me. She didn’t know me, but she knew it wasn’t right, and stood up for me, and I thought ‘this is somebody that’s going to always have my back, and she always did. That in itself was a good enough reason to come work with her.

“She was probably the most generous boss a human could have,” she continues. “I got great training from someone who was super generous with their knowledge, and everything that she did communicated how much she loved being involved with lighting. And it rubs off on you – it’s hard not to get excited about it.

“Her ability to see the space three dimensionally and understand the architecture and the opportunities, just by closing her eyes – very few people have the skills that she had. She started on Broadway, and worked with Jean Rosenthal, made the transition to architectural lighting working for Howard Brandston and then Jules Horton, and ultimately starting her own firm, so she had some pretty good mentors as well, but she didn’t study lighting. She didn’t go to college for lighting, she learned by doing it. She just had an extraordinary vision; she was a great person to learn from. She gave me the opportunity to be creative and to have a voice.

“You learn from bad bosses, and believe me I learned plenty from others that were not good managers or not kind people, but she put her ego at the door and understood that we are here to serve the people whose needs we meet. We don’t do this for us. Any time I had a question, of course I got a good answer, or I got sent to a place where I would get a good answer. She taught me a lot about how to be.”

This kind of leadership meant that throughout her career since, Hartranft has always tried to stay humble and grounded, continuing to look at ways to improve her knowledge and skillset. “You never want to think that you’ve learned all you can learn. I don’t ever assume that I’m the smartest person in the room because I’m not by a long shot usually, especially with my team, I have some really smart people around me.”

Hartranft worked at CM Kling + Associates for 18 years, before branching out on her own in 2013 and forming Hartranft Lighting Design. When setting out, she sought to continue with a design philosophy that she developed while working under Kling. “Always remember that you’re doing this for others. That’s a really good place to start,” she says.

“It doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what you do. In our firm, we went through the ‘why’ of it all, and our ‘why’ was to support all, so others may thrive. I’m paraphrasing, but the idea is that from within the firm, you want people to thrive, but also in the environments that you create, you want the people to thrive.

“Even the clients that we work with, we try to educate. Anything that we touch, we want to make better, that’s not a bad place to start. Do your job, try to do it as well as you can, keep learning, and always remember that you’re doing it for other people.”

Across its portfolio of work, Hartranft Lighting Design has covered a broad spectrum of projects, covering fields as varied as retail, places of worship, infrastructure, workspace, transport, and stadiums. But across this scope, Hartranft feels that the firm’s specialism is simply “people”.

“We light for people; wherever they are, we light for them. We’re in pretty much every sector, and depending on the person in the firm, they’re going to have their preference. Everyone has their thing. We have folks that are theatrically educated, so they bring that to the table; some are architecturally educated and focus on wellbeing and sustainability and those conversations. But if it’s a good project, it’s a good project. I’m looking for good clients that really do care about how the lighting is in the spaces that they’re building.”

As a thriving business owner, Hartranft has spoken at a number of lighting events already this year – including Light + Intelligent Building Middle East in Dubai, and the Women in Lighting anniversary celebrations at Light + Building in Frankfurt, on the subject of business ownership, but she admits that running her own firm is not something that was originally in her plans. However, she is hopeful that her story can be an inspiration to others.

“I have to say, until I started my firm, I didn’t have any interest at all in running a business. It wasn’t on my radar. Candy was well aware of that. The business side of things can be a real slog, it’s hard. It is good for people to see that someone with no business background can find their way, but it’s not for the faint of heart. You have to be a risk taker, or maybe in my case be so oblivious to the risk that you jump in with both feet and hope for the best, knowing that you’ve surrounded yourself with really smart people, really good people. There are definitely some skillsets that are necessary.

“I’m thrilled that I get calls and emails from young designers wanting to have a conversation, and I want to follow Candy’s path of being as generous as I can with my experiences. They’re not necessarily their experiences, but I can share some pitfalls that I learned from. But until you experience them on your own, it’s like anything else; you don’t really get it until you have to pay your first tax bill or whatever. Then, you realise all of the things that you need to learn.”

To help prepare the next generation for potential business ownership, whether it is on their radar or not, Hartranft adds that she actively encourages the young designers on her team to read proposals, get involved in business-centric conversations, and be a part of the business management process. “We’re not perfect, but we’re trying to figure it out so that they have a voice, and they start to understand some of the things that go into at least managing a firm.

“My job now, with my partners, is making the decisions that keep the firm strong, competitive and moving forward, so I’m not as day-to-day on the design part of it, but for the younger members of the team, even if they’re not interested, even if they never want to run a practice, it’s really important for them to understand what can make or break a firm.”

Hartranft’s position as a leader and mentor now extends to her role within the IALD as the current President of the association. She has been a member of the association for more than 30 years, getting involved as soon as she heard about it. In recent years, she has served as Awards Chair, overseeing the IALD Awards process, before sitting on the Education Trust board and serving as Treasurer and then Trust President, most recently being nominated and elected to the Presidency.

“A couple of years ago, it seemed like the IALD was changing and evolving, and it was exciting. So, in my mind, I thought ‘if I’m going to do this, now would be the time’. I’d been on the board for a bit, and I felt like I had my paw in a lot of the different sectors of the IALD, and I really appreciate what I’ve gotten from it.  So, when I thought about it in those terms, I wanted to be able to give back as well.”

After spending a year as President Elect, Hartranft began her term at the beginning of this year, and she is hopeful that during her stint as President, she can continue to lead the evolution of the association.

“I feel like it’s a new day,” she says. “My predecessors worked really hard, figuring out how best to move the IALD forward, and I’m thrilled that the membership agreed with their vision for the future of the association.

“In my mind, all the pieces are in place to have open minds, and a willingness to see beyond the boundaries that had been set for the IALD in the past, and now take the conversation with membership to a whole new level.”

“Having Monica [Luz Lobo] as the President and learning from her has been invaluable – knowing that she is there to share her experience is comforting – Monica is such an incredibly kind, patient soul and I hope to learn to listen as well as she does. Working with Christopher [Knowlton, IALD CEO], who I think is absolutely brilliant and a visionary and Brandon Thrasher [IALD Treasurer], who is super smart and so pragmatic is an absolute gift – not just to me, but to the membership as a whole. Having Jill Cody at the helm for the Education Trust, Rachel Fitzgerald leading the Membership Committee, our unbelievably hard-working staff, the support of the LIRC and our incredible network of volunteers gives me great confidence in the future of the association and the profession.

“It’s a really good time for the IALD to grow and to be as inclusive as possible,” she continues. “For so long, our conversation has been about independence and what you can and can’t do, rather than being about what you can do to make things better and what you should do as a lighting designer. And now we have this opportunity to really focus on the quality conversation – how we can make things better using all the tools that are available to us and all of the knowledge that we have accrued. That’s the conversation, how do we add quality.

“That’s where I think lies the opportunity to educate our clients. It doesn’t mean that we can’t voice pride in being an independent lighting designer. I’m proud of the fact that I’m totally objective, but I’m aware that there are other ways to do lighting design, and do it at a very high level, and that’s been demonstrated by others. For me, it’s having the opportunity to move things forward, to be able to talk about lighting design and what quality lighting design really can do across the board.”

One such opportunity to talk about good quality lighting design is the IALD’s Enlighten conference. A popular fixture in the lighting design calendar, the next edition of Enlighten Europe will take place in London this June, and Hartranft is looking forward to getting the lighting community together again.

“I am so excited,” she says. “Berlin was fantastic last year, and I know London will be as well. It’s so inspiring to go to any of the Enlighten events, whether it’s Enlighten Europe, Enlighten Asia or Enlighten Americas, which will be in San Diego this Fall. It’s such great conversation.

“As a North American, I really relish the opportunity to chat with people who are not North American and get those perspectives and understand the different business models, and all the different things that people are focusing on that maybe aren’t necessarily the same exact focuses in the United States. That’s how we grow. And above all, the events are fun.

“I’ve said this before, but for me, the IALD is a home, and my great hope for it is that more and more people are able to see it as a home, a place where you go because your family is there, the people that share the things that are important to you, your values. We have that in our personal lives, but it’s nice to be in a profession and an industry where it transcends just the workday part, to becoming some of your closest friends. I consider some folks in our industry as my family, and that means that when you go to these conferences, whether they’re local, regional, national, or international, you’re getting to have conversations that matter and learning from others and maybe imparting your own knowledge to others.”

Another aspect to these conferences, particularly the Enlighten events, that stands out to Hartranft is the social aspect. “It has always been a fascination of mine how lighting people can be up having drinks until one, two, three o’clock in the morning. And yes, we’re talking about other stuff too, but it’s amazing how much lighting we’re talking about. To me, going to the events and the talks is great, but I think a lot of us really look forward to those late evening drinks, just sitting at a table in a hotel or in a bar and talking. It’s a good thing.”

The revived Enlighten conferences come after a difficult few years not just for the IALD, but for the world, as we had to adapt to a “new normal” and a new way of working. Thankfully, it would appear that we have all emerged from the other side, but this changing atmosphere, Hartranft believes, only helped to solidify its online presence, and the idea of the IALD as ‘home’.

“Here’s a global organisation, working all the time to be global-er. We worked hard to redevelop the website to be much more functional – it looks the same, but functions a whole lot better. But the next step will be to create a place where people can go, all in one place no matter where they are in the world, and get what they need. This improved functionality provides the foundations for the new learning platform that we are launching this year. The Learning Education Resource Network, LERN is aimed at bringing high quality content to professionals of every level irrespective of geographic location. Increasing the availability and benefit of being part of the IALD family.

“The IALD has over 30 regions and chapters and is continuing to grow regionally, adding new chapters, means that we able to, at a much more local level, benefit people, no matter where they are or what their needs are. The needs in the United States are very different from the needs in India or Japan or the Middle East. There’s a learning curve, but I love how the IALD is growing and finding ways to be more for the people that it serves.”

Indeed, Hartranft is hopeful as she looks to the future that the IALD can continue in its growth and evolution, to the point that it reaches outside of the “walls” of the lighting community and into the wider architectural world.

“Humans are humans, and their needs are still their needs. The physiological, the psychological, those don’t change. Maybe they evolve, but the essence of the needs humans have, those are the things that we have to serve,” she says. “How we do that may change, how lighting designers make their money may change, the impact of AI on lighting design may force a change, but I think smart businesspeople and smart designers are agile and they evolve with the times.

“I wish I had a crystal ball, but my hope is that the people that are building spaces understand better why quality lighting is important, and seek it from the lighting design, specifically the IALD community. That is a great future. That’s what we want.”

Image: Eric Daigle Photography, © IALD