Tapio Rosenius

20th February 2018

Renowned Finnish designer, innovator, artist and entrepreneur, Tapio Rosenius is on a quest to explore and question major topics within the lighting industry.

Growing up close to the Arctic Circle, Tapio Rosenius has experienced and learned a very alternative perspective and interpretation of light compared to many of us. With extreme variations in hours of daylight during the year and near enough none during the winter, Rosenius developed a strong fascination with how natural light is a constant, malleable force, which would in turn heavily influence his creative work as a lighting designer.

With multiple aspirations as a youngster, Rosenius swayed between wanting to dominate the world as the biggest rock star to becoming a diving instructor or arthouse filmmaker. Heavily influenced by French cinematographer Sacha Vierny for his narrative driven and beautifully abstract lighting interventions, as a student, Rosenius pursued Photography and Film, and then moved on to study light as an expressive medium at art school in Tampere, Finland, before he eventually settled into the architectural lighting industry. Whilst living in London in early 2000’s, he completed a Master of Science in Light and Lighting at the UCL Bartlett.

His first role in the industry came about through an interesting venture whilst still at school: “I started moonlighting for a Finnish architectural lighting designer around 1996. We used lighting design as a social integration tool for unemployed middle aged people in Lapland. We tried to re-train them as ‘nighttime gardeners’ with skills in ice sculpting and lighting design. Then in 1997, the art school offered to pay me to go and do an internship somewhere outside Finland. The condition was that I had to find a job in the next 24 hours. After a night spent searching for ‘Lightning Design’ companies in AltaVista I found dozens of weather stations, and amongst them Kevan Shaw Lighting Design from Edinburgh. I think Kevan might have misspelled the word ‘lighting’ on his front page, lucky for me! After a rather hilarious job interview over the phone, I joined Kevan’s team and ended up working for him until 2001.”

Progressing on from this, Rosenius then moved to London to join Maurice Brill Lighting Design until he left the role as Director in 2009 to bravely pursue his own lighting firm in Madrid. Not only was setting up independently a daunting prospect, Rosenius had also reached a pinnacle life changing point with his wife, who had just found out she was pregnant. London had become an increasingly busy and intense urban environment, so together they returned to his wife’s home country, Spain, to begin family life and establish the now well-known firm Lighting Design Collective (LDC).

As Director of LDC, he works with light as a medium for architectural collaborations, digital interventions, product innovation and art, and seeks to create tangible connections between artificial light, digital futures, biomimetic and the human experience. Specialising in an imaginative and innovative approach to architectural lighting, the team really focus on state-of-the-art lighting schemes for architecture and the built environment, utilising high tech applications, digital content and artistic assets.

A few years into the venture, Rosenius partnered with Jari Vuorinen to establish LDC Helsinki and then a little later with Kristian Krogh to establish LDC London.

Spread across these three studios, the team now includes leading designers, software coders and digital artists who have built a portfolio of world-class projects for numerous international clients, and covers a wide span of applications from cultural, hospitality, retail, office, residential, landscape and infrastructure.

Rosenius’ intrigue and admiration of natural light is evidently at the root of the work LDC produces. The way natural light moves in infinitely different ways and how it relates to time, space and context is key to the design works produced, and research led, into lighting practices used, both as an art form and for its functionality. In addition to working on lighting schemes with LDC, Rosenius is also a product designer. He created the Light over Time (LoT) luminaire with Artemide in 2017, a series of lighting tools that allows designers to re-imagine, reveal, reinterpret and modulate spaces with precision optics.

One of the most notable projects to come out of LDC is the SILO468, located in the Kruunuvuorenranta district in Helsinki. During darc room 2017 in London, Rosenius presented this remarkable project that brings together all of his recurring influences of natural light and the natural environment together onto one industrial canvas. The abandoned 1960’s oil silo, sixteen metres high and 35 metres in diameter, was transformed into a captivating light installation. 2,012 holes were perforated in the structure, where existing rust stains already existed, and represent the year 2012, the Helsinki World Design Capital year. During the day, the sunlight shines through these holes to create moving patterns that mimic the sun reflections on the surface of the nearby sea. 1,250 LEDs were placed inside the structure that reflect against a red light background at night. Custom made software, controlling the lights, is used to monitor the outside environment and determine the white LEDs internally to match the movement of the prevailing winds like a flock of birds, live, ensuring the light sequence will never repeat.

The installation’s aim was to become a signifier for the start of a major urban redevelopment for the City of Helsinki, and to become a landmark and a marketing draw on the landscape of the lesser-known district it is situated in. In turn, the area, with its 11,00 inhabitants, quickly became referred to as the ‘District of Light’.

Rosenius describes himself as a “cross-over” designer that is constantly aiming to bridge the world of architectural lighting with other creative fields and new technological research.

“The architectural lighting industry drags behind all of the other lighting fraternities (live, show, film, arts) in everything from creative software to innovative hardware to progressive design processes. I believe that our built environments could be made more inclusive, fascinating, practical, meaningful and beautiful for all inhabitants if better systems, better processes, more creative software and more quirky lighting hardware was available. So, I try to put my money where my mouth is and invest into achieving this goal,” Rosenius explained.

“I try to encourage the studios to operate with an anti-disciplinary design philosophy where the knowledge, research, aesthetic and design is constantly mixed and the outcome is highly contextual.”

‘The Future is for Antidisciplinary Design’ is an exploration into the future of the lighting industry and the role and value of the lighting designer within that world today. Taking this theory as an approach to the way he runs LDC, Rosenius cares deeply about the lighting design profession, perceives problems within it and opens it for discussion to provoke healthy debate within a professional audience.

During PLDC2017 in Paris last year, he opened up this topic for discussion, beginning with the question, “What if Lighting Design was an ‘open ended’ profession existing at the creative edge of the built environment services? What if the current consultancy model is leading the profession towards irrelevance?”

Providing an interesting look at our lighting industry, it is important to keep relevant and educated on the position you hold and what you are working towards in order to effectively manoeuvre your way through the constantly evolving industry.

Throughout Rosenius’ lecture, he uses his own experiences with LDC as a case study, tracking the development of the Madrid based studio and how it has adapted and developed into a Dynamic Environments Group consisting of architectural lighting design company spin-offs for digital content and software development, virtual reality services, strategic design services and a new technology start-up. Rosenius clearly states that he is working on the basis of his own opinions and experiences from the industry, including research on programs such as ‘Think in a Tank’ and the EU funded ‘Towards Digital Paradise’. He also draws upon research taken from MIT Media Lab’s work with a particular focus on that from Joi Ito. Rosenius clearly encourages the exploration into the architectural lighting design industry and critically debates its insular practices. He comments during the PLDC lecture: “We don’t lead the innovation within our own field nor do we inspire related fields to follow us. We shy away from criticising our peer’s work or the state of our profession presumably for the fear of ‘spoiling the party’. So what? We all get along nicely, we are highly inspired by our craft and there’s a nice community spirit. But this hides an important and worrying trend. For the rest of the built environment industry, we, the independent lighting designers, are becoming less relevant, less interesting, and less necessary by the day.”

A bold claim to make, Rosenius passionately pulls this theory apart, discussing it with fellow designers alike and poses interesting resolutions to the problems.

Is it merely an increase in competition in the industry or a lack of compelling value proposition towards the clients and the architects, which is a likely influencer?

One of the concerns Rosenius has adopted is through the client process. The combination of services and design output produced by Lighting Designers proves consistently identical as well as the inclusion of the services that aren’t design packages but instead a basic set of consultancy tasks. Rosenius explains further: “When a client compares any given lighting design companies, many are like identical twins where only the close family can tell the difference between the two. The clients have plenty of choice for these seemingly identical ‘lighting design’ services since they are offered simultaneously by numerous lighting designers, engineering consultancies, luminaire manufacturers, agents and suppliers, other design professions and even contractors. We need to ask ourselves what is our value proposition and what is it that truly differentiates us as a profession? And most importantly, do we innovate enough? The current model appears to be bringing the prices down, sometimes to zero, and begs the question: Is architectural lighting design already a commodity?”

To explore this idea further, Rosenius performed an experiment with LinkedIn searches to see if different search results filtered by industry based titles gave a clear indication for the amount of pure lighting designers. The results proved intriguing, as the addition or subtraction of certain industry based titles whittled down to an estimated 10,000 ‘Lighting Designers’ as apposed to the somewhat 700,053 Lighting Design professionals. Whilst this does not highlight the Lighting Designers as an insignificant proportion, it does suggest the services are being commoditised as a result of an easily learned skillset for popular design solutions and trends.

Rosenius moves along to then question the limbo like position Lighting Designers have found themselves in. “It is clear that architectural Lighting Designers exist as a minority group within the much larger lighting design activity. It seems to have adopted a role as educated (or in some cases simply enthusiastic) consultants rather than innovators. The technical innovation is driven by the manufacturing industry and their consultants; the conceptual innovation is driven by the ‘outliers’, the artists, VJ’s, architects, academic research organisations and the new technology companies,” he explains.

In order to combat these issues, Rosenius recommends the industry encourage investment into the research and development sectors to avoid this commoditisation and continue to be relevant professionals. He also observes that Lighting Designers are continuing to ride along in their bubble of contentedness whilst manufacturers throw ample amounts of budget into their own research and development and support education for Lighting Designers in order to mould them into their preferred format to suit themselves. Rosenius clarifies: “Whilst there is arguably nothing particularly wrong with this model of knowledge transfer, it does, however, weaken the position of the Lighting Designer, when it comes to innovation. I would even venture further to say it potentially suffocates creativity and allows complacency to creep in. If the Lighting Designer doesn’t need to innovate, they can simply apply ready-made solutions in a creative way to suit the project. A process that goes a little bit like this: Discover – Copy – Paste – Tweak – Shop for new solutions at a trade fair – Repeat. Should we as a profession change focus to remain relevant for years to come?”

The majority of his theory for this can be drawn from previous lighting projects over the last twenty years and the trending creative results produced by these and the consistent amount of repetitive and predictable processes used.

The future? According to Rosenius, one of the best resolutions for these issues is an interdisciplinary approach to running a lighting design practice. To achieve this ideal working environment, it is essential to have collaborators from various working backgrounds contributing to the lighting design team beyond their own discipline. As an avid promoter of new and exciting projects that challenge ‘the norm’, he believes the intersection of different disciplines creates interesting results and brings new values to a project. “This approach begins to push the company from a standard consultancy model, where each skillset is active within its own silo, towards a creative design company model. There are fantastically successful design practices that work with the interdisciplinary model such as IDEO, Fjord, Frog and many others. They offer great inspiration on how lighting design profession could develop and what the business models could be,” he states.

When Rosenius originally established Lighting Design Collective, it was being run as a typical lighting design firm, following as he puts it, “the Anglo-Saxon model of services and deliverables”. With the ever growing demand for more complex concepts, broader skillsets from practitioners and content packages for media surfaces, LDC evolved into a multi-disciplinary firm. After six years, UNSTATIC developed as a spin off digital content team headed by Gorka Cortazar. Think-in-a-Tank was then developed as part of LDC in collaboration with sociologist Dr Marco Bevolo and has run annually since 2014. ReVR Studio was the next spin off to come out of LDC, when the demand for quality lighting visualisations and Virtual Reality became higher. In early 2016, ReVR developed into their own team to continue to collaborate with leading architectural firms and Lighting Designers creating integrated design processes.

Moving towards the Digital Paradise that Rosenius refers to in his research, he explains the movements LDC went through.

“In late 2013, LDC were invited to join a research consortium bidding for EU Horizon2020 funding under a topic of Connected Light and Sensing for Smart Spaces. We lost the bid but learnt a lot and got introduced to the futuristic world of new technology research run by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Since then, we have been part of three winning consortiums, Delphi4LED, DecoChrom and Towards Digital Paradise, most receiving funding from the Horizon2020 program. The latter one led us to partner up with a group of professionals to create a new technology start up, Skandal Technologies, developing systems for Ambient Communications.” Skandal Technologies also uses new biomimetic and responsive technologies in lighting control in built environments.

The idea that humans have a substantial ability to process ambient and peripheral information that directly affects emotions and subconscious contextual understanding without the need to activate cognitive thought processes is the bases of innovation for Skandal Technologies, which is currently developing its Generation 2.0 system.

Rosenius states: “The future of the Lighting Design profession is precarious. A shift from a consultancy based business model to an anti-disciplinary design company model could foster more innovation and gain a new position closer to the edge of the larger lighting profession. Investment into research and strong promotion of critical debate should be a central goal of practice leaders. Our profession should own the process of visual narrative for our built environment and lead the conceptual innovation. We should provide application research and inspire related fields such as new technology companies to follow our lead. We should design our own tools and set the trends for the manufacturing industry.

“The figure of the Lighting Designer has become more known and the field has grown, which is great. I haven’t seen a big shift in terms of design and creativity, however. Most companies operating in architectural lighting design appear to be very confortable with figuring out ‘creative solutions’ rather than behaving as actual design companies. I make a big distinction between design and consultancy activities. The latter dominates the lighting fields and you can see it in the project outcome very clearly”.

As a starting point, Rosenius believes it is important to understand and define what value lighting can bring to the client. However, this in itself comes with difficulties, as Rosenius noted, many clients struggle to distinguish between the various specialists in the field, and thus a multitude of services are provided with a staggering variation in quality. “The value proposition is often vague, which has led to the drop in fees. In many markets, Lighting Design is still a cottage industry trying to find its way,” he observes. “Yet, there is still hope for young designers about to break into the industry, with countless opportunities to bring new approaches and desire for differentiation from the client’s side.”

So, what potential does the future hold?

Rosenius promotes: “Integration of new design tools in software and hardware will permit designers to develop more complex and integrated schemes into their designs”.  As for LDC, their offices are growing across their three sites, and they are working hard to bring their creative message to the forefront of clientele business with great success. As an independent entity, ReVR is delivering virtual reality packages for multiple platforms in design and architecture, and London based UNSTATIC provides independent digital content services with designers in mind. Currently also working as the CEO of Skandal Technologies and as a pioneer in using biomimetic lighting control in built environments, Rosenius continues to develop systems, visions and technologies related to this field whilst coaching new generations of lighting designers through his own design practice mantra.


Pic: Mark Cocksedge