The Gerd Pfarre Interview Founder, pfarre lighting design

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Gerd Pfarré, Founder, pfarré lighting design

Gerd Pfarré founded ‘pfarré lighting design’ in Munich in 1998. Since then he has built a giant reputation for customised lighting solutions with a small but dedicated and highly experienced team of designers, architects and engineers. He has championed the cause of good lighting design through positions on many of the industries most important representative bodies, by lecturing at top universities and by helping to establish highly celebrated lighting events such as ‘LightNight’. He recently took the time to talk with illumni about a few issues close to his heart.

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Alter Hof Passage, Munich.  Photo: Stephan Mueller-Naumann, Munich

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Manufactum Store, Munich.  Photo: Andreas J. Focke, Munich

Gerd thank you for your time. You have been quoted as saying that once, after you explained to a drummer what you did, the drummer replied “Ah so you are making music for the eyes”. Putting aside the obvious question, what would a drummer know about music, is that how you see yourself, as a ‘creator of music for the eyes?’

Yes – if you’ d regard the environment and space around us as a more or less composed world, you could feel about visually well balanced spaces like you’ enjoy a well orchestrated piece of music. Light plays an essential role in the quality of architecture and urban design, and part of our job is to find the right tunes, beats and rhythms, often before the project is being built. Our aim is to create well composed pictures from all angles, the sum of these pictures shapes the arrangement of a complete piece.

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Small Olympic Hall, Munich.  Photo: Andreas J. Focke, Munich

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Small Olympic Hall, Munich.  Photo: Andreas J. Focke, Munich

You have a pre-lighting background in carpentry, cabinet making, and sculpture. How have these very specific skills helped in the creation of your lighting installations?

The understanding of a variety of materials and their specific characteristics is a strong basis in my work. With more than 30 years on construction sites I learned a little about what is possible from a technical (and realistic) point of view. On top, I do have great respect for all workers who finally have to execute our ideas. My practical experience gives me a strong backing especially for the design of custom-made solutions. Particularly those where others would say “oh no this is not possible, we never made such a thing before”. I can be pretty tough in getting things done, but I have to be sure that it is feasible: technically, design wise, in time, budget wise. I strongly believe in good communication and team work to bring our ideas to light.

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Holyfields Restaurant, Frankfurt.  Photo: Zooey Braun, Stuttgart

Ingo Maurer has been described as ‘”the guru of innovative design”. Working with him must have been a productive as well as uplifting experience?

Since his way was as self-taught as mine, we did not deal with any expectations one may have after graduating. His approach was always free, open, often unconventional, which I admired very much. We have been always working “hands on”; at that time, computers did not play a role at all. We experienced light with hundreds of models and mock-ups. Learning by burning! He was a fantastic mentor, and the time with him was so rich, I could probably write a book about it. No doubt, his work is a milestone in contemporary lighting design.

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WGV Cafeteria, Stuttgart.  Photo: Zooey Braun, Stuttgart

How difficult was it to take an event such as LightNight from the drawing board to reality and what were the differences between staging it in Frankfurt and staging it in New York?

Oh there was no drawing board, just doing it. At that time I thought it would be nice to bring all luminaries together, and with a little help from my IALD friends…and sponsors!
There was no such format in the lighting community, and apart from gathering, networking, having fun and enjoying good speakers. The idea behind it was to promote our passion for light and our profession, world wide. By the way: there is an impressive video on our youtube channel!

LightNight 2004 at Luminale Frankfurt

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Hafen City University Subway Station, Hamburg.  Photo: Markus Tollhopf, Hamburg

This year you won the IALD Radiance Award for excellence in lighting design for your installation at Hafen City University U4 subway platform, the perfect expression of “art as functional light”. How were you feeling just before the award was announced and what was it like to win?

Before, I was rather relaxed. After the announcement I felt like James Cameron receiving all his academy awards for “Titanic”. he said “I am king of the world”! but don’t take this too seriously! However, this is the highest recognition in our field, and I felt very, very honoured and happy!

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Old/New Harbor, Bremerhaven.  Photo: Markus Tollhopf, Hamburg

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Bork Flagship Store, Moscow, Photography: Zooey Braun, Stuttgart

You launched Illuminator Magazine in 2012 (with Frank Koschembar) as “the greatest magazine about light”. How has it tracked in the ensuing years and what have been the highlights?

Illuminator is an edition, the first of our publishing company LightingPress. It is  more intended to become a collector’s item than a regular magazine. We thought how sad that all these great photographs, pictures of light end up in stamp size publications or, low res, sorry to say, on a computer screen. We want to show images of light in the highest printing quality and in the largest format possible, period. Themes are endless. no 2 is entitled “artistic light”, no 3, which comes out in conjunction with light & building 2014, features “architectural light”.  We definitely want to edit an issue entitled “light and erotics”. A highlight was, of course, the great article in the New York Times. We did not realize what happened when, all of a sudden US orders popped in every minute!

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Klimahaus 8° Ost, Bremerhaven.  Photo: Markus Tollhopf, Hamburg

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Belltower Gallery, Tashkent.  Photo: Zooey Braun, Stuttgart

In a hundred years, when history judges what the lighting design industry is doing right now, what will be the positives and what will be the negatives?

Negative: the light bulb was banned, the classic icon of electric light.
Positive: these were the decades when people learned about the importance of lighting quality and independent lighting design.

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Canteen DER SPIEGEL, Hamburg.  Photo: Markus Tollhopf, Hamburg

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Palace of International Forums, Tashkent. Photo: Andreas J. Focke, Munich

Where to next for pfarré lighting design?

We are going on and on, working on very exciting projects and competitions. In October I will start with a new challenge, teaching interior lighting design in the new master course “light and lighting” at the Technical University in Munich. In the meantime, our practice is open to team up with others. Instead of looking around for qualified staff all the time (which can drive you nuts), blowing the studio up and shrink it down again, we are currently working with a New York based office on a large scale project in St.Petersburg, Russia. In Mexico and Brazil there is something cooking, too… This is new, and I think it really makes sense to share your projects and passion with professional friends from around the world! Maybe it’s even old fashioned to think that you must be the only lighting designer on a project. We are already working inter-disciplinarily, so why not having fun in the same discipline?

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