Toh Yah Li, founder of Light Collab and regional coordinator of International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) Southeast Asia, on lighting as a medium and a source of inspiration. Stephanie Peh writes.
10 September, 2015
Top image: Toh Yah Li (second from left) and her team at Light Collab
When admiring or studying a building, Toh Yah Li is often looking for the intangible. The way light filters, how it was applied to enhance a space and how people will interact, as a result intrigues her. After graduating with a degree in Architectural Studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Toh observed a lack of emphasis in lighting across buildings here. “I felt something was missing,” she recalls. At that point, buildings felt “empty, cold and unfeeling,” and she sought to change that.
Believing that architectural forms and volumes require good lighting to come alive, she pursued her masters in Architectural Lighting Design at Hochschule Wismar, Germany. She practiced as a lighting designer before setting up Light Collab in Singapore and Tokyo, where collaboration is the heart of the company’s culture. Both offices work closely despite geographical restraints.
“We start from ground zero, no matter where we are or where the projects are, we always try to make a difference and improve the overall appreciation of light,” Toh explains. Not unlike a design process, each lighting project by Light Collab begins with studying the site and architecture to understand the space, context and users before proceeding to the ideation process.
Light Collab was tasked with the Tower of Light (Glass Tower) – designed to commemorate the independence and liberation of Bangladesh. The brief was to create a glowing tower to symbolise hope and sacrifice. Overcoming the challenge of making the 150-feet stacked glass tower glow (light passes through glass), narrow spotlight beams were carefully angled to allow internal reflections and refractions – a simple solution that boosted maximum impact. The prismatic glow differed depending on the viewer’s distance. A commentator on Facebook even wrote, “it looks like a pathway to the sky.”
“We are not just lighting designers for buildings and projects, but we are also able to blend the art of lighting design, with sustainability and creativity,” Toh quips. This philosophy has led the team to win international illumination awards (IES Award of Merit in 2014 and 2015, IEIJ in 2013) for projects across the US and Japan.
Closer to home, Light Collab worked with architect SPORES_Studio to enhance the lighting of the refurbished Bukit Timah Tua Pek Kong Temple. The team observed that without any façade lighting, the temple disappeared into darkness at night. As such, tiered roof forms were lit with asymmetric LED linear uplighters, allowing the intricate architectural roof to be visible from street level and afar, establishing the temple as a late night landmark.
Commercial projects aside, Toh is also interested in how light contributes to public spaces. We The Light, an installation created as part of SEA GAMES 2015, involved communities in the illumination of sculptures. People were invited to use the torch function on their mobiles, or the provided torches to shine through holes that project various countries unto the inner surface of a globe structure to light up the artwork. Recently, Toh and her team also planned the first IALD SEA event, In Light of Shadows, in association with Singapore Night Festival 2015 with a series of talks and lighting installations.
“It is a very magical material. We are still experimenting with light and finding new ways to use it as a medium – how it interacts and reacts with spaces, materials and most importantly, people.” she explains.
When asked how she remains inspired, she explains that a night drive in places like New Zealand’s Te Anau and Lake Tekapo, where illumination is low is important. Immersed in nature and the night sky, she gets to calibrate her sensitivity to light by enjoying the quiet illumination of stars in darkness.
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