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The industry has lost one of its trailblazers

Lux pays tribute to Jonathan Speirs, the pioneering lighting designer who died today.

Jonathan Speirs

A huge creative talent and one of the most influential lighting figures, not only in the UK but internationally, has been lost. As one of the co-founders of Lighting Design Partnership in 1984, Jonathan Speirs was a trailblazer for lighting design when it was still only a nascent profession. He was involved with the Edinburgh Lighting Vision, one of the first city-wide lighting masterplans ever to be produced.

Speirs pioneered techniques and applied new technology, including the use of colour-change lighting when in its infancy, constantly pushing at creative boundaries and taking lighting to a new level.

One of his most recent projects, the exterior scheme for the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, created with fellow director Keith Bradshaw, was an exemplar of his approach – an extraordinarily precise and technically demanding scheme based on the lunar cycle, of crucial importance in the Islamic calendar, which changed from white to deep blue, with wisps of cloud moving across the facade.

As well as communicating his passion to peers and students at workshops, seminars and conferences around the world, many of the projects that Speirs and his long-time partner Mark Major, with whom he began working in 1992, were involved have themselves been beacons for the lighting design profession – advertisements for the power of light to transform our buildings and cities.

His extraordinary range of seminal and high-profile projects – among them five RIBA Stirling Prize winners – include the Burj al Arab, the Gherkin, the Gateshead Millennium and Infinity Bridges, the Magna Science Adventure Centre, Armani building in Tokyo and New York, Bluewater and the Zollverein Kokerei in Essen. Speirs + Major, the practice he co-founded, has won numerous accolades and awards including the unprecedented achievement of three IALD Radiance awards in a row. This year it was crowned design practice of the decade at the Lighting Design Awards.

In 2011 Speirs was given a Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Lifetime Achievement Award. Recognising architectural talent and creativity, the medal is the highest honour bestowed by Scottish architects on their peers and to date Speirs is only the fifth ever Scottish architect to receive it. He was also an honorary fellow of the Society of Light and Lighting, an honorary member of the International Association of Lighting Designers and also won a Lifetime Achievement Award from Professional Lighting Design.

In recognition of his considerable achievements a small group of friends are to establish the Jonathan Speirs Scholarship Trust. The fund will raise money to provide financial support to aspiring young architects to enter the lighting profession just as he did, according to his partner and friend Mark Major: ‘There is no more fitting way to celebrate Jonathan’s remarkable life than to continue doing what he was so good at – inspiring and helping the next generation to reach higher than they might otherwise achieve by doing the thing he loved most – bringing magic to people’s lives through the imaginative and creative application of light.’

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