The Raffaele De Vita Interview
Head of Lighting
Medland Metropolis

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Raffaele De Vita’s expertise is expansive. It covers a significant number of different subject areas from lighting design and industrial design to architecture, allowing him to draw on complex bodies of knowledge on a daily basis. It enables him to put forward big concepts in lighting to solve client problems and keep them at ease. He is part of the new wave of creative lighting designers who will no doubt help put lighting front and centre in the commercial world.

Raffaele’s qualifications include:

• Degree in Architecture (Florence)
• Master in Lighting Design (Rome)
• Master in Industrial Design (Florence)

illumni had a small window of opportunity to ask him a few questions. These are his answers:

The consequences of the 2009 global GFC had a pretty profound effect on your career?

Yes, indeed (ironically in a positive way). The Global GFC was such a dramatic event that gave me the strength and courage to make a major career move by deciding to leave my European life behind (the only one I knew) and move to Australia to build the foundations of the career I yearned for. It was an incredibly tough and complex decision, however I realised that if I didn’t take the plunge I would never reach my goals.

I saw my future melting like snow under the sun, not slowly but quickly and you only have split moments to make life changing choices to save your future. Now, I feel my career is on the right pathway, in a country where I can keep evolving, challenging and improving myself.

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Raffaele De Vita at the illumni Plate lunch in 2014

What was it that made you decide to settle in Sydney, Australia?

After my first visit to Sydney in 2009, I immediately realized the opportunities Australia had to offer. Not only did I see a chance to creatively express myself as a designer, I also fell in love with Sydney and ultimately with the amazing multicultural country which is Australia.

Inspired by the Sydney City Council program “Sydney 2030”; I decided to come back in 2012 and felt like Sydney was the perfect place for a designer who wanted to contribute to the development of a growing city.

You’ve been described as the quintessential Renaissance man. You seem to be able to delve effortlessly into a reservoir of complex acquired knowledge and use it to solve seemingly unsolvable design challenges?

After living in Florence and in Rome for ten years, being influenced by the culture was inescapable. I would walk along the streets at night and these beautiful “masterpieces” would speak to me. Walking down these streets, you could taste the renaissance nectar or feeling as if you were 2000 years back in history, it’s something that cannot be described in words.

My eyes and my brain were, and still are, hungry for Leon Battista Alberti, Brunelleschi, Giotto, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Donatello, Masaccio, Raffaello and most of all the Maestro, Leonardo Da Vinci. Each one of these artists and engineers were game changers in terms of innovation, each in their own way. They were not afraid of trying new techniques or experimenting new ideas and this is what inspires me for solving small and big challenges I come across on each project.

Working at Medland Metropolis is a great opportunity. I have been given a chance to work on a number of very interesting projects; in particular, one of the biggest developments in the South Hemisphere: Barangaroo. One of the Lighting Concepts was based on the Vitruvian man and the Da Vinci’s machines mechanisms. Other concepts throughout the works refer to the study of the Prospective, as the Maestri Brunelleschi and Bernini taught us.

On a completely different project, a justice court, the challenge was to link different areas of the court including offices, hearing rooms and reception with a unified theme whilst allowing for flexibility, in order to suit the different environment of each space. My night walks, in the ancient Roman ruins, gave birth to the Lighting Concept for this project. Inspiration was drawn from the ancient Roman goddess of justice, Iustitia, and the structure of Roman temples. Being immersed in this beautiful culture since a child has always helped on all the projects I have worked on.

What, in your view, has lighting design got to do with architecture?

Lighting and Architecture are supposed to make love.

The Lighting Designer needs to be involved at the early stages of a project, in order to achieve the best outcome possible for all parties and also to create a unique environment. By both, the lighting designer and the architect, collaborating together at the concept stage of a project, modifications to the architecture and interior design can be captured without affecting the following stages, including the documentation.

From an architectural point of view, lighting should create a new feeling at night, deconstructing some of the architectural elements then reassembling everything with new flavours, similar to making pasta using the same ingredients but dressing it in a different way.

From an interior design point of view, both disciplines should collaborate in creating a comfortable environment. Lighting in particular, should use the most advanced technologies in order to ensure the best quality possible.

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How does your way of doing things fit in at a multidiscipline services company like Medland Metropolis?

My way of doing things fits at Medland Metropolis like an olive in a Martini.

I am fortunate to have overall creative control, especially when all MM services (electrical, mechanical, fire and hydraulic) are involved in a project.

Lighting is the discipline where “design” is more visible, compared to other services, but this doesn’t mean there is only one way of doing things.

We have a creative forum, for each project, where everybody is welcome to join in. Our administration, mechanical, CAD, hydraulic, electrical and the fire teams all contribute to the forum. I would compare our work environment as a democracy of creativity: everybody can cast a great idea. The strength of having different creative views from employees across our entire team breeds innovative ideas.

So I fit in well at MM, like every other employee because we share the same values: passion, innovation and offering the best service possible to our Clients. I believe the passion for what you do makes you stronger, even when things become challenging, and this happens on every project.

Risks. How important are they in your approach to lighting design?

The word “risk” suggests the probability of threat or damage. The best way to represent the philosophy I use for approaching to Lighting Design, is “thinking different”. My philosophy is to offer something different and unique for each Client, because each Client is unique and the most important.

Before presenting a concept, there is a very important phase which is the research. Professor Giuliano Maggiora, from the Faculty of Architecture in Florence, taught me that each place has a “Genius Loci”, which from the Latin means “soul” of a place. Lighting is not different from Architecture, as it has to adhere perfectly to the soul of a place or create an entirely new soul.

In order to be innovative and original, you have to take controlled risks. This is not always possible, but for me, thinking differently, is the starting point for each project.

How do clients in Sydney react to this approach?

Clients are enthusiastic; they enjoy the way the challenges to a project are solved through different ideas. A happy client is the best outcome of a project and, in my eyes, the only one possible. After presenting the final concept for one of the Barrangaroo projects, I felt virtuous seeing the end Client and the Architect not only surprised at inspiration I had for the concept but elated at what we were going to achieve. It’s in moments like this, that I feel like life is paying me back for the sacrifices that I have made.

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Student Information Centre @ UTS. Architect: Architectus

You lit the Student Information Centre at the new UTS head office Building 10. What was the core idea for this project?

The Student Information Centre, at UTS, is a “business card” of the University that wants to be innovative, diverse and energetic attracting new students to join UTS whilst making them feel comfortable.

From a Design prospective, the first approach to the concept was to sit down and observe visitors and employees in the previous environment, integrating the research with their feedback. Michelangelo said, before starting to work on the “David”: “Il marmo contiene gia’ la statua, io devo solo tirarla fuori“, which roughly translates to “The sculpture is already in the marble, the only thing I have to do is to bring it out”.

The same concept applied to the student centre: the Genius loci (the soul of the place) was in the feedback from UTS. Working with the architect (Architectus) we had to bring the soul out and work together to create a new and vibrant environment.

Key elements, for both Lighting and Interior’s concept are the Nature and the Human Feelings. The Nature is recreated by the use of wooden ceilings and the Lighting Design follows this direction by hiding the light sources where possible, thanks to a custom suspended wooden linear fitting.

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Student Information Centre @ UTS. Architect: Architectus

The linear light fitting “melts” into the wood. The design of this fitting was one of the biggest challenges as we had to ensure the correct heat dissipation. The other key element is the feature wall where Nature and Human feelings are enhanced, thanks to a slow colour fading LED, which merges with the decorative film applied on the surface that the Interior Designer felt was “Genius Loci” of the place.

The Lighting Design is minimalist: the protagonist is the vibrant space and the energy that visitors will gain. With the use of indirect Lighting, the Lighting Design aims to create a warm and welcoming environment, focusing on the reception desk.

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Student Information Centre @ UTS. Architect: Architectus

It is not easy being a student and the Lighting Design, at the information centre, aims to make waiting experience a pleasant experience, speaking the same language of the new generations. Together with the Client and the interior Designer we wanted to “give birth” to a different student centre and the Lighting Design was a key tool for achieving this goal.

On this project, Interior and Lighting are equally supporting each other to create a “handmade” design which exemplifies the beauty of the environment, like a handmade dress that enhances the beauty of a woman.

You’re completing the lighting for the KPMG Australia’s Vertical Village in Barangaroo, how’s that going?

It’s evolving really well.

The KPMG Australia project in general has been a very challenging and stimulating opportunity for Medland Metroplis and myself. It has involved an evolving collaboration with the imaginative & creative teams for architecture – the Architectural firms E.G.O. Group & Davenport Campbell. The L38 Vertical Villages, in particular, are very individual specialist spaces designed by the E.G.O. Group. These spaces at the top of the Tower, have very impressive volumes, particularly due to the height and a magnificent light & airy feel generated by the two glass facades and dynamic design approach. They of course presented very particular challenges for lighting, including lighting for day & night and for the multifunctional dynamic use nature of the space.

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Presentation to KPMG. Architects: Vertical Villages / Client Floors: E.G.O Group. Typical Floors: Davenport Campbell.

After the briefing with the E.G.O. Group, the goal was clear: finding a Genius Loci for these two big corporate multifunctional rooms. The pressure was on. The idea, for the concepts, was to propose an international flavour linked to Australia, modelling the “Genius Loci’ as per the Company Values. The first thing that pop into my mind, thinking about a square, was the Vitruvian Man and the relationship between the square and the circle.

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Presentation to KPMG. Architects: Vertical Villages / Client Floors: E.G.O Group. Typical Floors: Davenport Campbell.

In order to recreate this relationship and to fit the Vertical Villages (VVs), I compared the circle to a pendant and the square as a liner fitting recessed into the floor. The idea was to give a 3D feeling of the Vitruvian Man, read in a modern way. Shapes of the light fittings were kept simple, minimalist and elegant.

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Presentation to KPMG. Architects: Vertical Villages / Client Floors: E.G.O Group. Typical Floors: Davenport Campbell.

The second concept was based on the idea of the perspective. One of the most famous examples of this is Piazza San Pietro in Roma. Bernini designed this Piazza as a “big hug” by the Roman Church to all the world.

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Presentation to KPMG. Architects: Vertical Villages / Client Floors: E.G.O Group. Typical Floors: Davenport Campbell.

When the observer stands in one of the two focal points of the ellipse piazza, the colonnades, four columns deep, change the observer’s perspective as it looks like one row of columns. The idea, for the VVs, was to have a light sculpture that would look like randomly suspended linear LEDs extrusions, but when the visitor stood in a particular point, the design of the sculpture would be revealed.

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Presentation to KPMG. Architects: Vertical Villages / Client Floors: E.G.O Group. Typical Floors: Davenport Campbell.

With the third concept, the focus was more on the materials which would have surrounded the visitors, glass in particular. The idea was to get to the essence of the material, stripping it back to the bare chemical formula and transforming it in the actual pendant which would have linked the sides of the room together.

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Presentation to KPMG. Architects: Vertical Villages / Client Floors: E.G.O Group. Typical Floors: Davenport Campbell.

The atoms are represented by Can fittings with upward and downward light components and the chemical bonds are represented by LED extrusions with downward and upward light components.

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Presentation to KPMG. Architects: Vertical Villages / Client Floors: E.G.O Group. Typical Floors: Davenport Campbell.

For the fourth concept, the idea came from Florence and from Palazzo Vecchio, the City Town Hall. Thinking about a monolithic room, the Salone dei Cinquecento was the room that immediately attracted my attention due to a similar multifunction soul and the square ceiling (“Soffitto a Cassettoni”) to the VVs. This room witnessed Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo competing with two amazing different paintings, using innovative techniques.

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Presentation to KPMG. Architects: Vertical Villages / Client Floors: E.G.O Group. Typical Floors: Davenport Campbell.

The lighting concept was to bring, to a lower level, the square grid from the ceiling transforming it in suspended linear LED extrusions with direct and indirect lighting components. However, it seemed the concept was missing something: it was too static. It was missing the link to Australia – which I found thinking about the surfer and the big Pacific Ocean waves. So the idea was to have these square pendants motorized with hoists in order to create a kinetic sculpture which would recreate, in a subtle way, the waves of the ocean and other different sculptures.

Option four is the approved Concept. We believe that represents the best Genius Loci possible. Lighting is the key element of a perfect symphony among the Architectural design, the Interior design and the Client Values.

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Ashurst Australia. Architect: Hassell

You have recently completed an amazing project for the offices of law firm Ashurst Australia in Sydney’s Martin Place. What was the source of your inspiration and what were the challenges in bringing it to life?

The Lighting Concept is based on the “Genius Loci”, the “Soul” of the Company. We looked into the Ashurst Values and Culture, and selected ‘Diversity’ and ‘Inclusion’ as basis of the Lighting Concept.

Ashurst are an organisation made up of talented individuals with diverse backgrounds and cultures, brought together in groups located in all the major Capital cities of the World.

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Ashurst Australia. Architect: Hassell

Round light fittings with varied diameters represent the different individuals. The architecture is the “body” of the company, housing these round fittings with an apparently random location, defined by the partitions walls and ceilings which are the “arms” of the company hugging the employees.

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Ashurst Australia. Architect: Hassell

Two buildings together: the stunning Heritage and the New transparent wing, in conversation with one another, using Lighting as a common language, dancing on a classic symphony with a modern style.

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Ashurst Australia. Architect: Hassell

Each floor has a different ceiling height, due to the heritage building. This was one of the main Architectural and Lighting challenges together with the integration between the two buildings and ensuring uniformity of lighting with a an apparently random location, especially in VC rooms.

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Ashurst Australia. Architect: Hassell

Not only lighting, but also all other services are dancing with the music of round shapes, creating a unique and innovative environment. RCP coordination has been a challenge, but during construction phase there were almost no issues with aligning services, due to the apparently random set out.

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Image courtesy of Foster + Partners

Norman Foster plans to build on Mars. How would you like to be involved?

One of my aspirations is to be the first person to design light fittings for Mars. I have been working on this personal endeavour for a few years now and it’s interesting contemplating how artificial light could be designed to suit a non-terrestrial environment and which technologies and materials could be utilized to achieve this.

Ultimately, I would like to be involved in a lighting research team working with Norman Foster in ways to implement lighting for this new environment. It would be surreal seeing a light on Mars that I designed from planet Earth!

Anything else you’d like to share?

Yes, I’d especially like to thank my parents: without their support and sacrifice, I would have never been able to be the person I am today. Also, a thank you to Professor G. Maggiora and L. Cremonini from the University of Florence and Professor M. Frascarolo from the University Roma Tre. Last, but not least, a big thanks to God for giving me a second chance in life.

https://au.linkedin.com/in/raffaeledevita
http://medlandmetropolis.com