Emotion in Lights

Growing up in Africa, the emotional effect of light left a strong impression on Barbara Hediger. “My brother and I grew up in Africa, and as you well know, the light in Africa is very special, at all times of the day,” says the Belgian lighting designer.

Also helping to nurture the young Hediger’s interest in light were her parents, both teachers, and keen photographers. The Hediger family travelled widely, and through photography her mother and father gave her, she recounts, a “very good schooling,” in visual framing and the role of light in photography.

In her mid-teens, Hediger returned to Belgium to attend high school, but also returned with strong memories of the African light and landscape.

Now a long way from Rwanda, she works out of an office in Tamines, some fifty kilometres south of Brussels, the Belgian capital.

Over the past thirteen years, Hediger has lit a lengthy list of buildings, both historic and contemporary, along with interiors and landscape design works.

Notable career highlights include the lighting of the Dexia Tower in Brussels, Saint Aubin’s Cathedral in Namur and the KBL European Private Bankers building in Luxembourg.

As far as getting into lighting design, it hadn’t been part of some long-term plan. The ambition developed over a number of years. What Hediger is sure about, however, is that she had acquired a sensitivity to light and its impact on people from her life in Africa.

Back on Belgian soil and fresh out of arts school, where she had studied interior design at the École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc de Liège in the late Eighties, Hediger took up a position as a sales rep for a lighting equipment supply company. The job regularly brought her into contact with architects and designers, which kindled her desire to set up as a lighting designer on her own.

Eight years later, she did just that.

An “objective artist,” is how Hediger describes herself, “always trying to make light work for the place it’s installed in and for the many different objectives—marketing, well-being, architectural, temporary or permanent displays,” she says.

She also has some golden rules when it comes to developing and installing a lighting system. It has to respect people in a lit environment and to take into account energy usage, maintenance and cost.

It should also blend in harmoniously with the architecture, an example of which was completed in September—the lighting of the Brussels head office of the UCM, a trade union for small and medium businesses in Belgium.

Hediger installed colour-changing LEDs on the horizontal aluminium fins that wrap around the glass and metal box-like building. As with her other works, the aim is to “create lighting with light sources well concealed on the architectural elements, so the architectural elements ‘become light’,” she says.

When it comes to lighting an office building, “an emotion is created like that for a logo,” she says. “The lighting of a facade is closely linked to the company’s activities and its brand image. The control of the lighting provides an unquestionable plus for the firm.” Hediger also points out that it affects employee performance in a positive way, too.

Concealing light sources—like any good lighting designer—and using light to enable the viewer to read the architecture clearly are key parts of Hediger’s lighting plans.

Hediger’s adopted working method on a project starts with looking at the materials, the architect’s vision and the reasons behind the architectural concept. It’s then a matter of taking into account the firm’s marketing goals and the local authorities’ broader intentions regarding its architectural heritage. After that it’s a matter of “combining into a coherent whole the spaces, the forms, the volumes, the observation points of the passerby or visitor,” says Hediger.

To light the Baroque style interior of St Aubin’s Cathedral in Brussels, Hediger used mostly 20, 35 and 70W metal iodide lamps (3200 K), positioned high up to uplight the architectural features of the building while remaining hidden from view. Metal iodides (4200 K) lit the black and white marble floor.

On this project and others, at the end of the day there should be a smooth transition between daylight and artificial lighting believes Hediger.

Using building components as lighting reflectors is another noticeable aspect of her work, as seen in the lighting of the Dexia Tower and the KBL European Private Bankers building in Luxembourg.

In 2003, Hediger put forward a plan to light a new glass office tower in Brussels with LEDs. At that time, they had yet to be “taken up and used like today. Nevertheless I knew this lighting technique was the most sensible, the best adapted for this type of architecture,” she says. “It was a novel and innovative idea—lighting a facade from the inside.”

The main idea was to bounce LED light from 220,000 RGB LEDs, housed inside 4,184 LED bars, off the closed window blinds. The LED bars were built into roughly three quarters of the building’s window panes, totalling 6,000, which turned each window into a giant rectangular pixel on an enormous thirty-eight storey high screen, controlled by computer and a DMX cable system.

On another office lighting project, this time in Luxembourg, Hediger used the building’s granite facade as a reflector. For the KBL European Private Bankers building “the artistic concept,” she says, “utilises the 75-by-150-centimetre vertical granite plates as reverberating pixels as LCD screens would do. Eight hundred and fifty independent granite plates allowing for unlimited lighting possibilities. A huge multi-colour patchwork of colours spreading over the various dimensions, sculpting the building’s forms.”

Hediger’s current workload includes lighting several Brussels landmark sites, such as the 15-16th century gothic church the Eglise du Sablon, the eighteenth century listed Quartier du Béguinage, and the Brussels Stock Exchange.

But large or small, the lighting projects Hediger works on always have an element of emotion introduced into them. “My job is to create emotion,” she says. “The work of a lighting designer is to bring emotion to built works, whatever they are.”


Q&A with Barbara Hediger

Projects you would like to change:

Although I’m rather proud of the simplicity and the soft lighting in Saint Aubin’s Cathedral in Namur, I would develop a new lighting concept. Through new technologies, I would fine tune the colour and lighting, controlled and measured intelligently, for a subtler reading of the architecture.

Lighting hero

Yann Kersalé, for his artistic vision and his aim of not conforming to traditional rules in lighting, and bending the rules to suit his own vision.

Notable projects (completion date):

Dexia Tower, Brussels (2006 and 2010)

Saint Aubin’s Cathedral, Namur (2009)

KBL European Private Bankers building, Luxembourg (2008)

Current projects (current status or provisional completion date):

Lighting scheme for several sites in Brussels (ongoing project): Porte de Hal; Eglise du Sablon; Pavillons de la Porte d’Anderlecht; Cathédrale St Michel et Gudule; Eglise Sainte Catherine; La bourse; Eglise de la Chapelle; le Quartier du Béguinage; la Place des Martyr; and le Petit Château

Dinant Palais de Justice, Belgium (2014)

Palais de Justice, Namur, Belgium (2014)

Grand Place and train station, Péruwelz, Belgium (ongoing projects)

Electrloux HQ, Zaventem, Belgium (mid-September 2011)

Dolce Hotel La Hulpe, Brussels (one day clinic and parking areas) (ongoing project)