“I think most people like to stand out, no matter what they do, but especially in a creative field where there is too much competition to be unique. For me, my hope is that when people enter a location which I have illuminated through my design, they feel a sense of peace, comforted and happy.”
This is the philosophy lighting designer Rama Mendelsohn has maintained throughout her career and undoubtedly achieved.
Setting out on a path as a child in the direction of becoming a doctor, specifically an aspiring cardiologist, Mendelsohn consistently proved she was a bright student. As she progressed through her education, slowly but surely she was turning her interests into a more creative direction, and ended up at The College of Management (Israel), School of Interior Design where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design. This spark in design for Mendelsohn then took her on an international journey to America where she pursued a Masters in Fine Arts from The New York School of Interior Design in New York City.
“At that time, I won a student award in lighting design. It was then that I realised I had a passion for the way light transformed spaces,” recalls Mendelsohn.
After receiving her Masters in New York, she returned home to Israel to begin working in the industry as soon as she could. This is exactly what she did in 2004 when she joined RTLD Lighting Design in Tel Aviv. Here she worked as a lighting designer for public, commercial and private projects both domestic and international. Within this position for over four and a half years, she gained valuable experience in leading and directing projects from the concept development stages all the way through to client liaisons, technical specifications for lighting products, overseeing of installations and establishing professional relationships with owners, clients, architects, designers, electrical engineers and suppliers – all of whom provided essential contacts for moving forward in her career and ultimately for when she established her own design firm.
When studying the past of any architect or designer, most people would comfortably admit there is usually one project or one iconic building that put that designer firmly on the map in the industry.
For Mendelsohn, she fondly reflects upon her time at this lighting design firm providing her that pivotal moment for her career. “When I worked at the lighting design company following graduation, I had the privilege of working on the Design Museum in Holon in Israel, with leading architect Ron Arad.” Working as a snowball effect from there, Mendelsohn continued to explain how this connection followed her all the way through to when she had set up her own business. “Six months into starting my own business, Ron contacted me directly to work with him on a luxury boutique residential building in Tel Aviv, located on the sea. Then, shortly after that, another architect I had worked with in the past offered me the opportunity to develop the lighting design plan for a hotel in Cervinia, Italy. Upon completion of that project, I began to be contacted for larger and more prestigious projects across Israel and Europe.” So as well as obvious skill and talent, it also proves that contacts within the industry are key to success. Mendelsohn is clearly a natural at both design and establishing lasting relationships within her field as she was only working for another firm for four and a half years before branching off to build her own design company – a feat that sometimes can take decades for established designers to achieve.
When taking on a new project, it is important to grasp a full understanding of the location, environment and tone of the place the client desires. Mendelsohn explains how she approaches her projects and goes about providing the attention to detail that her back catalogue of designs flaunt: “With each project, I take into careful consideration the overall look and feel of the location, and allow the lighting to follow. I spend a lot of time researching and exploring design element options for each project, and analyse the way each fixture will look from all angles. The lighting needs to complement the architecture and design of the project. To me, no matter how big or small the project, I approach each opportunity with the same level of professionalism and dedication.”
In 2017, she won the award for Lighting Design in the ‘Israeli Design Awards’ for her work in the high-end Herbert Samuel residential complex. These awards recognise excellence in achievements across many design fields including architecture, interior design and lighting design. Comprised of some of the most valuable real estate in Tel Aviv, Mendelsohn graced these 250sqm luxury apartments with lighting fit for a king. Mendelsohn’s aim was to design a lighting concept that would mimic the sparkling Mediterranean Sea that the apartment blocks look out onto from their $38,800 per sqm balconies. She achieved this through meticulous backlighting of the CNC materials throughout the building in order to emphasise and create textures with light.
One of the key relationships Mendelsohn has established in recent years is with LED Linear, whilst working on the Asruf Panoramic project. “I created the lighting design for the façade of the building, the lobby, indoor and outdoor public space, as well as the surrounding streets,” describes Mendelsohn. “The goal was to achieve a calming effect through the lighting design. This was a challenge due to the encapsulation of the LED lights, which typically increases the colour temperature, making it a more harsh light. At the same time, the C5M requirements (high salinity in the air, humidity, weather corrosion, UV exposure etc.) needed to be taken into consideration, due to the project’s proximity to the sea.”
Choosing to work with LED Linear’s VarioLED Flex VENUS fixture for the Panorama allowed Mendelsohn the flexibility with the arch shaped design as well as fulfilling the C5M requirements. It creates a softer light than the harshness you might usually find with LEDs as a result of the encapsulation of the lights.
Working with light is a very fluid process especially when interchanging between natural and artificial light. Mendelsohn discovered the challenges that came with this divide between light types when working in different geographical locations. She describes her approaches: “It depends largely on the location of the project. For instance, the natural daylight in Israel is brighter than Europe. Therefore, you don’t want someone to walk indoors and feel as though they are entering a dark space. I’ve learned that I need to strengthen the indoor lighting to balance out the natural light outdoors when in Israel.”
Mendelsohn describes light as breathing life into a project that cannot be obtained otherwise, and can create different experiences within buildings, restaurants or landscapes depending on the lighting scheme used.
Where does she see light going in the future and how it is changing over the years? Well, the biggest change, one that we have recognised in the industry as well, is that of the growth and development of LED technology. “It has helped to decrease the size of fixtures, thereby providing more options for a variety of projects. While halogen lighting was often the first choice for designers, due to the colour spectrum they provide, I believe LED will continue to grow in popularity across the industry.”
In the lighting world, it is also becoming more prominent that lighting designers are being recognised as vital roles within the design process of architecture, and designers are absolutely being taken more seriously – a first hand example is Mendelsohn herself.
When asked, upon reflection, Mendelsohn claims her most memorable project is the Edmund Rothschild Foundation Building in Tel Aviv. It is a historic building with very strict preservation requirements for lighting installations. She describes the restrictions the team had to work with and the specifications they had to adhere to in order to create the final look in accordance to the preservations: “I was invited by Plesner Architects to create the lighting design plan for the project, and worked alongside Baroness Rothschild’s interior designer. It’s a landmark building, so the requirements are set by the city’s preservation society. A certain percentage of the light fixtures needed to be reminiscent of the original lighting of the building, and the light temperature needed to be warm white, not cool white. These requirements presented an opportunity to blend the old and the new. The project was completed in 2015.”
Since working with RTLD Lighting Design firm until 2009, Mendelsohn has grown and developed into a fantastic lighting designer and now has the privilege of running her own business, which she does with the help of one other designer by her side.
The dynamic duo spends most of their time outside of the office and on site with projects or meeting up with architects to germinate new ones.
What advice would she give to any aspiring lighting designers? “Be prepared to be fully engaged and committed to the job and the industry (even if it means you have no life for a while). The more people you meet, the more projects you work on (no matter how big or small), the more conferences you attend, the more you will learn and grow, even if you don’t realise it’s happening at the time.”
Mendelsohn is a prime example of hard work and talent, and an excellent role model for young designers to look towards for inspiration. Particularly as a leading female designer in what can be, at times, a very male dominated industry. Keep an eye out for new projects on the horizon and maybe we will see her work across the seas in New York, where she dreams of taking the next step to broaden her career.