Profile - Paul Traynor

Paul Traynor, founder of  Light Bureau, transitioned from a budding photographer to a lighting design luminary over four decades.

Words By Emily Martin

PAUL TRAYNOR has spent his whole career working as a lighting designer. He is the founder of UK-based company Light Bureau, which has some 100 lighting experts working on projects both in the UK and internationally. Once a relatively unknown profession, some 40 years ago, today he is an internationally recognised figure with a proven track record in diverse applications from heritage to headquarters buildings. In 2017, Light Bureau joined AFRY, which assumed the brand Light Bureau where Traynor remains as head of the UK operation. His extensive experience within the field builds upon decades of personal practice, something he says is a crucial ingredient to being a lighting designer.

Light Bureau was established in 1999 after working for various companies, including Aukett (as it was known before Aukett Swanke) as its internal lighting specialist. Traynor set up an office in Battersea in the early 2000s, where the UK HQ currently remains, but with a move on the horizon to develop the business: ‘We’re in this crappy industrial-sort-of-looking commercial building somewhere near Battersea Power Station… [but] the space internally was good. The brightness – daylight is really good – but in the last year and a half, they’ve been building this new building [and] it’s quite big. So when you come in the morning now, and it just feels dark. So not great.’

For someone in charge of a team of people dedicated to lighting, a move to a building for better lighting is probably what you expect. But as an industry that has now grown in demand, but also recognition, Traynor’s journey through and into the world of lighting design is timely for reflection. How is the profession and the building design industry changing from when he started out and what does the future look like for someone looking to enter the profession?

‘I don’t think the profession has peaked. I think it’s now very well established, so it’s not in its infancy in the UK,’ Traynor says. ‘But markets develop at different rates. So, for instance, the market in North America was well established before it really got going in the UK. But then you look at the UK market now, and the profession is big.’

Light Bureau’s Espenes Rest Stop, part of the Norwegian Scenic Routes attraction

When just a little-known profession in the 1980s, Traynor recalls a time when few people understood what an architectural lighting designer was; himself included. On the cusp of becoming a professional photographer, he changed tracks to explore his ‘geekier’ side of making gadgets, electronics and growing fascination with lighting. He opted for engineering instead, believing this was the route needed to get into something he really wanted to do.

‘I really wanted to get into it,’ he recalls. ‘I thought it looked like engineers basically did all the lighting, so I took an engineering route into the business [because] nobody was really looking [to hire lighting designers] since it wasn’t a growing market. So, I basically decided to work within different companies and develop my skills myself, so I’m self-taught actually. But [when asked] what is it about lighting design that encapsulates you, I think a lot of people say the same thing; it’s something that you need to have quite a lot of imagination and experience to be able to manipulate well. And you also need quite a technical footing.’

With further and higher education routes now easily accessed into lighting design, which can include architectural lighting, interior and theatre lighting design avenues, Traynor emphasises the need for industry-based experience as a crucial element to any lighting design profession route, describing it as a ‘complex and involved business’. Nevertheless, while being complex, clients understand that to get a better result for their project, they need to involve a lighting designer. So, what was once a project discretionary spend has become a more expected spend.

‘You know, it’s like, “well, why wouldn’t you have a designer, a light designer, as part of the team?”’ Traynor highlights as the need for someone with specialist lighting design skills as part of the design team. ‘Traditionally, you’d go to speak to an architect and say, “I would like a new building, and I’d like it to be like this, and I need these requirements. Can you sort it out?” And they would say, “yes”, but there seems to be more knowledge and more experience to say, “well, actually, it’s not just about [commissioning] an architect. It’s about lighting designers”. Or “maybe it’s about an exhibition designer”, or “interior designers”.’

Light Bureau’s Espenes Rest Stop, part of the Norwegian Scenic Routes attraction

Traynor’s experience is that architects value having a lighting designer on a project: they can envisage how the project should look by the daytime. He talks about the growing ‘return’ to designing buildings that perform well in daylight. But by bringing a lighting designer in means a different kind of visual for the project by exploring what can be created when the daylight is gone. ‘We are working on some phenomenal projects with some great people and it’s because they know that we’re not going to screw up their architecture,’ he adds.

Establishing the profession, and the business, has seen Traynor and his team at Light Bureau take on several commercial projects both in the UK and overseas. From headquarters to fit-outs, these ‘mainstay’ projects have built the studio’s reputation, but for Traynor it’s also important to seek out other sectors as part of the continued learning and development of the profession. Currently, the studio is also working on huge public realm projects, including one in the Middle East, with international work as something for the studio to explore more of, especially when large-scale projects often come from abroad.

‘We’re now trying really hard to find more interesting and innovative ways of lighting spaces,’ says Traynor. ‘We’re now starting to get more into exhibition design with a few projects in Norway, and we’ve won a new project for Historic Royal Palaces in London. We’re doing a touring exhibition that will start in Denmark. We really enjoy doing exhibitions: it’s there for a short time, but lighting is part of the story.’

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