Silje Thorsager Østby has extensive experience in architectural lighting and lighting design. She has worked on a wide range of lighting projects in Norway and abroad. Inspired by light and art, her work focuses on experience - and how light can emphasize space. She currently works as a lighting designer at Signify.
What made you choose a lighting design career?
Since I was a child, I have been exposed to aesthetics, art, and architecture. My parents have always been interested in architecture and design - taking me to museums, galleries, and exhibitions from a young age. This made me, on a subconscious level, fascinated by light and how the light shaped the room and surrounding space around us. I started off wanting to become an architect, so I went to KDC (Art & Design College) to develop a solid foundation for this, which lead me to an internship at an architectural practice based in Oslo. It was there that I got triggered towards light, as I saw how key this element is to creating great spaces and experience.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career?
The internship made me aware of the possibility to focus on lighting design, so I applied for it at the University of South-Eastern Norway. And things just kicked off from there.
Tell us about your lighting journey?
I started off my journey after my degree at Lumiéres Studio in Paris, which was headed by Odile Soudant who was the former head of the lighting department of the famous French Architect Jean Nouvel. A lucky and inspiring practice where I was able to work with clients such as Chateau Miraval (owned by Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie), Ocana Bar - Barcelona; a multifunctional restaurant and club, Morritz Bar - Barcelona, to mention a few. The studio had a high focus on idea and concept development, where all professional groups worked interdisciplinary in the processes, with a focus on surprising creative solutions where lighting was a crucial role for the experience of the space, the interior and the use of materials. Thereafter, I was eager to emphasize the more technical and functional aspects of light - by joining Philips Lighting in Oslo, Norway. This work entailed mostly Retail and Hospitality and Office and Industry. It was a super exciting experience, really going deep into lighting on a product level. I continued pursuing the consulting business by joining up with one of Scandinavia's biggest consulting companies, Multiconsult. A key project was the new Munch museum (which just opened at the end of 2021) where I was assigned to do the concept development and specific lighting solutions for the museum. Classified Further on, I moved to Hjellnes Consult - a specialized consulting company, where my main engagements were the new Viking Age Museum in Oslo and the new public bath at Tøyen in Oslo. Here my career pivoted a lot towards urban and outdoor lighting as well. I have also been involved in the board of Norske Lysdesignere (The Association for Norwegian Lighting Designer) with the role of Chairman of the Board, Deputy of the Board and PR Manager. My intention was to widen the horizon for the lighting designers towards architecture, artists, and urbanists by emphasizing cross-disciplinary events, digital communication towards the market, and being a part of a large and well-known pop-up light art festival called Elvelangs, along Akerselva that divides the eastern and western parts of Oslo.
Did you have a (male or female) role model when starting in the lighting industry?
My biggest inspiration of all is James Turell. His detail on the fundamental question of perception has always inspired me. “I like to use light as a material, but my medium is actually perception. I want you to sense yourself sensing - to see yourself seeing.” I will never forget the first time I saw his artwork was at Teshima and Naoshima in Japan. The exhibition 'Backside of the Moon' plays with your vision in the dark and concept of space and made a great impression on me. Further on, his collaboration with Tadao Ando at The Chichu Art Museum is a magnificent work of architectural and lighting collaboration between Ando and Turrel. It was a true once-in-a-lifetime experience to finally perceive and experience his masterpieces in true life.
How did you get your first break?
I was so lucky to already be a part of some magnificent projects in Paris at my first practice. And the journey has continued to be amazing and humbling. I have been lucky to have the opportunities that I have been given.
Describe three of your outstanding projects?
1. The projects in Paris were all really special, and it would be very wrong not to put them on this list.
2. The Museums in Oslo were also a favorite.
3. The ongoing Fjord Oslo collaboration, where our big team consists of great fellow lighting artists, the people behind Fjord Studio, that produce these festivals, and our core team, including a spatial designer and a system architect. This is really a special ongoing project.
How do you integrate light and lighting design in your projects?
Light is key. Light is needed. It is always there, and if it is not, then the absence of it reminds us of it. It can make things so much better - and it can really destroy - a powerful phenomenon that is embodied in our biology. Yet, it's too often neglected. Light must be conveyed with meaning and explained. Everybody can feel the power - but not everybody understands that it is the light that carries the immense control of our perception and feelings. People really need to understand light, so I always try to educate people that are unaware of this great phenomenon before we start any project. For me lighting design is about experience and how light can emphasize space. It is key to work cross disciplinary, to really get the best results. I am what you would call a 'minimalistic lighting designer' at heart. I prefer perfectly attuned white lighting that hides its presence but embodies the experience. But yet again, not every project is aligned to follow this mindset, so I always adapt to the given task.
What achievements are you most proud of and why?
I would say the ongoing Fjord Oslo project. Because of the beautiful people on the team and the inspiring people that produce these magical experiences for hundreds of thousands of people, it is truly a special experience.
What would be your dream project to light?
A true minimalistic 24-hour space embodying the control of daylight to minimalistic white perfected light, similar to Teshima Art Museum, but including artificial light at night.
What skills are needed for your job? How did you acquire the skills?
As a lighting designer, you need to understand architecture and space, aesthetics, context, material, and light combined with technical lighting expertise to handle the respective tools.
What is it that you love about this job?
I love the various and creative processes and to be able to create good spaces for people. The privilege to think of an idea and see it come to life in a subtle and beautiful way.
What is not yet possible in lighting architecture that you would like to see become a reality in the future?
Cross-disciplinary work with others in commercial projects. That lighting designers are included from the get go. That would truly enrich architecture in the future.
When you approach a new lighting design, where do you find inspiration?
In everything. Inspiration is everywhere, so I try to travel a lot and experience places, food, museums, and day-to-day product design. Pretty much everything that we experience in everyday life.
What are the main attributes you look for in a luminaire?
It depends on the task. But the optical characteristic of a luminaire is important, in combination with the shape of the light beam and light output distribution, and how it can contribute to real color representation and great level of whiteness.
When you are specifying fixtures, how far is low power consumption a consideration for you?
Yes, I think it’s very important to reduce the built environment’s lighting-related energy consumption. By reducing the power consumption, your lighting is a crucial step toward achieving carbon neutrality.
Can you tell us a bit about your use of Color Kinetics lighting solutions?
The flexibility provided by Color Kinetics LED lighting solutions is ideal for creating the effects and light control needed to achieve the desired powerful and immersive experience I look for. The advanced lighting system is flexible and it can also be used to create artistic and dynamic installations with controllers and remote management software
"Stay interested and curious in all aspects of light. It could be architecture, art, photography, movies – the shape of an object throughout the day. Create the work you’d like to see and allow yourself to create and fail. Learning by doing. Hard work. And never give up." - Lighting Designer Silje Thorsager Østby