illumni People Profile:
Adam Busby

No. 1

Illumni catches up with Adam Busby, a designer for dpa lighting consultants. He has worked on a wide range of projects from offices to hotels to environmental impact assessments; and has a particular passion for lighting restorations and conversions of historic or architecturally significant buildings. Recent projects include Pembroke College Chapel at the University of Cambridge, one of Christopher Wren’s first major pieces; and a hotel at 153 Hammersmith Road, which was a former school building that was temporarily taken over by the military in the 1940s and used to plan the defence of Europe – including the D-Day landings.

No. 2
The magnificent Reredos at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

No. 3
The impressive Organ at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Can you sum up your design philosophy in a sentence or two?

I believe that good architectural lighting design should encompass many things: It should be functional, it should add interest to a space and should compliment and celebrate architecture. But it should also carry an element of discretion and mimic in some ways the behaviour of natural light. It’s a careful balancing act. I always think though if someone loves a space or a room but doesn’t specifically notice the part lighting has had to play in it, then you’ve done a good job.

Most designers have places, spaces, or experiences that they find inspirational – can you share one of your favourites with us and tell us how and why it inspires you?

I know it is a place already popular with artists and renowned for its unique light quality but I would have to say that St Ives in Cornwall is definitely a place that inspires me. Maybe it’s because I’m relaxed on holiday and have more time to reflect (no pun intended!) but when I am there I seem to pay far more attention to changes in natural light and the effects created on and around buildings, than I do on a day-to-day basis at home. From subtle highlighting to dramatic contrasts of light and shadow, these sights make their way back into my design work in some way or another.

No. 4
St Ives Sunset

No. 5
The cobbled streets of St Ives

The world is full of interesting people who influence us and shape the way we think – who would be on your list of people past or present, that you would like to meet?

He’s far removed from the world of lighting design but I would have to say the legendary Formula 1 racing driver, Jackie Stewart. Not just because I am a keen Formula 1 fan but also because I admire the confidence he had to challenge the status quo and influence others. He successfully campaigned for improved safety standards in motor sport, so obviously not a directly transferable focus for my career. But his approach sits to remind me to have confidence in my own beliefs and decisions.

Can you tell us something that not many people know about you or your work but you wish they did?

I sometimes wish people knew that I’m dyslexic. I don’t often tell people – not because I’m embarrassed but because I’ve learnt to play to my strengths and, through practice, am now largely able to overcome things I used to significantly struggle with. I’ve read up a lot on dyslexia in the last few years and I really believe that it’s because I’m dyslexic that I’m good at design: my brain in ‘wired’ differently to a non-dyslexic’s and I believe this enables me to think about things in a different way. I think they call it the ‘dyslexic advantage’ I suppose though, if people knew I was dyslexic they might forgive me the odd typo every now and then!

What would you say has been your most unusual source of creative inspiration to date?

I’d probably have to say a discarded LED bike light that I found lying around the house. This wasn’t just a chance encounter though; I was looking for something to inspire my entry in the One Beam of Light photography competition. A few experiments in capturing the ‘movement’ of the light over various objects led me to some stone steps in a local church, where I managed to capture the light seemingly ‘pouring’ down the steps like a lava flow. Amazingly, the image was chosen as one of the winning final images and was displayed in the One Beam of Light exhibition at The Institute of Contemporary Art.

Ref. 6
“Liquid Light” One Beam of Light entry 

And your favourite creative collaboration?

Nearly every project I have worked on at dpa has involved close collaboration with interior designers and architects so it would be difficult to choose a favourite. A different type of collaborative experience altogether though, last year’s Ready Steady Light competition, is definitely worth a mention here. The competition involved teams from a number of lighting consultancies competing to design exterior light displays based on set briefs, with limited equipment and within strict time scales. It was a great opportunity for me and my colleagues to temporarily step away from the limitations of our day-to-day projects and work with spaces, products and equipment in a completely different way.

Ref. 7
Winner of Most Artistic Scheme at Ready Steady Light

What springs to mind if I ask you what is your all time favourite bit of kit?

I could easily say my iPhone (let’s face it, they do almost everything now and mine is ashamedly never more than about two feet away from me), but if I’m thinking about that thing that I always make sure I pack alongside my phone, then I’d have to say the trusty pencil and notepad. I’m not trying to be pretentious with that answer, honest. But for me, I like to sketch things out, scribble down notes and mark things up (then change my mind and rub them out again). I know a phone can do most of these things these days but, sometimes, the old ways are still the best.

What, for you, is the most exciting thing about working in the field of lighting design?

Being part of an industry where, I feel, the disciplines and designers’ expertise are increasingly being recognised on a par with architects’ and interior designers’. Not just within the design industries either; I feel the general public and those embarking on residential projects are more and more aware of the importance of good lighting, too (maybe it’s a result of experiencing well-designed lighting more in bars, restaurants and hotels?). I definitely spot more designed schemes on programmes such as Grand Designs and the DIY stores are stocking more and more imitation designer fittings, for better or worst, I’m not sure, but it indicates the demand is there.

And the most annoying or upsetting thing about working in the field of lighting design?

Probably the inability to not notice and evaluate light fittings and schemes, wherever I go. The nicer the places I visit; the more I find myself quietly judging that unknown designer’s decisions (or lack of designer in some cases) and considering how I would have lit the space. I know my wife finds it annoying; I can recollect many times during ‘dinners out’ when a casual “the lighting’s a bit flat in here” comment from me has been met with an exaggerated eye roll.

I say light; you say?

Sorry. I don’t smoke. (Everything I wrote here sounded far too cheesy. So I’ve taken the risk of a bad joke, instead.)

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