Africanism recently spoke to Sakina Dugawalla, Principal & Head of Design at Light.Func, a Tanzanian and Dubai-based boutique studio with the aim of providing the built environment with a holistic approach to lighting design.
Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background?
A multicultural Tanzanian, I was born and raised in Tanzania and pursued higher education from the age of 17 in London, Nottingham and finally Dubai. I grew up an avid reader, loving art and architecture, and of course like all Africans, music. My defining moment growing up and ultimately specialisation as a professional was a school trip under Roots and Shoots when I was 15/16 to the village of Korogwe in the Tanga region. We spent a week living in tents gazing at a dark sky thick with stars, talked and lived around the villagers, and built low-cost housing for them as part of the NGO’s mission. I wanted to make a difference, so I decided I would study Architecture.
During my studies I realised that the world was slightly different, and buildings don’t make people, the environment within which they live do, and Interior Design was perhaps the way forward. Taking a year out, I went back to Dar es Salaam and spent a lot of time with my parents, both my mentors, and concluded I would pursue Interior Design. By chance, I visited a relative in 2005 in Dubai on my way back to London, and thought, a metropolis that grew out of a desert – this was the place where anything was possible. I therefore stayed to study my Bachelor’s in Interior Design and the rest is history!
And can you tell us about Light.Func?
Light.Func is a boutique lighting design studio that I established in Dar es Salaam and Dubai. We are small, energetic, passionate and try to do things differently, in the best sense of the word. We do not try to be different for the sake of being different, rather we find that it is better than being mundane. The word Func is a derivative and play on function and funk, which very much explains how we approach our projects, ultimately with a function in mind, but with the ability to make people feel excitement, wonder and dare we say happiness, not unlike funk music. We provide independent lighting solutions that are both pleasing to the eye but also practical for all manner of architecture and design: commercial, industrial, roads, sports facilities, landscapes, parks & gardens, retail, café’s, spas, bars, restaurants, residences, hospitals, schools, heritage sites, entertainment areas, to name but a few. Our design team stems from a background of architecture and interior design, therefore we always look at each space through the eyes of a design-infused brain. Texture, colour, composition, volume, these are all the things we consider before we tackle any and all projects.
What drew you to lighting in the first place?
Light is emotive and still very much misunderstood. During my second year’s Lighting module in Design school, my professor convinced me to intern for ERCO, one of the most important lighting manufacturers in Europe. Their philosophy on their light fixtures was based on a philosophy of giving the best lighting solutions. Their unique technology allowed them to spread the less is more mentality which architects and interior designers all love. I realised that it was possible to light spaces using a combination of different principles of lighting, the result was: not only did the look of the space change, how we felt whilst we were within that space changed, as did our perception. In realistic terms, I could emphasise one element more, or create a calming soothing space, or a very dramatic one!
I then delved into the whole realm of lighting design, which was vast, to say the least. There are things that are crucial but often overlooked, like the psychology of seeing and physiological natural aspects of our eye being the first point through which an image is created, much like a camera. Understanding physiology, psychology and impact of lighting could therefore create spaces that really could change how people felt, how they experienced space, impact their wellbeing and ultimately appreciation.
Why do you think a lighting designer is important in a project?
Well apart from keeping the profession alive, a lighting designer is as important as an architect is on a project or an interior designer. We take a neutral approach to a project by analysing every aspect of it that is important to the client, architect/interior designer, engineer, installer, supplier/manufacturer and finally the inhabitant. Lighting is more than just a fixture in a space, it is an element which allows you to perceive that space, meaning the way we light a space is key. Lighting designers are important because our modus operandi is to find a solution that the client appreciates and can afford, both points being as important as each other.
We focus on the design elements that the creative minds behind the space have put together ensuring the best solution for their design intent, thanks to a background in design giving us an innate ability to understand space. We liaise with the engineering disciplines on the technical aspects of lighting design, fixture characteristics that impact energy consumption, cooling, and need to be integrated with all the other services within the built canvas. We ensure that the installer is well-versed on the technical solution we have applied, because if the tools are not used properly, the design intent is lost. However, just as important as all the points above, is the end user, the inhabitant – the person who will use that space. We try to find an aesthetic and technical solution applying all our knowledge of psychology & physiology so that the use of that space is the main focus; be it a fine-dining experience, a call centre that needs to function all day round, a sports facility that is used after dark, or a spa, just to name a few.
Other than the etiquette we must observe for all parties involved, we strive to find ways to harness natural daylight and complement it with artificial light in functional, aesthetic but further an energy-efficient and sustainable way. One thing the majority of the African continent is blessed with, is the dark sky element –coherent lighting design should also protects our skies.
Is lighting design as a discipline something new on the African continent? And are you finding more acceptance of the role a specialist lighting designer can play in architecture and designer?
Lighting Design has existed since the 80’s. There are a few lighting designers on the African continent already and we join them in trying to build further awareness on the importance of lighting design by working hand in hand with the architecture/landscape/interior design disciplines. Most of the time, the manufacturers have penetrated the continent and mis-educated the general public on what lighting design actually is. Therefore, we are in an upstream battle to constantly change this formed opinion. The progress is slow, but there are some firms who realise the importance of it.
The most crucial issue is convincing their clients that they need to pay another professional, design fees. The market is also very competitive, and those that quote the cheapest most of the time end up winning a project, therefore it makes it difficult for architecture/interior design studios to add lighting design to their proposals. Rome wasn’t built in one day, it took time and planning and patience, maybe even spilt blood. I hope the latter is not going to happen *laughs*, but I knew when I gave up employment to establish Light.Func that it would be the most challenging thing I have ever had to do, and we keep fighting. There have been very many instances, which I cannot name out of professional etiquette, where a lighting solution ended up having to be redone from scratch. I read somewhere that bad design is not just ugly, it’s expensive, and so it is my hope that more and more design professionals will see the benefit of using a lighting designer because lighting truly can make or break a space. To an end user I ask: would you let a tile manufacturer design your home or office or whatever project they are building?
Can you tell us a bit more about the projects you are currently involved in in Tanzania and Zanzibar?
At present, the market in Tanzania and Zanzibar is struggling, as is the Middle East, primarily because of what we perceive as another recession, but also a primitive industry where lighting design is concerned. There is a huge influx of Chinese product and suppliers with showrooms constantly coerce clients to go see their lights, and of course, their selling point is. “Look at this, it is only 100,000 Tshs, it is bright and comes with a 6 month warranty”. Sometimes we are verbally accepted, then we find out the project has been supplied without our knowledge.
We have worked on Fumba Uptown Villas in Zanzibar where we masterplanned all of the street lighting. Fumba is a vision by Mr. Said Bakhressa and his company Union Property Developers Ltd to create a gated luxury villa community in Zanzibar, being the first one of its kind. Mr Bakhressa is known by almost all Zanzibaris and Tanzanians for his entrepreneurship and philanthropic ways. A true patriot, he decided to raise the bar for lifestyle and architecture by investing in developing a standalone community that would have its own residential, retail and leisure facilities. We undertook the design through the main consultant, and working closely with the client, we developed a complete street lighting solution which is part of the overall masterplan.
The challenges were to find the most energy efficient, long-life solution that was also unique. Custom-made marine grade pole-lighting was designed so that we achieved the least environmental impact using European and International Standards. We did extensive studies to ensure the colour temperature used would not be in the vicinity of the neighbouring sea so as to not impact the ecological environment and further that the levels achieved should coincide with a rural setting, so as to not destroy the dark sky element. We also re-designed the initial lighting design concept of the villas that already had an implemented solution. Using our expertise, we were able to find a more economical solution for the interior which still gave the residences a hospitality feel on the inside and outside. Most importantly, we managed to drastically cut down the exterior lighting by finding a 2-in-1 solution of lighting outdoor verandas and balconies with fixtures that illuminated the façade architecturally. The savings on power consumption and eventual economical impact were massive, and we have included it as a case study that we are about to use for educative purposes.
We are also involved with a heritage site on the mainland which is a pro bono job, so as to raise awareness for the cultural history of Tanzania and Zanzibar as well as the importance of lighting design. Most of the other projects that are in the pipeline are of a strict confidential nature, but we hope to be able to tell you about them all this time next year.
We are also involved in private residences in Nigeria, some of which should be completed by Q2 next year, and we will send project updates via Africanism! We always say that everyone has a journey… Ours is light.