lighting design

The MGS ‘Telling Stories’ Approach

For a public realm lighting project to be embraced by a community, telling stories are vital for long-term success.

It can be soul destroying visiting towns and cities that once had a vision for their lighting project now looking rundown and unloved. By why is this? For many projects, lighting schemes have not engaged enough with the public.

Why not build an affiliation with them and create spaces that connect with people and the place?


Working To An Ethos

At Michael Grubb Studio we work to understand what connects people and the spaces they are part of. We look at giving the public content and more importantly overall control. This effectively helps create a narrative that is inclusive of an area. Giving a reason for people to believe (and embrace) helps to produce a lighting scheme that has the greatest possible chance of succeeding. Not just in the next couple of years, but into the next generation.

To take this stance, we have to practice what we preach. A storytelling approach can become beneficial for everyone.

Storytelling enables a way to engage, entertain and make a message more poignant. Our initial conceptual work with Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon took this approach. We brought the laws of gravity into the conversation (a bit of research via Isaac Newton) that proves that tides are affected by the gravitational pull of the moon.


The newly proposed visitor center will be an iconic building that will respond to its environment. We have proposed a lighting scheme that draws inspiration from the phases of the moon, tide levels and the generation of tidal energy. Our whole intention, via consultation and research is to relate a lighting scheme to a project and to provide meaning to the whole project. This is the essence of storytelling to teach, challenge and create context.

The Gardens Of Light Festival is a perfect example of working in collaboration with community groups to engage and connect with the wider public. 1,000 people were expected for the opening event, but over 4,000 arrived, which was just as much to do with how we connected with schools, businesses and community groups, rather than relying on advertising to promote the event.

The intention for the Gardens Of Light was to connect deeply with people, by having local relevance and to introduce a fully inclusive experience. If something needs maintaining in the future, people will hopefully voice their concerns and take responsibility for keeping the project running. This is the truest meaning of ownership.


The Formula Lies In Collaboration 

The best projects are those that are driven and steered via collaboration, not leaving it to hopeful moments of clarity assigned to someone looking at a screen in an office.

When you can join other peoples thoughts and experiences and encourage combined thinking, you can create a powerful narrative. Otherwise this becomes the interpretation of a lighting designer and not a true meaning of the environment you are looking to translate and provide meaning.

For any lighting design project to become successful, a strategic approach is needed. This is to understand a town or city before any engagement is made. This is effectively the ‘why’ to the any project. To listen, interact and gain knowledge of a location is a totally different approach from the, ‘we have done this project in ‘name of town/city’ lets do the same again. This approach is the equivalent of providing a customer with a shopping list and for them to tick off what they need.


Meaningful Content

Streatham Skyline Michael Grubb Studio 1

Streatham High Road is a project that took on-board the local learning approach (click here to read more on the actual project). We created a calendar of events that were relevant to the local area, including those that were inclusive for the whole community such as July’s Streatham Festival.

This is an example of another project intended to give ownership to people. If the lighting scheme has problems, it becomes noticeable and is attended to quickly. Even worse if the lighting scheme looses the engagement of the community, it looses its soul. This is why lighting design has to have the ability change and evolve and not just implement a tried and tested formula.


Lets Conclude

Technology is helping us create and deliver lighting in more creative and innovative way, but retaining the same design logic that was applied five years ago seems like a slightly lazy and inappropriate way to behave.

A storytelling approach is driven by giving purpose to a location, rather than a ready made out of the box solution. Storytelling is about educating, interpreting and then adding value within a competitive marketplace.

So lets rise to the challenge make people proud of the spaces they occupy.