The Lighting Tree: Alex Bittiner

The ground rules for The Lighting Tree are simple. The previous candidate suggests the next candidate – and the next candidate needs to be differently gendered. Ellie Greisen has proposed Alex Bittiner as the next occupant of The Lighting Tree.

Alex Bittiner is Senior Designer with Lighting Design International

What was the fascination with lighting that drew you to into this career?

Alex Bittiner

I reckon the first time I became aware that lighting affects what we see and how we see it was when I started taking photos with a 35mm camera as a kid. I wasn’t much interested in staging lighting for a photo and more fascinated with the challenge of capturing the fleeting look of a place or person at a moment in time, in a specific light.

At that time I was just an observer, recording how the available lighting around me changed the way I saw things. However in 2000 as a student studying in London I had the opportunity of redesigning the lighting for a shop called Junky Styling on Dray Walk in the Truman Brewery which was owned by a couple of friends.

That was the moment I realised I could influence the appearance of a space through lighting design and not just experience or record it and that feeling was really addictive! Once I found out about the lighting course at the Bartlett and realised that I could work as a lighting consultant I know that was the road I wanted to follow.

There are lots of aspects to creating good lighting design; is there any one aspect of the process that means more to you than anything else?

We are incredibly lucky to work in an environment with so much variety in the work that we do. Every project has unique conditions that makes creating a lighting scheme for each project different in some way. The building, its location, the client, the design team and even prevailing social and economic conditions are all variables that can influence the final design. I would say meeting, learning and collaborating with people on different projects is the creative process that means the most to me, both with my work and outside of work.

I guess we should also ask, for balance, is there anything in the process that you’d prefer to avoid and pass onto someone else in the studio?

That’s a difficult one to answer because every process involved in a project from the beginning to the end is important and can influence whether a project is amazing or nothing special. I think the scale of a project has a huge influence on the processes and one thing I’ve noticed on a recent big project is the amount of time involved in uploading/downloading and managing files on a file-sharing website like Conject, Asite or something similar. It would be amazing if someone could read your mind and find the exact drawing you needed to complete a lighting detail from an issue sheet that you have to print on A0 paper to be able to read the drawing description!

What or who are your influences when it comes to light creation?

I like that phrase ‘light creation’! It reminds me a little of the description of lighting designer in French “Concepteur lumière” which I translate as ‘creator of light concepts’. My influences and inspirations are both conscious and unconscious, deliberate and accidental, long lasting and transitory. I’m a visual person with a sketchy memory and i find that ideas are hard to generate from any single process. I find ideas often come at random times and in random places. They can be triggered from something you read, a conversation, or imagery that you see on your way to work. Some examples where I have found inspiration in the past is visiting the Venice Biennale which I’ve been doing for the last three years (last year was the architecture Biennale curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, on the theme of Freespace which was a great source of ideas), my conversations with my brother Julian who works and teaches Graphic Design and site visits on projects nearing completion where you get to see the building and finishes responding to the lighting design.

Tell us something about the you that exists outside of lighting.

I love cycling and cycling culture! I ride pretty much every day of the year and I don’t mind if its commuting to work, or riding to see my family in Switzerland I still get a kick out of it. It helps me relax when I’m heading home after a long day’s work and it takes me to new places. There’s something about the speed of travel and exposure when I’m on a bike which makes me feel more connected with my surroundings and encourages me to explore places in more detail and interact with people more, it’s a constant source of motivation. 

I’m planning on riding the Dunwich Dynamo again this year which is an unsupported group ride overnight from London Fields to Dunwich beach to see the sunrise. It involves riding through country lanes through the night in total darkness so a great opportunity to get creative with lighting your bike!

Dunwich Beach: taken on Alex’s ride there last year
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