Designer Spotlight: Domingo González, Domingo González Associates, New York City, NY


Domingo González, LC, IES, IALD, DLF, AIA

President of Domingo González Associates

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.

Domingo González is well-known in the lighting industry for his many award-winning projects worldwide.  Coming from humble beginnings, he capitalized on opportunities and earned his successes.  Whether it’s contributing to books or winning Lighting Designer of the Year awards, Domingo’s lifelong fascination with architecture and lighting piloted each achievement.  Now President of Domingo Gonzalez Associates, Domingo is flourishing in the field of lighting design while influencing the next generation.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Domingo about how his inspirations, past and present lighting projects, and his advice for future lighting designers.

AR: What inspired you to major in Architecture at City College of NY?

DG: What lured me into the field was a lifelong fascination with architecture and buildings.  My dad was a cabinet maker, so I spent many summers helping him renovate our house.  There was an architectural program at my high school.  You might say that I caught the bug early.  As to what brought me to the City College of NY: the simple answer is, Affordability.  By far the finest education I could ever imagined receiving and I’m forever grateful that they took me in.

AR: What brought about the change in career paths (into Architectural Lighting)?

DG: I had finished my 4th year in architecture school and for the first time in my college career found myself temporarily out of a job.  I took a summer drafting job at a firm that did graphics, interiors, and lighting… and I never left the field.  It was complete serendipity or just dumb luck; kind of like for some people when they meet the person they’re going to marry.

AR: What inspires you when working on a new project?

DG:  It depends.  If it’s a project that we have a lot of experience with, then we’re very intrigued with how far we can push the envelope based upon what we already know and understand.  If it’s a project that we’ve never worked on before, what usually inspires us is fear.  That usually motivates us to do a tremendous amount of research and examination of precedents from previous projects, to get a sense of the unique attributes or aspects of a particular project type.   We’ve learned that the way to approach designing lighting for a hotel is perhaps a little different than the way you might approach a museum, which might also be different from the way one might approach an international airport.  Each with its challenges and rigor.

AR: What criteria do you use when determining a lighting manufacturer to specify for a project?

DG:  I think that you could sum that up with the term: Quality.  You’re looking for significant qualitative performance.  We want the equipment to perform optically in terms of brightness control and photometric performance.  We also want the luminaire itself to be a quality product in terms of durability, maintenance and acceptable appearance.

Equally important is our interest in a quality relationship with the manufacturer.  This speaks volumes about our rapport with the manufacturer in their understanding of our expectations and in their ability to meet those objectives, whatever they are.  In some instances, you can have a manufacturer who makes an excellent product, but working with them is a painful and arduous experience.  The key for us has always been to hit as many points on the compass as we can one manufacturer, and hope that they will be there when we need them.  There will on occasion be projects where something goes south, and its at that moment you’re very grateful for an excellent rapport with the fabricator, knowing who to talk to and being confident that they know how to get things done. Not having that relationship can be very debilitating.

AR: With over 1,500 projects worldwide, do you have a favorite?  One you are most proud of?

DG:  Someone once asked me, “At the end of a project, are you excited?’  My usual answer is, “No; not excited but often quite relieved.” Relieved that it’s over and that it worked.  I’m personally very fond of those projects where there was a unique process and most importantly where we saw our designers grow and develop.  I’m quite proud of our work on the George Washington Bridge, the Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse, West Riverfront Park in Nashville and the 2nd Avenue Subway project.  Another project which took ten years to complete was the Dulles Metro Rail (WMATA Silver Line), consisting of five new stations connecting the Washington metro system with Dulles international Airport.

I think that for all professionals there are also some projects that didn’t turn out as well as hoped for, but they are almost equally as important because we use them as critical learning experiences that help inform the next project.

AR: You’ve used WE-EF products on several projects – such as the Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC; West Riverfront Park, Nashville; Bloomingdale Trail, Chicago; The Gathering Place, Tulsa – Why WE-EF?

DG:  WE-EF in many ways epitomizes our requirement for quality.  Quality performance, quality fabrication, and a quality relationship.  Over the years we discovered who to talk to regarding our challenges, needs, aspirations and we’ve learned how to get almost everything we want within the context of what WE-EF can do. There’s a select group of go-to entities that any lighting professional has and WE-EF is certainly one of our go-to companies. 

AR: How has lighting design changed from when you began your career to present?

DG:  The best way to answer that is to look at the revolution of LED technology that’s been ongoing for the last ten years.  Before the advent of SSL, it felt like innovations occurred every 18 to 24 months; the introduction of the MR16 lamp, T8’s, electronic ballasts, CFLs or ceramic metal halide.  With the advent of the Solid State revolution, it seems that we’re seeing innovations every 18 to 24 weeks, and in some cases, it feels like every 30 days. The pace of innovation seems to be tied to the speed at which information travels.

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

DG: Never hesitate to research a problem.
Never confuse technique with technology.
Never forget that any professional endeavor is a lifelong commitment to learning.

Graduating from a University doesn’t always teach you everything you needed to know; instead, a college education should   provide the tools we need to continue learning throughout our careers.  After 30+ years of being a lighting designer, I feel like I’m only just now getting the hang of it.  I’m looking look forward to the next few years of my career where I can continue to learn new things.