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Light as a creator of spaces. Interview with Lara Elbaz, director of the Postgraduate Course in Architectural Lighting Design

The night-time image of the streets of Valladolid is not what it was six years ago. It has changed, and for the better. Liturgical purple, burgundy red and hope green lights illuminate the most important buildings in the historic centre of the Castilian capital. Each place takes you to the next and they are all joined together making an extremely original and attractive path of lightLara Elbaz y Rafael Gallego, collaborators in the Master in Lighting Design at IED Madrid, are the architects of Ríos de Luz, the name of the project.

The teachers’ intention was to rescue the original course of the Esgueva River, which also passes through Valladolid. The original passage of the Valladolid tributary through the historic town centre caused many floods in the Middle Ages. Centuries later, it was therefore decided to provide a solution to this problem by diverting the course of the river.

This symbolic and poetic way of remembering the past using light has received the praise of both natives and tourists who visit the city every day, in addition to the prestigious City People Light Award 2011 and to achieving 44% energy savings for the City of Valladolid. Ríos de Luz remembers the historic past and guides pedestrians through the most emblematic places in Valladolid.

This and many other functions are fulfilled by the landscape lighting that Lara Elbaz teaches her students in the Postgraduate Course in Architectural Lighting Design. We spoke with her so she could tell us more about her profession and the course that she directs.


The guru of Lighting Design in Spain talks of her style as very feminine and firmly believes in the importance of shade as an inseparable part of light. Lara opted for Lighting Design after studying Interior Design. She worked for a decade at Philips Lighting and for two further years in the prestigious Spanish lighting consultancyArchitectural Lighting Solutions (ALS). Today, she combines teaching with her professional activity as an independent lighting designer.

What is Architectural Lighting Design? What is it used for?
The APDI (Professional Association of Lighting Designers) defines Lighting Design as the discipline that assesses the lighting needs of people and spaces, providing the best solution for each case. Lighting Designers provide full solutions to projects thanks to a global vision comprising many other disciplines. We dedicate our career to studying lighting in all its aspects.

What is the biggest difference between a space whose lighting has been designed and one in which it has not?
Light reveals the spaces and determines the perception that we have of the architecture. It allows us to appreciate its qualities, its size, its shape, its textures, its colour. Starting from this premise, it is perhaps the element that has most influence over the environment, both in exterior and interior spaces. In addition, it mediates our perception and triggers sensations and emotions.

How does this affect people?
Designing the lighting of the space guarantees that the needs of the people using it are met and it provides creative and innovative solutions for providing a balance between aesthetic and functional needs. Furthermore, Lighting Designers provide technical and financial viability to projects.
We know that light affects our health and our mood and influences conduct, which in turn makes lighting design so important. Lighting Design improves quality of life as it never loses sight of the end users’ needs. Thanks to lighting, we can create healthy and appropriate atmospheres for each activity, thus allowing us to perform them with the right level of comfort.

Who is the Postgraduate Course in Architectural Lighting Design aimed at?
The course is aimed at people with degrees or diplomas in the fields of art, design, architecture, interior design etc. The training of a Lighting Designer needs to be complete and varied in order to allow them to combine the profession’s technical aspects with the aesthetic and artistic aspects, which leads to exciting, balanced and sustainable results.
Lighting Designers must be trained in aspects relating to the techniques and science of light; they must learn to conceive, develop and carry out proposals which respond to all types of problems. They must know the products and technologies existing in the market, as well as their applications.

What professional opportunities are available to students?
Students who perform this course may direct their career towards such varied options as:

  • Specialist in Lighting Design, either freelance or in Lighting Design studios.
  • Designers for events companies, ephemeral architectures and museum installations.
  • Head of lighting at architecture, landscaping or engineering studios.
  • Head of lighting at integral services companies, manufacturers, distributors and specialised stores.

You participated in the second edition of the International Lighting Design Workshop "Rethink The Night" that took place in October. How was the experience? Where will the third edition be held and what will it consist of?
It was a fantastic experience! It is an exceptional workshop, not only due to its attractive location on the Greek island of Kea, but also because of its particular subject and content. Both students and teachers were given the opportunity to discover and enjoy some incredible night skies full of stars, as well as to learn to explore and develop skills for designing lighting concepts that are respectful of the night and integrated into the night landscape.
The third edition of RTN will be in the same place, during the coming month of October. The workshop, which lasts five days, will involve integrating three chapels into the night-time urban landscape, by using three different lighting techniques. Each work group will be led by a head of workshop and will have a generous amount of top quality material provided by the manufacturers sponsoring the workshop and the technical support of a team of electrical installers. 

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