Paula Rainha & Joana Mendo

19th October 2020

After several years of collaboration, Paula Rainha and Joana Mendo have joined forces to form new lighting design studio, Filamento. arc speaks to the duo about their aspirations for the new studio.

How did you both get into lighting?

Paula Rainha (PR): I wanted to be a dancer at some point in my life, but I ended up training as an architect. When I finished my degree, I felt that dance was missing from my life, and I started my quest on how to combine dance and architecture as a career. I found stage lighting design as a way to define space in the dance world and I applied for a MSc in Lighting in London. Cutting the story short, I never did stage lighting design but I completely embraced the architectural lighting design profession. 

Joana Mendo (JM): After working some years as architect, I realised that light had always been my favourite subject and the priority in all my conceptual approaches. At the time I wasn’t quite sure if I could make it my profession, but my interest was growing bigger and bigger. I think also due to the adaptation from sunny Lisbon, where I grew up, to a northern European city, where light and sun are treasured, as they only come in small doses in winter. This was in 2008, when I got accepted for an internship at Lichtvision in Berlin, where I learned a lot and started understanding what it is to design light. I never wanted to do anything else after that.

Can you describe your lighting career so far?

PR: I started my lighting career in London with Gary Campbell at Campbell Design in 2005. Then I moved to BDP Lighting where I stayed for another two years before moving back to Lisbon in 2009, where the profession was almost unknown. After a difficult start in Lisbon, during the credit crunch, in 2011 I had the chance of winning a competition that made me travel the world in search of lighting installations. This also gave me the opportunity of meeting architects and raise awareness within the local industry. 10 years later I’m proud to say that I’ve established my own company, Synapse, and I started working with some of the largest and most recognised architectural practices in Lisbon. 

JM: I’ve worked for different companies in Berlin and London, which were extraordinary experiences, both professional and personal. In larger companies like Lichtvision and Arup I learned about the latitude of our profession, that you can do so many things within lighting and you can reach so many people with your work. While working with Marci Song at Seam Design and living in London, I was reassured of the importance of design and our contribution to people’s lives, when we create a certain environment or atmosphere with lighting. My career is an important part of life, moving around, experiencing, keeping my eyes open and trying to respond the best that I can to the opportunities that cross my path. 

How did the two of you meet and begin working together?

PR: We met in London, in a “Configuring Light” workshop in 2014, after knowing of each other and exchanging some emails (there were not many Portuguese lighting designers back then). Through many great conversations and sharing of professional experiences, we understood that we agreed on lots of subjects and had very compatible design backgrounds. It was a connection that got stronger very naturally. In 2019, when Joana moved back to Portugal, Synapse had a lot of work going on, as the country was booming with tourism and new investments, and I asked Joana to jump in and help out.

When was the decision taken to officially merge Synapse into a new company?

JM: After working for nearly a year together in outstanding projects such as Convento do Beato and a number of high-end hotels, it made sense to officially join forces and we decided to merge our companies.

Why did you decide to create a brand new practice?

PR: When we merged our companies, the issue was raised on whether to keep the name Synapse or start a new brand. We thought it made sense to open a new chapter for both of us – Joana for leaving Germany and her sole trader company and me for starting a new venture, with a larger structure and a business partner.

What would you say is the design philosophy for Filamento?

JM: Filamento is an independent lighting design practice – in some countries this is still not very common, particularly in Portugal. In our projects we are interested in providing the best design, technical and sustainable solution to our client, and we believe the only way to achieve this is to stay independent and work closely with the design team. Due to our architectural background, we are mindful of how light can reveal and uphold the built environment, its conceptual form and support its function. We believe each project is unique and that lighting can have a great impact within architecture and the people that use these spaces. 

Do you have a particular area of specialism? 

PR: Actually no, even though, due to the current market, we have been working a lot in hospitality and corporate office projects. Due to our past experiences, we have a strong interest in cities, the public realm and exterior lighting projects as well.

What are your aspirations for Filamento? What do you hope to bring to the lighting world?

PR: We would like Filamento to be recognised by the quality of our designs and continue to be involved in landmark projects, with extraordinary design teams that keep challenging us to come up with innovative solutions. Our wish is that the practice provides opportunities for us and the team to learn and grow as designers, in the long term. We also hope to play a role in developing a lighting design culture in Portugal, by bringing our international experience here and raising awareness on the impact of light in the built environment. 

What do you think the future holds for the lighting industry?

JM: The lighting design community has been showing an extraordinary capability to connect in the digital world. Especially during this pandemic, we all realised that remote work and interaction within our profession can be very successful. We see this as an opportunity for smaller practices to work internationally and for some smaller communities to open up to the global market. For quite a long time, lighting design in Europe was centred mostly in Germany and the UK – we believe this is starting to change, which can enrich the lighting industry long term.