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How imagination overcomes the tyranny of distance

Lighting Design By Matt Marshall, Principal, Lighting Design – 28 July 2022

Livingroom shot of Surabaya residence


Matt Marshall with plants and building in background

Matt Marshall

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Anesah Begam posting for a photo while wearing her silky pink Hijab in our Singapore office

Anesah Begam

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Lighting design is as much an art as it is a science, as it involves making the invisible visible and bringing life to a space that has not yet been created. Desktop paper design is only part of the journey - as achieving the end goal requires the designer to visualise life in a space, and how that space might look and feel.

For our recent high-end project in Surabaya, Indonesia, we faced the ultimate test of this intuitive process. The high end residential property had reached nearly 60% completion when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down international travel. For ourselves, the architects, the interior designers and the project managers – all based in Singapore – that meant having to complete the most crucial final stages of fit out and installation via remote contact.

With only two opportunities to visit the site of the home prior to lockdown, we relied on our local construction partners and the client for updates via photos, emails, exchanges of drawings, Whatsapp messaging – everything but physical presence. We became masters of our mobiles, often designing on the fly, so to speak, making decisions based on experience and creative instinct.

One of the important design elements for the home was having a strong outdoor-indoor connection. That meant designing lighting that would work with daylight levels from the home’s numerous windows, glazed wall features, courtyards, atriums and light wells. The home’s architecture also features end-to-end views through the home and feature green walls to ensure that even where the building envelope extends almost to the edge of the relatively compact site footprint, there is still a view of nature from each room, so there is no feeling of being boxed in. Rather, the home feels like it is nestled within an oasis of subtropical greenery.

With such extensive glazing as a feature, we had to consider carefully how light might reflect from glazing, to ensure that at night the windows remain transparent and retain the outlook, rather than becoming reflective due to the way light hits the hard surface of the glass.

This consideration of how light interacts with materials is also applied to the placement of luminaires under furnishings or above surfaces such as benchtops, to ensure there is no reflected glare that distracts the eye and reduces the sense of harmonious illumination.

One of the signature elements of the home is a dramatic, organic staircase connecting levels that features a fabric membrane soffit that is backlit in such a way that the entire soffit emits a pearlescent glow. Again, we had to visualise how it would look based on the project’s 2D CAD design drawings and conceptualise how the light from the soffit would interact with illumination in the surrounding spaces.

We often say at Cundall that collaborative relationships are vital for delivering the best outcome. For the Surabaya project with the strict limitations on physical presence, the trust between our lighting design team, the architect, the interior designer and the client was instrumental.

Having worked with both architect and interior designer before, we had familiarity with their style and how to interpret their ideas. The client themselves wholeheartedly partnered with us all, giving us insight into their needs, dreams and lifestyle.

With a young family being the future residents, the home needed to be as practical for living in as it is beautiful to look at. To achieve the balance between aesthetic and functionality, we ensured the illumination would be suitable in task areas for everyday matters such as food preparation, entertaining and personal care.

This was achieved without creating zones of obvious glare and brightness, and throughout the home, there are no lights that obviously emerge from a luminaire or fitting. Instead light defines and illustrates space and furnishings alike. Careful placement and considering how the different geometries, textures and objects in a space will interact with light is key to achieving this ambient lighting approach.

The client also wanted to be able to control lights remotely, so we designed in a Bluetooth-controlled smart lighting control system that enables him to raise or lower the brightness of each individual light as well as alter light temperature for different scenes and effects.

Because the client is also a passionate art collector, throughout the home there are bespoke flourishes such as illuminated pedestals and plinths for sculptures to celebrate these unique items.

We have not yet physically seen the finished result. However, the treasure trove of photographs sent to us by our very delighted client are proof that creative imagination, coupled with a thorough understanding of materials, space and the behaviour of light, can truly overcome the barrier of distance.