Designer Spotlight: Glenn Heinmiller, Lam Partners, Cambridge, MA

Glenn Heinmiller:  Principal at Lam Partners

By: Ashley Rothey, WE-EF USA Marketing Coordinator

In the industry of lighting design, the face of the designer is rarely identified.  When viewing a project in an architectural magazine, we may know the architect or recognize the final product, but the lighting designer is usually left in the shadows.  WE-EF USA wants to shine the spotlight on the person who brings architecture to life: The Lighting Designer.

Lighting inspired Glenn Heinmiller of Lam Partners at an early age.  He started his career in stage and entertainment lighting, but soon realized he craved more creativity.   Accepting a job at Lam Partners, Glenn realized that architectural lighting was his calling.

Several years and numerous awards later, Glenn is now a Principal at the Lam Partners and continues to learn about the industry while remembering the fundamentals of lighting design.

How did you get into lighting?

GH:  My father trained as an engineer, but worked in advertising and public relations for General Electric.  He was always playing with lighting, electrical things and technology.  Our house had indirect fluorescent lighting, low-voltage controls, homemade decorative pendants and colored spotlights over the dining table!  My mom was an actress and television weather reporter, so I was also exposed to theater and television.  These influences got me into lighting.  That lead me to stage and entertainment lighting.  Eventually, I ended up where I really belonged, in architectural lighting.  I was fortunate enough to be offered a job by Paul Zaferiou, who is now my partner at the firm [Lam Partners].  I started out at the bottom and that was 20 years ago.


AR: I’m sure things have changed in the past 20 years.  What do you think is the biggest difference?

GH: The biggest change has been the development of the internet and the ability to communicate massive amounts of information very quickly.  It’s allowed us to move very fast, but it’s also giving our clients expectations that you can design a beautiful building overnight. It’s just changed the whole pace of how we work, which can often be very stressful. But technology has also made us much more productive, and we can deliver amazing design work that would have been impossible 20-years ago. We’re still working with the fundamental principles that Bill Lam established, but we’re executing with tools that I don’t think Bill could have ever imagined.


AR: Do you foresee any big changes or trends in the future for Lighting Design?

GH: If I knew I wouldn’t tell you, ha ha.  I think that is what we think about a lot, especially for architectural lighting design.  As a profession, we’re starting to mature and establish [ourselves].  So now, we are starting to look around to try to figure this out.  As a business owner, you don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning and say, “Where did the work go?”


AR: What sort of creative mindset do you have when approaching a new project?

GH:  Before you sit down and decide what kind of fixtures you’re going to use, you need to understand what the objectives are and what you’re trying to achieve.  Of course, there are the more mundane but very important objectives such as energy efficiency or to be on budget, but fundamentally you need to look at what people are doing in that space and figure out how best to meet their needs thorough lighting.  If it’s an office, they need a comfortable productive space.  But if it’s a home or airport, it’s another approach.  One of the objectives that is always there is enhancing the architecture and helping form the architecture. Working with the architecture and not fighting it.


AR: What are you looking for from the lighting manufacturers that aid in the selection of luminaires for a project?

GH: Our office is known for being demanding and when someone comes in to show a new product, we’ve been known to get a screwdriver and start taking it apart.  We may be looking for some very specific technical criteria.  But it’s not just ‘good enough’ if the fixture is technically exquisite, the company that we’re dealing with has to be exquisite too.  You can buy a fancy car with all the technology, but if it breaks down and the service department is a hundred miles away, it’s not going to do you any good.  I think the same applies to lighting.  We love building relationships with companies that understand what we do and are interested in helping us do what we do.  I’ve found that those relationships tend to be really satisfying.


AR: Is there a project that you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?

GH: I’ve been asked that question before and I’m going to go to the obvious answer which is the United States Institute of Peace.  The project won a lot of awards which is very satisfying and it got a lot of recognition.  It’s a prominent and high profile project, but it embodies a lot of the things I’ve been talking about. The lighting of the building is very unobtrusive.  You don’t go into the building and say, “Oh, the lighting is amazing!”  That’s actually a compliment.  You go in and say, “The building is amazing.”  You don’t see the light fixture; you just see the lighted surfaces.  There was the big technical challenge of lighting the translucent roof and that was just a super fun challenge to me.


AR: When you were working on the Kauffman Center, what made you choose to specify WE-EF products?

GH: The fixture had the precise optical performance that we needed and we knew that WE-EF made high-quality products. But what really made it special was that WE-EF did a mounting detail for a grouping of the fixtures because they needed to be in a certain location in the landscape.  They’re basically out in this prairie grass around the building, so they needed to stand up above the ground a little bit so they were above the grass, but not too much. And they had to be able to adjust the height if the grass grew.  We didn’t want them on some big ugly pole.  It was a pretty basic mechanical problem, but we still had to find someone who was willing to modify the mounting arms and engineer this.  WE-EF was just a company that we knew had great products that we could count on.


AR: How do you decide who to use on a project?

GH: There are often a lot of options, but when you get into the kind of areas where Lam Partners works, it’s getting into a more specialized realm.  Frankly, it goes back to what I said before, it’s not just the technical requirements.  We have to know about the products and there is so much out there.  Of course with LED now, everything’s new and they’re changing every day.  If we don’t know about a product, we’re not going to spec it.  We spend a lot of time on the internet looking around, but mainly we know about them because people come in and show us their products.  When that happens, not only are we learning about the products, but we’re building those relationships.


AR: What advice would you give to the next generation of lighting designers?

GH: You never stop learning.  We have an incredible office and what marks everyone here is that we’re all hungry to learn more and get better at what we do.  I’m still learning about new stuff and with all of the new technology out there, there is no shortage of things to learn about.  You don’t go to school and get a job then just sit there.  School never stops.  Lighting design is a great profession because there is always something to learn about.  Get involved with your professional organizations.  Learning doesn’t always mean sitting in a classroom.  It could be going to a conference, sitting on a committee, or volunteering for something. You’ll learn a lot along the way.