Not one to be confined by conventional education or practice, Gerd Pfarré credits a love of nature and travel as his foundation as a lighting designer. Training in carpentry and cabinet-making led him to the disciplines of architecture, interiors, and lighting. After initially working as a freelance designer, he joined Ingo Maurer’s workshop in Munich in 1983 as one of its first design employees. Pfarré worked for 13 years with the lighting maestro, whom he credits as his mentor, before setting up his own studio in Munich. Given Pfarré’s intense passion for the creative process, he is undoubtedly among the most unique minds in lighting design.

What intrigues you about light?
That magic moment when the lights are turned on for the first time.

Do you see architecture and architectural lighting as distinct disciplines?
They are one discipline. Light makes it all visible. I am waiting for the day when people will understand that we are designers of reflection.

Is there a text that has influenced your thinking about light?
There is a First Nation legend from Canada called “The Raven Steals the Light.” It’s about how the stars, the sky, and the sun were created.

Advice for a young lighting designer?
Burn your fingers while focusing a damned hot fixture. Learn to scribble an idea on paper while talking to someone.

What aspect of lighting would you like to see given more attention?
There needs to be more discussion about lighting quality, particularly visual comfort and how new lighting technologies do, and do not, respond. Lighting is not just about quantity.

How have new lighting technologies expanded design possibilities?
Significantly. We’re able to use light more intelligently. However, intelligence does not necessarily help one in being creative.

Where do you see lighting design heading?
I hope more clients will understand the benefits of paying realistic fees for professional design services and what I’d call “applied creativity.” As a profession, we are still considered as an “add-on” but there is an increasing awareness of what we can really do. •

“When I start working on a project, I’m thinking light, not product. That’s the honest, creative way to approach design work.” — Gerd Pfarré, principal, Pfarré Lighting Design, Munich

Elizabeth Donoff is the Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Lighting.