LAST WORD | Expand lighting stewardship through outreach opportunities

Feb. 16, 2023
Lighting activism unites professional skills with a view toward achieving value for every community, says Sighte Studio principal FRANCESCA BASTIANINI.

As a relatively young industry, lighting has made great strides to establish its value as a key member of the design and construction process. We are contributors to skylines and many of the greatest cultural and institutional structures around the world. However, our industry still has room to expand its definition and modes of practice.

We must also become known for making lighting an accessible tool for all. This call to action is not asking anyone to forgo profits or to work only for the sake of social activism. It is establishing that when we explain the value of lighting design, we should mean that lighting adds value to everyone’s life — not only to those with the resources to pay for it.

Expanding our reach will look different depending on where we are in the industry. Lighting designers might develop partnerships with local community organizations to provide design services where previously lighting was seen simply as a necessity. Manufacturers might donate returned or stock products to organizations in need of equipment upgrades or work with distributors to provide discounted purchasing agreements for first-time homeowners or nonprofits. Representative agencies might set aside time to lead a lunch-and-learn presentation for local students.

This past year, my studio updated its mission to include the tagline “stewards of light.” The addition of stewards helps to clarify for the team and for our clients that we bring an expertise and understanding of this magic and ephemeral material — light — to everyone. We do this through education with our clients, workshops with community members, and the pursuit of work in sectors where we previously have not seen ourselves represented. As a result, beyond the typical project types of residences, hotels, retail spaces, schools, and landscapes, we have been involved with the lighting design of a new headquarters for a community nonprofit that teaches design and construction to youth. We have worked alongside a resident-led group to conduct workshops and mock-ups to improve the nighttime environment of the construction site surrounding public housing. We have also used lighting as a tool in an education and advocacy project that helps residents learn about and navigate city infrastructure systems based on our experience with city agencies.

Lighting can be a source for activism, and that activism can take on many forms and scales. Our collaborators are hungry for those who see and want to enhance their visions.

If you want to join us and are unsure of where to start, look around locally for those who might become partners in creating better communities. Be a voice with a different perspective; be the first lighting expert at your local community’s next board meeting. And talk to others who are already doing this work. In recent years, several members of the lighting community have come together to start organizations like Equity in Lighting, Light Justice, and the Los Angeles Lighting Speakers Bureau. We need to share our successes, as well as our failures, so that we can improve and grow as a profession.

FRANCESCA BASTIANINI is principal and founding partner at architectural lighting design firm Sighte Studio (Brooklyn, New York). She has wide-ranging experience in projects at varying scales, from residential to boutique retail spaces, to larger academic and institutional buildings. Prior to starting Sighte Studio, Bastianini spent six years at Lumen Architecture collaborating with architects and interior designers including LTL Architects, MR Architecture + Décor, Andre Kikoski Architect, and Foster + Partners. She has bachelor’s degrees in theater and psychology from Smith College, a master’s degree in psychology from Lesley University, and a master of fine arts degree in lighting design from Parsons School of Design – The New School.

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