Uli+Friends: Architectural Illumination Planning

Nick All Posts, Architecture & Design, Lighting

Uli Petzold’s koan-like credo is “Lighting is not lighting.” He explains: “If a space is evenly lit you give equal importance to everything. But some features deserve more emphasis than others.” “Not lighting,” means eliminating over-lighting, channeling daylight, adding smart fixtures, balancing them and reflecting them.

Petzold runs the aesthetic illumination planning business “Uli+friends” in Miami, Florida, with a team of 10 lighting specialists, including Oliver Koch, a German architect and engineer, and Stephanie Ragusa, an American architectural lighting engineer. Their projects include the exterior of a historic building in Frankfurt, Germany, beach condos, New York lofts, impressive gardens in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, office complexes and resorts.

Pictured Above: Uli+Friends Residential Lighting Project

Here Uli tells us about his work as a lighting designer.

Lighting seems like such a technical field – all about following codes, hiding wires, calculating installation costs and energy efficiency, counting foot candles, considering maintenance, and making detailed technical drawings. But lighting design is really about poetry, about the emotional experience of finding the shapes and shadows in a project, about offering an aesthetic eye.

Architects spend a lot of time creating volumes. Interior and landscape designers have defined the shapes, colors and surfaces. I understand when a project needs chiaroscuro when it needs gentle, thoughtful light and when lighting needs to be used to sculpt out areas within larger spaces.

Uli+Friends: Capri Bal Harbour Shops Pictured Above: Uli+Friends Lighting Design of Capri, Bal Harbour Shops. Sunny Isles, FL

A lighting designer steps in to emphasize the three-dimensionality of the project, to offer depth and shadow as well as to highlight the fine points: the art, the furniture, and most importantly the people. Lighting must always be about the people, both making them look good and giving them a sense of safety and wellbeing.

It’s always best if I can be part of a project from the beginning. That’s so the fixtures we position for our lighting can be coordinated with air conditioning diffusers, alarm systems, whole house automation, even sprinkler systems, and the ceiling and walls don’t look like Swiss cheese. We can also suggest dramatic architectural options in order to hide the source of lighting – as much as possible. Inevitably, developers use way too many lights for stores and offices, adding heat, glare and big-box alienation. Even retail spaces need soft, diffused lighting, especially changing rooms. You need to illuminate those so that every woman of every age and figure and skin condition looks like a 15 year old. That’s when a customer will be in the right mood to buy.

Airports with their large window-walls are always over-lit. Offices are so over-lit workers have headaches from the glare on the desks and computer screens. An office, through lighting, can offer a sense of well being, instead of Kafka-esque oppression. Most houses are over-lit, especially private spaces like the bedroom and bath. Your bathroom shouldn’t be lit like an operating room. It should have beautifully composed light, a good amount coming from the side, which happens if we use walls and vanities and floors as reflectors. Even worse is a bedroom riddled with “high hats”? If someone needs to read, we can provide task lights. Otherwise a bedroom is for privacy and for relaxation. There should be very little over-head illumination, except perhaps at the perimeter to highlight artwork. Light should come from recessed wall fixtures and be bounced off surfaces so it is flattering and relaxing.

Lighting therefore is not lighting. It is removing harsh light, creating drama, imagining and empathizing about what life inside the building could be. And, then, after all that, we produce the final technical drawings.


Check out the video above of Uli and the lighting design projects him and his team work on. FYI The clip is in German.

For more information about Uli + Friends, visit www.ulifriends.com

Key Takeaway: Uli+Friends combines grace, sophistication, and simplicity to master the illumination of light and design.