April 2014 / Sabine De Schutter / Lighting Designer / Berlin-Steglitz

Coco Berliner - Sabine De Schutter - 1

Where did you first see the light of day?
I was born in the morning of a late summer day in 1984. I am the first child of two.

How did you grow up?
In Antwerp.
On family Sundays we took our bikes out into nature or visited museums. My parents were photographers and thanks to their interest in the arts I visited a lot of galleries. As I still do this today. My creative side was further stimulated at the Rudolf-Steiner school where I was allowed to experiment with creative media. I would spend days on one drawing, detailing it, and trying to get it just right.

From drawing, I went on to design. When I was about nine years old I developed ideas for dollhouses and ships. I made sections and plans, which I sent to toy manufacturers. On my 10th birthday, I was given a camera, a long awaited gift. I used to go on long walks with my brother looking for interesting objects to take pictures of.

A little later, it became clear to me, or actually, I "decided", that I wanted to become an architect, which I went on to study architecture years later.

Besides my interest in drawing and design, I learnt ballet from the age of four. Later, I also discovered rhythmic gymnastics, which became a hugely important part of my life. I practiced it about six days a week for about eleven years. As a lot of my time went into training, both practicing and competing in Belgium and abroad, I had the opportunity to travel to different countries and meet people from around the globe. Gymnastics has shaped the person I am today. It taught me self-discipline and pushed me to strive for perfection, both valuable assets that continue serving me well in my career as a self-employed designer.

You have developed many, many abilities preparing for life and decided to become a designer.
How would you describe your profession to someone who is not familiar with design?

I would describe my profession as "atmosphere design". I am an architect of light. I plan how objects and spaces should be illuminated, thus the mood of a room. As a lighting designer, I am entrusted with the task of creating a certain perception of objects and a sense of space. These projects may be located outdoors and may encompass an entire city or a monument. But we also work on interior spaces such as hotels or spas where lighting needs to create a more intimate feel.
Often people think that we design luminaires (light fittings). This is sometimes a part of what we do, however, such customised designs are usually contracted for very exclusive, big budget projects. In general, we specify fixtures that are already on the market.
As an independent lighting designer, I am not depended on any manufacturer. This gives me the freedom to choose the fixtures and lamps to best suit the requirements of a certain project.

In addition to your classical training as a lighting designer you took up studying "Design Thinking" in Potsdam? What is design thinking all about?
Design thinking focuses on generating innovative solutions that address the needs of people. It focuses on innovation through working in multi-disciplinary teams, thus bringing people from business, design and technology together.

For example, I collaborated with others – a multi-disciplinary group of people that occasionally teams up under the name "What would Harry do" – to design the project "Crowd Darkening". That project intended to use street lighting as a tool that improves well-being. It works in the following way:
The illumination intensity and the height of the light source correspond to the time of day, the number of people in a park and their location. A person entering the park triggers a change in the light level. On the one hand, there is more illumination when there are fewer people around. Optimum visibility of their surroundings gives people a higher sense of security. But you also need less light when you are with a group of friends. A low-level cosy lighting creates a pleasant setting to socialize. We thought to illuminate where light is needed, while generating energy where there is activity: Visitors stepping onto the park soil generate electric current, by means kinetic energy. Visitors of the park fuel their own illumination, making public lighting more sustainable.

How did this project influence your thinking about design and your creativity?
I deliberately integrated the user's perspective into my design process, whereas designers often tend to approach a design starting from their own knowledge and technical backgrounds. Also, designers tend to work with designers, whereas I now develop ideas with others: a business strategist, a psychologist, a software engineer, etc. It gives us a 360 degree view of the issue we want to tackle and inputs from different directions. As everyone is an expert in their own field, the contribution of everyone stimulates the group.

What fascinates you?
Light and shadow!
I am fascinated by light because we can't perceive it until it is reflected by a surface and we can't see anything without light. And shadow is also one of my beloved topics. I even dedicated several months to this topic as I writing my master thesis on how shadow defines space.
Besides I love to explore, seeing and discovering new things and ways, or get to know different perspectives from people. Within jack be nimble we have different backgrounds and we come from different places, this gives us all a slightly different view on things: however we share a common passion, and I believe this is a good mixture for a successful lighting design company.

What are you most proud of in your profession?
With my research "Shadow defining Space" I received the title "Young Lighter of the Year" in 2012. This is an international competition for lighting designers and researchers under 30. It was great to receive this international recognition for a topic I am so passionate about. It gives me energy to continue working and furthering my research. I now lecture at different universities in Europe, educating future designers on the importance of shadows in lighting design.

In your spare time you do kickboxing. What does it mean to you? How did you discover this sport for yourself?
It is one of the ways in which I try to stay fit. It is very similar to rhythmic gymnastics in terms of movement, flexibility, speed and discipline. And as I travel quite a lot, it is also good to know a few moves to protect myself in case of need.

The term 'travel' leads me to the following question: what do you like in the world we live in?
It is the constant change that, at the same time, can be unpredictable, which is what I like about the world. Through change there is always something different to be seen, explored or discovered. Of course, I hope that things change for the better.
And of course, when thinking about change, I think of change through design. Quite often, when I cycle around Berlin, I see things and ideas pop up in my mind. Thoughts on how I would improve a space or the lighting surrounding it.
So, in a sense, through my interest and profession I am always looking for environments to create and in doing so, ignite change.

What is important to you?
Apart from the important people in my life, I cannot imagine a life without being able to create. I need to express my ideas and inspirations I have need to get out in some sort of form. This can be sketching, writing or in a quickly built prototype.
Moreover, freedom, above all spatial freedom, is important to me, I must have space in which I can move around freely. Berlin is a good place for this because there are still so many open areas within the city. As part of this freedom, it is also important for me to travel because I rely on new experiences for inspiration. And the freedom of time. Time gives the possibility to work, create and do the things that fascinate or inspire me.

What you would do if you had to live like Robinson Crusoe on a small island for two to three years – without any possibility to travel and limited space for inspiration? How would such a surrounding change your creativity?
That is a challenge that I would like to take on!
Inspiration is not a magic thing The way I see it, it can be found in everything. It is what you can do with it or the possibilities you see in it that evoke creativity. Landing on a Robinson Crusoe island might mean bye bye computer work, which I would not mind. In that case, I would do more hands-on stuff, like building objects and spaces. I would draw more and create art installations. All the stuff I want to do but for which I can never find the time.

The interview was led by Katja Mollenhauer. Photos by Nadja Wehling

Sabine de Schutter was born in 1984 in Belgium. She holds an M.A. Interior Architecture and an M.A. in Architectural Lighting Design. Sabine took part in a one-year course at the HPI d.school while researching her master thesis and working as a lighting designer. After her formal education she co-founded the Berlin based lighting design studio "jack be nimble". Since 2011 she has been lecturing at Hochschule Wismar. She received international recognition being awarded the title of Young Lighter of the Year 2012 and Vocatio 2013. www.studiodeschutter.com

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