Culture: Perspective Of A Lighting Designer - II

David Gilbey
April 19, 2022


Designing around the world can be a minefield of complexity as you navigate the business and project culture of the region you are working in.

It can be a challenge

For example, in the Middle East you are dealing with very strong contractors and it is important to specify strategically. Generally, they do not want to place multiple orders so clustering your lighting around distributor brands can be very beneficial for the successful outcome of a project. I once saw an international lighting designer’s specification on a project in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and he had specified 107 different manufacturers, albeit on a very large project. It’s pretty hard to protect project specification from the hands of unauthorized distributors, when you deal with so many manufacturers.

IP Rights

In some places including The Middle East, India and across Asia, it is just as important to develop relationships with key distributors that can protect, support, and add value to your project. I know of one Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore based distributor whose respect among the lighting design community is such that at The Light & Building convention, biannually in Frankfurt DE, can host over 120 of the worlds top lighting designers at a dinner when there are competing parties happening all over the event.

Adhering to different design standards

It is not only the challenge of designing and understanding cultural styles and navigating global traits and behaviors, but you also have to learn and understand local design standards and regulations.

I was designing the lighting of a Taj Palace Hotel in a key part of Dubai UAE. Taj Palace is a great high class hospitality brand and as such has defined brand standards, so I read their section applicable to lighting. I then read the DEWA standards (Dubai Electrical and Water). I was surprised these were more arduous than the Taj standards especially concerning energy usage. I then looked at the Dubai Green Building Council standards and these trumped both Taj & DEWA standards. Without the approval of The Dubai Green Building Council the hotel would not get its operating license, hence we made sure that we adhered to these standards.

The US may have an edge

I have designed projects across America. Here, you have both national standards and state regulations. Boston and California seem to be at a cutting-edge race, admirably, with regards to energy standards, pushing manufacturers to produce luminaires of higher and higher efficacy. My first project in Orange County introduced me to installation regulations with regards to seismic regulations, which stood me in good stead when I encountered similar in projects in New Zealand.

You have the BIS India manufacturing standard, CCC in China, new approvals for exterior luminaires across the UAE, the list is endless. If you have ever tried to find Swiss code, in English, it can be quite cumbersome. Fortunately, translation programs have improved, and we can now translate pdf documents, though often technical words often miss the translation.


Custom luminaire design is an important task for lighting designers and often allows us to create unique and visually stunning aspects of a project, but our challenge as global lighting designers is to collect talent and ability around the globe. From a sustainable point of view, it is responsible to manufacture close to the project, notwithstanding high logistic costs and import duties and often the cost of crating and packaging the custom beast could be 10% of the product cost!

There can be other challenges including trying to educate clients for the greater good. I have a deep respect for the environment and the dark skies movement, and I may be working with a client that is less inclined towards the natural environment. On these occasions education is important as we strive to reach design agreements. On an exterior facade project in Hyderabad in India, I had to insist that the client purchased high quality Canadian exterior luminaires. At 100 degrees ambient temperatures, without the quality control of the internal junction temperature of the LEDs, they wouldn't work.

When you understand codes you are designing to and the rules of engagement as well as the culture of the country of the project, the results can be immensely satisfying and richly rewarding.


Author: David GilbeyFounder and Creative Director @ d-lighting

The views shared by the author are his own.




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