Any architectural lighting designer will tell you that getting the right installation is more art than science. In fact, it’s right in the name: lighting design. That’s what led us to our latest Tech Talk with Brad Haynes, Director, Product and Application Support, Lighting for HARMAN Professional Solutions. Brad worked as a lighting designer for 12 years before joining Martin Professional in 2006. Part of Brad’s job in his current role is working with sports stadiums and other large venues that want to install architectural lighting.
Because of his history with stadiums, I reached out to Brad to talk about what is involved with designing high-profile, high-impact architectural lighting displays.
[SKD]: When we talk about architectural lighting on the outside of a stadium, what are some of the challenges you typically encounter?
[BH]: The biggest challenge is knowing the scope of the lighting project for that particular stadium. The thing to remember about a stadium is that every one of them is different. Yes, there are some similarities when you’re talking about a football stadium as opposed to a baseball or hockey stadium, but each one has a unique architecture with different elements that make them stand out. The challenge is determining the scope and the idea of what they want to do. That’s always part of the mix all the way through the project. Some customers want to “light things up like Christmas” and theme it for holidays, while others might want a big video element on the outside. So, it’s really the challenge of looking at a space and really honing in on what you want to do.
We have many different technologies. We have Creative LED video, architectural wash lights to just flood light on a particular element and different effects that we can put on the outside of a stadium, like gobo projection for brand logos, etc. So we have all the tools to do “something,” but the challenge is to talk with the customer and find the right mix of things to come up with the right solution for that application. We try to inspire the owner of the stadium, but also work with the designer to help them carry out and execute their vision of what the stadium should look like.
[SKD]: So would you consider architectural lighting in a stadium more of an artistic process or more of a technological exercise (or a bit of both)?
[BH]: It’s a little bit of both, but when we talk about what we offer, we’re more talking about the aesthetics of the building. We’re not lighting up walkways and pathways, unless the stadium owner or designer wants that kind of effect and wants to bring some artistic value to those spaces, where they can change colors and that sort of thing. Again, every stadium is different, and we don’t walk in with a blueprint of exactly what to do with the stadium. Every space and need is different, artistically speaking.
The purpose of architectural lighting is an artistic one, and it really has its history in entertainment. Take rock and roll, for instance. You may have a band that is already popular and has already established its standing and who they are. The goal of entertainment lighting, then, is to take what is already there and accentuate it during a concert to bring a different value and excitement to what we’re illuminating. The same goes for a stadium. We can take washes and lights on the outside of a dome or a media façade on the outside of a huge stadium and add more artistic value to the structure. You can change colors and do things with colors based upon who is playing there. You could change the whole façade with holiday colors. You could even draw attention to it, because it is a prominent element in the skyline of a city. That’s really the purpose of architectural lighting, as opposed to the functional aspect of lighting the field for TV and that sort of thing.
[SKD]: One of the things you’ve hinted at is the fact that different types of buildings have different architectural styles that you have to deal with. I also know that different teams or clubs might have different types of branding or “attitudes” that they want to reflect as well. What tools do you have in your toolbox to handle the varying types of aesthetics that you might encounter?
[BH]: Whenever you initially go in and start a project like this, there is going to be a scope of some kind. Whether you inspire the owner of the stadium, or you’re helping inspire the designer on the project to help them execute their vision, there is going to be some initial scope that they’re going for, even if they may not know exactly what that means or what it should look like. Whenever a team is ready to invest in some upgrades to their stadium, things often start by them looking at some other stadium and saying, “I want to have that.” However, the solution that is available on that other stadium might not be the right one for their particular installation, so then we get into that back-and-forth on helping them figure out what they want to do with their stadium.
Do they want to do something with movement on the outside and perhaps a media façade with creative LED video? That is definitely something in our toolbox that we can do. However, if they have an older stadium and simply want to accentuate elements of the existing architecture with whitewashes on the outside, we can do that as well. Often, in those situations, we can really transform the space by adding intelligent lighting, where we can add color and create depth and vibrancy to the building. It’s not one size fits all. It’s a conversation every time, where we have to get on the same page to ensure we get their vision across in the installation.
[SKD]: Do you have any examples of some different kinds of buildings, and how you handled lighting from a technological standpoint?
[BH]: One example that comes to mind right off the bat is the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. I can tell you that we went through many different revisions of what they wanted to do. It started with the actual design company that got a scope from the stadium. They said, “We’ve revitalized the city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. We want to do something to really accentuate this iconic structure that is on the New Orleans skyline.” When they first came to us, they thought that maybe they wanted to put a big media façade on it and put video screens all around. After further discussion, they decided that they didn’t want to change the overall look of what was a very well-known structure, but instead wanted to accentuate it more. That’s when we started looking at colored flood lighting that we could still animate to make some movement in the skyline as well as add gobo projection to add branding that they could sell to outside corporate sponsors. That actually helped them pay for the entire thing.
It was great talking with Brad about the process of designing an architectural lighting installation. I’m glad Brad brought up the Superdome, because it is a great example of what’s possible with architectural lighting. Here’s a video showing the installation in action:
In his spare time, Brad enjoys building computers and doing the occasional lighting project. He is married with three children who “definitely keep him busy” when he’s not working. “But,” Brad adds, “they are definitely a catalyst toward being creative and loving what I do.”
I asked Brad to explain a bit more about why he enjoys lighting, and he said, “The world of lighting is a fascinating one and ‘bit’ me a long time ago. Every facet continues to be a love for me, whether that’s theatre, rock and roll or architectural lighting. Every creative challenge that comes my way, especially any that put me out of a ‘comfort zone,’ only fuels the fire even more.”
Do you have experience with architectural lighting in stadiums or other large venues? Share your insights in the comments.