illumni People Profile:
Alkestie Skarlatou

Alkestie

Alkestie Skarlatou is a Senior Designer with GIA Equation. With a background in architecture, and a PhD in Light and Lighting from the Barlett School, she has a special interest in the theoretical aspects of light & space design. She has worked as a lighting designer on residential projects, office spaces, boutique and luxury hotels and urban lighting schemes in the UK and internationally, notably the Knightsbridge façade illumination, Skype Offices London, Google Offices London, Sloane Street Masterplanning, Crossrail C100 lighting components and the Embassy Gardens Residents’ Lounge, Pool & Spa. We caught up with Alkestie to find out a little about her influences and inspirations….

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259_Knightsbridge Estate_Brompton Road_Summer_02Knightsbridge. Photography by James Newton.

Can you sum up your design philosophy in a sentence or two?

It is very hard, because there are so many parameters included in design. If I had to, it would be how lighting design relates to architecture. How it reveals architecture or any kind of spatial experience (theatrical space included) by revealing the content and the context rather than trying to impose something on top of it.

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Grace Santorini Villa. Serge Detalle for Divercity Architects.

Most designers have places, spaces, or experiences that they find inspirational – can you share your absolute favourite with us and tell us how and why it inspires you?

Art is an inspiration to most lighting designers and I am no different. Be it a beautifully lit theatrical play, an immersive light installation, a dreamy poem, a film noir or Science Fiction, or even a black and white comic book. Maybe because art does not bear the conventions of architecture, or perhaps because it expresses our inner feelings. Maybe the most beautiful light installation I have seen is the ‘Weather Project’ in Tate in 2003 by Olafur Eliasson. Yet I find James Turrell’s overall oeuvre more intellectual. The film ‘Blade Runner’ had amazing dystopic lighting throughout, but I also find the sets in Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ incredible in their lighting design – something that is far away from what you might call a ‘serious film’. I find that the memories imprinted in our early years have a lot of light impressions in them and we keep returning to them one way or another.

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Skype. Photography by ISG.

The world is full of interesting people who influence us and shape the way we think – is there anyone out there that you are dying to meet?

There are many people out there who have done important things for humanity. I try not lose perspective in life. Great mathematicians, activists, medical scientists, humanitarian aid volunteers. Intelligence and strength have many forms. There are certainly some I would have loved to meet. I am not sure they would be able to share what they have achieved in words though. I think they just followed what they believed in.

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Spetses House. Cathy Cunliffe for Divercity Architects.

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Psychiko House. Erieta Attali.

Can you tell us something that not many people know about you or your work but you wish they did?

It tends to look ‘not cool’ especially for the younger people here in the office, but I like to hand draw and sketching helps me think. I decide things and solve small problems while I draw them. Sometimes when I scribble, it even calms me down!

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What would you say has been your most unusual source of creative inspiration to date?

I think inspiration as ‘in a spur of a moment’ sense is a bit of an overrated term. I believe in education and I was very lucky to have been in academic environments that opened up my eyes and my mind. I was conservative and absolute as a teenager/young adult with a tendency to be impressed by the mainstream culture. Among other things I learned how to ‘see’ and really notice things. Analytical and inquisitve thinking also are acquired, not inherent. Very few people manage to develop them on their own. And these are fundamental to design- as long as you are interested in human-centred solutions and not just following ‘trends’.

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Grace Mykonos Restaurant. Divercity Architects 

And your favourite creative collaboration?

I think the best collaboration I had so far is with a certain architecture practice that I admire for the originality of their thinking in all the projects they undertake. Simple ideas, but very well thought out and thus very appealing. It’s also the respect they have for lighting that is rare to find. Many big architecture firms consider lighting design another ‘building service’ that is necessary. At best they might try and make that ‘service’ a bit more appealling by indulging in ‘industrial-looking’ fittings for example, but I feel they are losing the point. Light is about the immaterial effect, not the luminaire. Convincing them about the quality becomes a very difficult task. However in one of the most recent projects, the architects also seem to care about lighting design and involved us right from the start, so there is hope!

What springs to mind if I ask you what is your all time favourite bit of kit?

There are lots of materials I would like to have the time to experiment with and make mock-ups with, such as resin. I like how one can work with the layers and control the level of transparency, and also embed small objects in it and then light it. I think however the most usual and easily obtainable are the ones that most lighting designers work with: white and black cardboards, transparencies, scalpels, light strips and miniature downlights. A camera with good lens is also invaluable.

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Crossrail – C100 Lighting Components.

What, for you, is the most exciting thing about working in the field of lighting design…..?

It is a new profession and you learn all the time. Everyone is struggling when it comes to defining ‘lighting quality’ in order to explain the added value lighting designers bring to the construction industry, but this is really a trap. Trying to measure quality is somehow admitting that there isn’t any. Slowly though things are changing and the dialogue is shifting away from this obsession of ‘quantifying’ quality. For example new guidelines start to include the light levels on the backdrop walls, the layering of light and the form. They appeal more to human perception rather than the indication of the lux meter.

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Company Headquarters in London. Anna Stathaki for Divercity Architects. 

And the most annoying or upsetting thing about working in the field of lighting design?

The same reason that makes this profession exciting, is the reason that makes it challenging really. Because this is a new profession I feel it is not recognised for what is worth. Design after all means original thinking and we put effort into this. I feel this is not generally appreciated from the people who receive and enjoy well designed schemes. Also I am not very comfortable when lighting is understood as a mere decorative object, a pendant being more worth in a scheme than a technical light. This dates back to the years when the designer had only the tungsten lamps to work with. But even if this is the case and decorative luminaires is all you have, then you need to work with them. One needs to design within the limits of reasonable restrictions.

I say light; you say ?

Where from?