The Mark Vowles Interview
Director, Nulty+, Dubai


The “nimble yet mighty” lighting design practice Nulty+ has enjoyed for 5 highly successful years since launching in London including moving to swish new premises in Waterloo in 2014. Nulty+ is the name behind many much admired lighting projects with the likes of Hakassan, Harrods, Selfridges, Bloomingdales, Nike and the London Underground. Nulty+ founder, Paul Nulty, believes the timing is right to move further afield and advantage the huge opportunities being created in the Middle East, and that Mark Vowles is the right person to head the new team. Illumni had a few questions for Mark as he embarks on an exciting new era of his life.

Yauatcha restaurant
Yauatcha Restaurant, London.

Hi Mark. Congratulations on your appointment and the opportunities it presents. You’re uniquely qualified for your new role in so much as you have worked in the Middle East previously and you have experience both on the product side of things and lighting design. How do you see the business growing and how will ‘the best, most dedicated and creative designers in the UK” adapt to the somewhat different customs and geographical challenges?

Hi Tariq, Thank you for your kind words, I’m certainly very excited about the new venture and we have hit the ground running! Nulty have worked on a few projects in the region over the past 4 years so I have a good foundation to build on and with my existing client network, we have made some noise about our arrival. The market is not that dissimilar to the UK in regards to that the clients expect innovative thinking and quality design work. I’m looking to emulate the success of the London studio by bringing the same ethos of good customer service and time management to the Dubai practice. There are more opportunities for façade lighting projects here in the Middle East than in Europe, so the team is excited to work on these and expand our ever-growing diverse portfolio. Nulty are a big advocate of education and we are planning to dedicate a fair amount of time on raising peoples understanding of what good lighting is, be it Architects, Interior Designers or even Developers.

“The timing has never been better,” (to open in the Middle East). How so?

We are not going to lie, 2016 is certainly looking like a challenging year in the Middle East. Oil prices are low and clients are being very careful with their money. This is where we feel our expertise can really shine! It’s easy to design when you have an endless budget; the challenge comes in when you are tasked to produce an imaginative, functional and inspiring design on a limited budget. Under these circumstances our team has to think outside of the box and it pushes them in a different creative direction; this is where we excel in our field and why we continue to get repeated business and referrals. If we enter and succeed in a market dip, it will mean we will be in a very strong position as the market recovers.

Spring Restaurant- London
Spring Restaurant, London.

Nulty+ decrees that lighting has “every thing to do with atmosphere” and not too much to do with whether or not your prefer down lights or chandeliers. There could not be two greater differentiating environments than the UK and the Middle East. How will this affect your approach to lighting design for the Middle East?

Regardless of whether the project is in London, Dubai or anywhere else in the world, at the end of the day we design lighting for people. So first and foremost we engage with the client very early on, to really understand who the people are intending to use the space. We make sure the client is part of our design journey all the way through the process and continue to take in feedback and adjust our designs accordingly, as well as continually challenging all parties involved to elevate the design.

A policy of collaborating with all interested parties has been a hallmark of your success so far. Do you foresee any particular challenges arising in this area?

None that spring to mind, we are well versed in collaborations that involve parties from all corners of the globe…it just means early morning and late night Skype calls!!

Berghaus HQ- Sunderland
Berghaus HQ, Sunderland.

illumni likes very much the sentiment of your website that “good planets are hide to find” the implication being ‘let’s look after the one we’ve got.’ In what ways can lighting design contribute to a better and more sustainable environment especially in the Middle East?

A lot of people have the misconception that the Middle East is not focused on sustainability. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has a vision to make Dubai one of the most sustainable cities in the world; he is investing heavily in future technologies and trying to wean the city of a dependence on oil and gas. Good lighting design plays a critical role in sustainability and as mentioned before, therefore we will continue to educate and try to raise the standards.

Fetter Lane- London
Fetter Lan, London.

A happy Nulty+ client commented that you were able to take their rough thoughts on lighting and translate them into a fabulous result. Just how ‘rough’ were some of the thoughts you’ve been presented with?

The term “fag –packet” design is not far off the starting blocks for some of our best work! Its real testament to the team of what we can turnaround from very limited information.

Can you tell us a little about some of the new projects you have pending?

Currently on the slate in the Middle East we have 3 department stores, a sushi restaurant, a large residential façade and landscape, a couple of high end residential villas and a large mixed use development in Muscat. We are hoping to be awarded on a large masterplan and few hotels in the not so distant future!

News Corp HQ
News Corp HQ, London.

The conditions in the Middle East are particularly harsh with temperatures reaching 50 degrees celsius and humidity of 95%. You have been quoted as saying that there are “not too many manufacturers I would trust.” What are the issues facing the lighting industry today, particularly those regarding product quality and controls?

It may seem like a fairly brash quote but this is an extremely important aspect of our work and one we cannot afford to get wrong. As lighting designers, we bear the responsibility for specifying the equipment on a project, so should it fail after a period of time inevitably that reflects poorly on us. I continually walk around Dubai and see fittings full of water or condensation build-up on the glass. The Middle East has one of the harshest environments in the World with the high temperatures, humidity, fine sand partials and saline atmosphere. A lot of the time the landscape can be watered with TSE (Treated Sewage Effluent) which can also degrade certain materials.

Manufacturers must have their fittings independently tested and put measures in place to prevent water ingress, especially paying careful attention to capillary action in the cables. Obviously this brings an added cost but it will allow us to give the client the design longevity.

William& Son- London
William & Son, London.

Have you been knocked down by a rush of lighting designers wanting to join you in the Middle east?

Yes, I have had a fair few CVs come across my inbox. We are very selective when it comes to hiring. As a start up in Dubai we need to be sensible with our hiring strategy. That said, we are always interested to talk with innovative, creative and talent individuals.

What are your predictions for trends in the lighting industry over the next 12 months?

There seems to a trend for more media facades, certainly in the Middle East. As the cost of LEDs is coming down, these applications are becoming more affordable for clients. I’d like to see more standard solutions that work into the architecture and have well worked cable management.

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