Mônica Luz Lobo

12th June 2018

The first certified lighting designer in South America, founding member of AsBAI (Associação Brasileira de Arquitetos de Illuminação), a professional member of the IALD and board member of the IALD from 2017-18, Mônica Luz Lobo is a pioneering female lighting designer and businesswoman in the industry that continues to shake things up for the better in the lighting world.

Setting out to follow a career that would allow her to work with space, people and its interaction, Lobo graduated as an architect in 1987 from Sta. Ursula University, Rio de Janeiro. Lobo then moved to São Paulo to follow her husband as a leap of faith; moving with no friends or professional contacts. This daunting change ended up being one of Lobo’s best career moves. By chance, she found an advert in the local newspaper for a position at one of the most prestigious lighting consultant firms of the time – Esther Stiller & Gilberto Franco Lighting Consultants. Pursuing the start of her career here enabled her to experience a “true revolution and a new way of seeing and understanding architecture”.

“Discovering lighting and its intangible quality full of meaning was a step forward,” she added.

After working in São Paulo for five years, she made the decision to move back to Rio de Janeiro, where the opportunity to achieve her goal of being associated to a lighting manufacturer, working as a lighting designer and developing lighting schemes was ever more attainable. Lobo became a member of the IES, the Illuminating Engineering Society, in 1996, as one of the first steps of moving in the right direction.

Lobo reflected: “I learned a lot, but what has always moved me was the design process. In 1997, I founded LD Studio Lighting Design together with a partner at that time, Ines Benevolo. In our own independent lighting design practice, we were working on a diverse universe of commercial, institutional, educational and residential projects.”

LD Studio Lighting Design has grown into one of the largest and most well-respected design firms today, and continues to maintain a strong work ethic within its tight-knit team, which reinforces its success in the industry. The firm describes its guiding line approach as architectural lighting, but is always seeking to provide “something else that awakens a non-static way of looking and perceiving the architectural space”.

The design firm attributed its company values to: “Dedicating ourselves to building a working environment in which pleasure is part of all processes. Our strong team spirit and the desire to work with light in a transcendent manner are fundamental values for us.

“The constant and continuous search for understanding and learning has put us where we are today, with the capacity to handle very complex projects and – at the same time – to treat small and delicate projects in all their importance and potential.”

Three years after the firm was established, Lobo and Benevolo’s team scooped up their first international award, the Edwin Guth Award of Excellence on Interior Lighting by IES for Igreja da Lapa dos Mercadores, a small church in Rio de Janeiro. An exact example of a smaller project that took just as much time, care and attention as the larger scale installations.

Following on in a similar fashion over the proceeding years, LD Studio has accumulated a number of awards, including the Igreja da Pampulha (the Pampulha Church), the Museu do Amanhã (the Museum of Tomorrow) and the Guindastes do Pier Mauá (the Pier Mauá Cranes), which was the overall winner of the darc awards / architectural 2017 and appeared as the cover story in arc 100.

Changes happened within the studio when Ines Benevolo left the team in 2006, and Daniele Valle was promoted to Associate in 2011, after starting in the firm as an intern in 2000.

Lobo became a founding member of Brazil’s architectural lighting design association AsBAI in 2000. Acting as a volunteer, Lobo and the group of fifteen organisers work to support the Brazilian lighting design community and encourage new members.

In 2016, Lobo decided to take a step back and re-evaluate her settings and role within the firm. During this time, she felt an urge to change the way the firm did things and the approaches they took when undertaking new projects.

“During the latter half of 2016, an urge to rethink and review the way of doing things sparked a process of planning and movement that enriched us during all of 2017, and led to a whole year of workshops, internal exchanges and external collaborations. This movement became such an important internal project that we refer to it as the ‘O Pulo’ [The Jump],” described Lobo. In 2017, the team celebrated their 20th anniversary as a lighting design practice and Lobo reflected: “20 years of practice makes you think back to understand and analyse what you have done and what should you do next.”

A bi-product of this period of reflection led Lobo to adopt a new ethos for the firm, which she continues to pursue to this day. “I have realised that what I really want is to have pleasure in my design process, bring pleasure to my team as part of this process, all while delivering a purpose-driven product to our clients. In a way, this is what I consider to be my mission in life to perform,” claims Lobo.

One of the studio’s most notable projects, that Lobo believes put them on the map in terms of success in the lighting industry, was the Igreja Nossa Senhora da Lapa dos Mercadores in the heart of Rio de Janeiro, completed in 1999.

Built in honour of the Madonna of Merchants in the eighteenth century, Lobo and her team brought the intricate and breath-taking ancient architecture to life and into the 20th century. Reflecting on the project, Lobo commented: “This project was so successful as we achieved a result that revealed the space of the church, as well as highlighted a comprehensive sense of hierarchy in the architectural elements. A subtle interpretation of the Baroque architecture made a great focal point.”

During her time of reflection, Lobo looked back at this project and defined her thoughts of change and the shift in her role in the industry, and has now dubbed herself as the ‘Light Awareness Activist’. “The light has blended on the surfaces and I became invisible. This was a revelation to me, as an architect. Sometimes you need to disappear in order to do things better. In some ways, this has become a kind of signature of LD Studio’s works, where we focus on merging light within the surfaces, producing a lighting skin,” said Lobo.

“This project [The Igreja da Lapa dos Mercadores] worked as a learning experience and recognition through winning an international award, which taught me I was heading in the right direction.”

The technology for fixtures and light sources has developed dramatically over the last 20 years, as Lobo observed: “A lot has changed for technology! The church was lit with fluorescent tubes (T8) and halogen lamps. One specific light, ‘The Fathers’ Light,’ was done with metal halide. It was the launching of ceramic metal halide PAR lamps, which were a revolution at the time! Speaking on the design/creative design side, it seems that all these new tools lead to limitless possibilities, but what I really believe boosts creativity is collaborative work.”

Lobo further added her sentiments towards lighting designers and the role they play in the industry. It is a notion that is shared by many designers in today’s industry and Lobo reiterated: “As lighting designers, we need to raise the awareness that our work is essential, and of course, deliver it. There is an increased awareness of the necessity of lighting designers, but still as a complementary element to a project.”

“Lighting can add meaning to a space. It can materialise an immaterial thinking, a strong concept. I am still in the process of reviewing these considerations. In this re-thinking process, with the help of the whole team at LD Studio, and in particular a great external collaborator in Diana Joels, we are searching to re-define our own methodology. We have an understanding that deep analysis, followed by an immersive idea-generating process is needed to develop a strong concept, which is crucial to develop a rich lighting composition.”

A source of long-term personal inspiration for Lobo comes from lighting designer Richard Kelly, who is well known for his work at the General Motors Design Dome in 1956, which was featured on the cover of arc 98. “He was my first lighting hero, so inspirationally precise and continues to be a source of reference today,” she explained.

Looking ahead, LD Studio has a clear outlook into its future in lighting design. Lobo explained: “I see the future of our internal rethinking movement, O Pulo, and a beautiful future related to our goal, to add pleasure to the design process and everyone involved, deliver a purpose-rich product to our clients and make them happy as well, all while consequently raising the awareness of the importance of lighting design. The growth will come as a natural result of this.”