Profile: François Roupinian, Lightemotion
Canadian lighting consultant Lightemotion has, as its name implies, built a reputation for creating schemes that ‘stir up feelings’, says its founder François Roupinian
‘WE USE LIGHT to stir up feelings, create sensory experiences, and make beautiful places that people will remember,’ says François Roupinian, founder of Montreal based Lightemotion, which has just marked its 20th anniversary.
While it has a portfolio of architectural lighting projects, as its name implies, it is a lighting consultant which has carved a particular niche in the world of branding and experience, exploiting the ability of illumination to stimulate the senses and the emotions. ‘Lighting is much more than a technical commodity,’ says Roupinian. ‘We go beyond just the technical approach or the visual aspect of lighting. We focus on the sensory experience of the visitor, psychology and the senses. We want to help create your brand. Telling your story with light.’
Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel, Montreal ‘Lighting in architecture can be dramatic. The soft backlit panel creates a transparency effect with the perforated metal. The general lighting is tucked away and almost deeper in the space, leaving the ceiling feature to create the sense of arrival. The goal was to generate emotion upon arrival. We wanted to create a story with a theatrical approach. For this purpose, the interior and exterior lighting is entirely integrated into the architecture and the customers are submerged into different lighting atmospheres that allow them to have various experiences all within a single signature’. Image Credit: Stephane Brugger
It is a rewarding seam to mine considering the current zeitgeist that has seen the most prosaic shopping transaction or visit to the museum transformed into an entertainment experience. Given the theatrical flair evident in many of the company’s schemes, it is perhaps not surprising that Roupinian’s background is rooted in the stage. The company initially specialised in theatre arts and multimedia, before extending its remit to architecture and museum lighting. Roupinian began building and tinkering with lamps as a teenager, he told Azure magazine:
‘My background is eclectic: in the 1990s, I worked major underground techno events for the likes of Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers; lighting was a crucial if subtle part of the experience.’ He then went to the National Theatre School of Canada in 1997. ‘In theatre, I learned how to be mindful and sensitive to the needs of all the creators… the actors, dancers, make-up artists, costume and set designers.’
Dior Designer of Dreams, Brooklyn ‘When lighting has to interact in an environment with a lot of video mapping it is important to coordinate and match colour temperatures. The lighting plays a delicate role of highlighting the artefacts and the gentle contours of the decor. Sources are incorporated behind metal flowers and are gently backlit to create a subtle silhouette’. Image Credit: Paul Vu
Many projects have inevitably been on Canadian turf, but the company has also worked in Europe, the US, Asia and the Middle East. In addition to museum exhibits and brand experiences, there have been large-scale hospitality projects, and architectural lighting projects that range from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and the Burj Dubai Tower to the lighting masterplan for Canada’s Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Clients have included Morgan Stanley and Google, Cartier and Dior, whose multiple travelling exhibitions, including ‘Dior: Designer of Dreams’, opened up a new market for the company in the luxury brand sector.
This is using small light sources to create intimacy and highlight the details of objects.
High-end brand promotion can often equate to high budgets, and the opportunity to go to town creatively. But Roupinian maintains that the same fundamental principles apply even in the less obviously flamboyant contexts. ‘We often use the analogy of a “mille-feuille” French pastry, layer upon layer. I see a lighting scheme in the same way. We use the concept of layers of light, not trying to illuminate everything with single sources, but using a multitude of different, distinct lighting directions that all work together, delicately, to create an environment. We will often use smaller, less powerful sources to be able to create the layering effects.
Ajax Experience, former museum for Ajax FC, Amsterdam ‘This is about creating contrast with lighting. In this example we are placing the spectator in the spotlight, making them the star as they are looking at artefacts from their soccer idols. The lighting bounces on the floor creating indirect illumination of the extended showcase, giving the impression that the spectators are part of the show’. Image Credit: Ewout Huibers
‘We use this not only on museum or brand experience projects such as Dior or Cartier, but also in hospitality, food halls [and] public spaces. We are always trying to create an emotional/sensory reaction, making sure we create a sense of arrival in a given project.’
One of the problems in the industry from a Canadian perspective, he maintains, is that lighting design has become a ‘spec-based’ design process, where people start their design with a product in mind, or with particular effects. ‘We shy away from this practice, our goal is much more to understand the psychology of the space, the objectives of our client, or the subject. Then we work in lighting directions, quality of light, level of contrast. Only at the end of our process do we start looking at fixtures or product.
‘What really drives our process,’ he continues, ‘is the study of how people will feel in a space, how it will affect their mood, their behaviour. It is a very client/user-centric approach, where we want the users to be at the centre of the design process. It is about more than how it looks, but how do we feel in a space. Psychology is a big part of our work.’
In many of the spheres Lightemotion works in, there is ample opportunity to use coloured light to create conspicuous effects. Roupinian is judicious with colour, however, believing that a restrained palette can be equally if not more powerful.
Time Out Market, Montreal ‘Food halls also need their drama. Here we are using a direction lighting technique where we multi-layer lighting directions to create the perfect ambience, a bit like multiple paint brushes on a canvas’
‘I do not believe colour is always needed to make an impact. The overuse of strong colour without justification often does not serve a project in the long run. It really depends on the subject and type of space.
‘We play most of the times with tonalities, or variations of white light,’ he continues. ‘I find we often have more impact with refined, subtle lighting effects – it creates a more timeless design that ages well.’
He is equally wary of effect for effect’s sake. Whether a Dior dress or a hotel foyer, whatever is being lit has to remain the focus of attention. ‘Drama...is crucial in all projects. It can be subtle or grand, depending on the project. Sometimes just by playing with contrast, different lighting levels or creating darkness it is possible to focus more on a certain element. Drama is never gimmicky when it is serving a project and is not trying to upstage the environment.
‘I always say, lighting is like a violin in an orchestra, it is part of the ensemble, but sometimes it is solo. Balance is important. Always sticking to the essential, removing the unnecessary is the key.’