illumni People Profile:
Isabelle Corten


Isabelle Corten runs her own urban lighting design practice, Radiance 35, based in Belgium. She focuses on the social cohesion that light can bring to an urban place. She is a founding member of the Social Light Movement, a philanthropic network that aims to improve light for all people, particularly those who would otherwise not have access to good quality illumination. She is also President of CLSF (Concepteurs Lumieres Sans Frontiers) – Lighting Designers without Borders, a humanitarian organisation that works with countries in crisis, or in need of development, supporting them with advice and training in lighting projects.

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

I think the most important thing is that we include consideration of the social into our lighting designs, joining this together with our aesthetic concerns of creating beauty. Light has tremendous possibility to affect social change.

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Haiti Trip for CLSF.

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

Cities, cities, and cities. I find inspiration in the tumultuous streets of different cities. I love looking at the people, the monuments, and the movement. Walking in the city, using all my senses, both day and night. I love the different scales of cities : from Liège where I live and work, to New York, through to those that are very different from the Westernised ones we are used to, such as Port au Prince in Haïti, where I work with CLSF.

The world is full of interesting people who influence us and shape the way we think – is there anyone out there that you are dying to meet?

I would like to meet Angela Davis, the American political activist. I really admire her long-term struggle for human rights.


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Lighting Masterplan of Lausanne.

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

I’m a LIGHTING designer but I come from a background in architecture, mostly urbanism and this has profoundly influenced my way my way of thinking and seeing things. I don’t see a lighting project from the standpoint of a series of “objects to illuminate” but more holistically as part of the complexity of the city. My Masters degree in urbanism has helped me to understand the mechanism behind how spaces are changing and how this interacts with others disciplines. When we work on a project -ranging in scale from a small project to lighting masterplan for a entire city – we always analyse it through 3 dimensions: understanding the territory including it’s history, understanding the uses for each hour of the night (from 5 pm in winter) and understanding the existing light. This is the basis for developing our concept.

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

The cinema. I love go to that dark space, and discover other lives, cities, stories and … lights. It inspires me so much I try to go as often I can. Difficult to chose one but some of my favourite films are Boyhood by Richard Linklater (which I just saw last weekend), but also “le Passé” or “une Séparation” from Asghar Farhadi, the Frère Dardenne films, and Lucas Belvaux … I have a special attraction to films that talk about “normal lives” …




“Sous les Ponts” Show. 

And your favourite creative collaboration?

I love to cross my work other disciplines that work in cities. From anthropologists and sociologists, to musicians, dancers, street artists … In 2010 I worked on a kind of spectacle in Liège, called “Sous les Ponts” (Under the Bridges) which was a very intense collaboration between a musician, a choreographer and myself. It was talking about the people that nobody wants to see who live “Under the Bridges”.

I also have worked over the last 2 years with an anthropologist called Sonia Lavadinho, who has been involved in my lighting masterplan in Switzerland, for example in Carouge.

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Lumiere Du Quartier Saint- Jacques, Brussels.

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

Gobo projectors … It’s amazing what you can achieve with this “simple” fixture.

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

That I get to be involved in other social fields. That I get to see the power of transformation that light brings to a dark space. When you do a mock up and you “feel the light” – that is an amazing thing.

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

The late hour of the sunset during the summer!

I say light; you say ?

…my fire !

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