Sapa Rock N Ritual is a theater project located on the Ham Rong mountain, in the northern region of Vietnam called Sapa, famous for its groundbreaking step rice field landscapes.
ScenoLight Atelier and its team of architects, scenographers, landscape and lighting designers, in collaboration with the show director and his artistic and technical team, has worked on this theater project for two years. Together we spent days on site to feel the atmosphere and learnt about the local traditions and materials that inspired the design and performance. One of the most sensitive aspects of our cooperative decision was the selection of theater location and direction, taking into account access constraints, view, climate, and beliefs. Our mutual thought leads us to consider the theater as a performance all by itself, providing a full experience focused on the four natural elements that created the legend of this magnetic site also known as the dragon head: rocks, air, water, and fire.
Back in our office, we carried out extensive research, combining traditional methods with a variety of parametric designs to generate multiple types of shapes that were meticulously installed on the natural topography. As a result, we came up with the concept of an open-air wooden structure connected to the rocks and floating in the landscape between the bamboo forests and the mountain’s peak. As a decorative but also structural element, the outline is covered by a marble string, inspired by the ethnic traditional textile patterns and jewelry.
We fully concentrated on the environment surrounding the theater, since the audience discovery experience begins at the lower level of the site’s path, which leads through the bamboo forest to the theater. The audience is then welcomed to enter inside the theater, which has an open-air lobby offering a spectacular panoramic view of the valley. After crossing the small footbridge over the landscape, the audience is invited to take their seats on the circus-style step benches arranged around the stage and facing an impressive rocks landscape. By night, the special lighting effect transforms it into a floating cloud between the mountain and the bamboo forest, highlighting the marbles, stone strings, and creating a magical landmark for the resort where it is installed.
The theater has 300 seats and an 80-square-meter stage, as well as a full set of lighting and sound equipment, and is covered by a tensile membrane roofing system and a curtain structure to enclose the space in the event of a blackout or for weather reasons. The backstage area, which includes a control room, is also accessible from both outside and inside the main volume. Every effort has been taken to create this theater as functional for the performers, technicians, and operation as possible even though the site and budget constraints are limitative.
SLA Designers has been operating in Vietnam for five years. As a young company in this country, we have been facing many different situations in the façade lighting field through local projects. The experience of realistic collisions, of knowledge, of demonstration in this market, makes us have some real thoughts that we are willing to share in this article for those who concern.
CURRENT STATUS IN VIETNAM
Lighting for the façade gets the most community concern in lighting design field applications. The reason for this is that façade lighting has a heavy impact on the nightscapes that define cities’ identity as a symbol of their reputation and for an attractive touristic image.
However, in some emerging markets like Vietnam, façade lighting is rarely handled by creative lighting designers, it is briefly designed by lighting solution providers who have to optimize their time for commercial reasons while answering the developers for outstanding “make-up” lighting.
We analyze the main reasons for that:
No urban lighting strategic plans
Over-bright designs requested by investors for standing-out reasons
No advice for minimizing coming from lighting solutions providers
LED dynamic technology becoming more affordable
Wrong thinking that hiring professional lighting designers will cost more
Results from these reasons are repetitive designs, uncontrolled use of colors, light pollution, and at worst a failed installation because of a lack of maintenance issues assumptions. From the city’s point of view, this combination of out-of-control lighting generates a messy vision of the city, while impacting the human and natural environment.
SLA DESIGNERS APPROACH OF FAÇADE LIGHTING
Our mission is to work with alternative lighting brands to offer not only creative designs but also a reasonable budget. Also, we are the best solutions that suit those responsible for the project finalization. Therefore, from the original concept until the final setup, we ensure the coordination between all parties involved in the lighting studies and installation.
In addition, as creative people, our expertise and skills bring more valuable and durable results for façade lighting:
We take into account the project program and environment
We know how to integrate lighting into the architecture to enhance it
We create a unique design for each project, considering the branding identity, the type of building, etc…
We anticipate maintenance process and cost operation, as practical access and weather conditions
We advise on the perfect balance between design and budget, preferring to minimize the quantity than lower the quality
FINALLY, EVERYBODY WINS
It is important to understand that a mindset change is necessary on façade lighting topics because, in the end, all parties would find its interest:
Firstly the investors because they will get a better result for the same budget
The lighting brands and suppliers because they will avoid spending unpaid time to provide solutions that have to be reviewed, updated, and coordinated.
We, as creative lighting designers because we can design projects that we are trained for many years to design.
And finally, the cities because they will get a step by step improvement of their nightscape environment.
As creative lighting designers, SLA Designers has also the mission to inform and explain these new fields and the continuous evolution of technology and its impact on our environment. It is why we are glad to meet future city makers, developers, and urban thinkers to present our vision and discuss the possible evolution and proper way to evolve the nightscape together.
Light always tells us unconsciously something, as an abstract language, with various cultural and historical varieties of interpretations. This essential language of the sun and fire has been manipulated from the origin of humanity through the arts of painting and sculpture, and deeply explored since the advent of artificial lighting by photography, cinema and performance arts. Artists know how to convey the dramatic power of the light to tell their story, to guide the interpretation of a scene, and to increase the meaning and emotions.
At SLA designers we always start designing our projects from this point of view. As we believe in the power of creating emotions with light and also with architecture and landscape. Dramatic lighting applied for architectural and landscape projects. This project has been thoroughly elaborated from photography and cinema references, following the architect’s surreal world. The techniques and equipment are also quite similar to the ones applied for a photo shoot or movie scene, by staging the position of each light, carefully choosing the color palette, and light direction.
Contrast and eye direction
Painting is one of the oldest mediums which uses dramatic lighting. Light and Shadow – Good and evil, chaos and control, controlling these two elements is one the most important tasks to achieve dramatic lighting. It is a so-called shading technique, to create volume and space, volume can be accentuated using back and side lighting, by highlighting prominent features, and leaving the rest in shadow.
Rembrandt is a legendary painter from the Netherlands who is famous for creating extraordinary lighting techniques at that time in his art, like his masterpiece: A Night Watch. By using the dramatic lighting, the keystone, the part of the painting that holds everything in place are the dual figures of the captain and his lieutenant in the middle and the rest of the portrait moves away from them diagonally which makes them extremely highlighted. The dramatic lighting can single out two key figures and create an optical phenomenon called “Depth of field”.Ultimately, Rembrandt used this lighting method to point out to the viewer what detail to look at.
Enhancing mood and atmosphere
The scene from Suspiria (1977) has been fairly simply lit with one big heavily diffuse backlight and a piece of poly at the right to bounce the light back in – That it’s! Simple. But the cool touch is from the lighting on the eyes of the protagonist which holds the reflection from a 45-degree teleprompter, so no post, all done in camera. In contrast with the scenes from Suspiria (1977), the dramatic lighting sources are very complex, and the use of Technicolor is in harmony to create a surreal world that the protagonist is placed. But in total, however the simplicity and complexity, lit effects were used to enhance the mood and atmosphere.
Spectacular and Storytelling
Lighting is a powerful material to produce spectacular effects; and as this ultimate encounter between show and architecture, lighting installation applied to the façade or interior turns the architecture for the visitors into an audience. The dramatic aspects of light are emphasized by a scenario, often completed by sound and music and other media, to tell a story, to tell its history, to immerse viewers into the creator’s perspective. This is the art of using the right angle, the art of fine-tuning intensity and colors, balancing between light and shadow, revealing characteristics, bringing movement to the light, adjusting the composition, enhancing the authenticity of the architecture, making uniqueness, and expanding the boundaries of the space. The art of the creative lighting designer combined with a scenography vision.
Lighting for hotels, boutique hotels and resorts is a major topic nowadays for the developers and operators in the Hospitality industry because it plays an important role that able to decide whether the guests’ experience and the atmosphere of the space positive.
It is also a primary subject for lighting designers as lighting applied to the hospitality gathers various constraint and requirements in a single project. Each area such as lobby, guestrooms, restaurants, spas, conference rooms, etc. requires its specific lighting set-up and equipment standard. To lighting designers, this is the challenge and the impulse to ensure that the practical management and maintenance of the operational team can provide the qualitative lighting environment for the guest – what we call Feeling of Wellness.
DOES LIGHT HAVE AN IMPACT ON HUMAN BODY AND MIND?
Light by nature has an invisible impact on our body and mind through multiple variations. Researches show that our eyes ‘cells respond differently to particular wavelengths of light and send the information to our brain to regulate our alertness and sleepiness levels.
Our first light source is the sun, which emits a spectrum of light with high blue wavelength content during daytime, telling the brain that it is daytime and signaling the body to be alert, while the yellow tones corresponding to sunset generate relaxation. This natural cycle of light is called a circadian rhythm, and from a lighting designer point of view, the goal is to match the natural environment with proper use of color temperature from artificial light, expressed in degree Kelvin, or more commonly named cold to warm light. Then, the flexibility of the lighting installation is also very important to be accurate with the actual needs of the guests, from the public areas where lighting has to be adapted to the day and night time, to the guest rooms where light has to be easily adjusted by the guest for his personal mood.
THE PROPER WAY TO APPLY LIGHTING IN INTERIOR ARCHITECTURE
Lighting designers are always looking for different ways to get the comfort and legibility of space, while generating a specific atmosphere and an aesthetic combination with the interior architecture.
Our first analysis and discussion are about natural light, which is necessary to be controlled for some specific areas. Then the more direct aspect extracted from the circadian rhythm is the choice of the color temperature, mostly in the warm range, combined with cold white for predefined tasks areas, or for some entire space that required to be flexible in terms of function, as ballrooms. Light manufacturers also have this concern about the color temperature and the specific requirements for flexibility, so they developed a dedicated range of products called tunable white. Once these technical aspects defined, all the art of lighting design is about combining the decorative light sources with indirect, task lights and focal sources, in order to generate a full lighting environment form the main entrance to the guestrooms that keep a coherent atmosphere signature.
Hotel category, budget, operation guideline and maintenance constraints, all these aspects are particular to each project. Hotel brands are also looking for innovation and up-gradation of their own standard. Wellness through lighting for hospitality requires experience and attentive studies. Therefore, lighting designers are at this position to collaborate with the operator and other consultants to involve in the design as well as propose the best solution that should be able to answer globally to these various goals.
As designers specialized in theaters and performing spaces based in Vietnam, we have been visiting and scouting a number of theaters and performing art spaces in the country for over five years now. We have been also meeting and exchanging with various professionals of the entertainment industry such as show directors, technicians, event organizers and investors.
Together with our French expertise background in theater design, we have a strong creative and technical knowledge in theater and performance typologies, which gives us a specific point of view to analyze the current situation of theaters in Vietnam, and propose the specific answers that could be developed in this context.
This article is then a way to share our brief analysis and directions that could be developed in Vietnam.
The most famous theaters in Vietnam are certainly the Hanoi Opera House (600 seats) and Saigon Opera House (800 seats), both parts of the heritage with a long history of different uses and renovations. Today both operas would deserve a deep renovation but the investment for such building is costly because the theatre equipment and backstage areas are less and less operational, while the theater equipment are high technology imported products that also require a strong operation and maintenance budget.
We had tested many other theaters and then realized that there are many issues from the audience’s point of view, with average quality of sightlines and acoustic, which is crucial to enjoying performances such as drama, dance, or music. From the performers’ and technicians’ side on stage and backstage, the issues are about access and set up, for which they have to readapt their set to each theater on their tour. This is also crucial for productions that are careful about choosing theaters where their set can fit to perform as planned and without extra cost.
We also noticed that in most of the popular music big-scale concerts, over 2000 seats are mostly outdoor, with temporary and removable setups. This type of installation for only one concert is very costly to set up, which can explain the high ticket price, and dependent on the weather with huge financial impact in case of cancellation mostly during the rainy season.
Recently, we also observed that several major groups implement large-scale multimedia shows that reveal several issues from our point of view which are firstly the problem of scale between the numbers of seats around 3000 and what happens on stage which is actually not scaled accordingly. Also in terms of strategy, the budget is mostly invested in the equipment, while the part dedicated to content creation is not valued enough, whereas it is more vital than the equipment for a successful show.
The Hoi An Lune Center for Performing Arts (300 seats) is a good example of cost-efficient and still iconic theater, with popular shows that are still touring all over the world, thanks to the passionate creators and the clever investors that make it happen.
THE NEEDS IN VIETNAM
We often hear that we should have new operas in Vietnam, however we need to be careful with terminology as it not only refers to a specific theater typology, but also to a certain type of performance which is one of the most expensive, requiring in-house production and set design as well as extensive maintenance workshops, resulting in an important operation cost. That is why we proposed a transformable opera in Ho Chi Minh City that can be used on a daily basis as well as for tourist purposes, offering cinema and panorama configurations as well as more revenue to balance the maintenance budget.
Besides the classic opera theater, many other typologies have been developed in the U.S. and Europe since the ’70s, with one of the most popular called Proscenium multiform theaters which are the most used for international tours by many companies for drama, dance, circus, musical, opera… The program of such theater also usually includes a secondary auditorium called a black box that can welcome more intimate performances in many kinds of stages/seating layouts.
In terms of music and concerts, we believe that there are missing places in the country’s major cities, particularly in Pop, Hip Hop, Rock, and other genres. This type of performance space can range from 400 to thousands of seats, but it does not require the same expensive machinery as the previous opera or proscenium type, and it must be carefully designed regards to scale, flexibility, and acoustics to accommodate different music shows almost every day.
We also believe that the hospitality industry can affect changes in theater typology, because visitors and guests expect to be entertained when they travel, and they are increasingly demanding high-quality shows. In this field, we are currently developing several “Eatertainment” projects, which are a combination of F&B and entertainment, such as cabaret or food court theater.
Spice Route theater in Hoi An – Eatertainment (SLA Designers)
This type of program requires serious planning and gathering all expert in theater design, production, and the food industry, but the final products delivered to the guests is highly valuable to attract visitors.
Back to the historical operas, we imagine that they should should be renovated with a focus on welcoming classical music concerts, which means that the expensive machinery would no longer be required, but the acoustics and audience comfort should be thoroughly re-considered, combined with a new urban design environment to give these operas full of historic majesty.
THE RIGHT PROCESS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
Buildings for performances require the collaboration of architects and theater design consultants, as well as acoustic, video, audio, and stage lighting engineers, who must work closely with the investor, operator, and users. The theater designer consultant ensures that all parties communicate effectively in order to provide a functional theater for the performers and technicians who use the venue, as well as an excellent experience for the audience.
Even before the architecture, the theater designer is usually called to define the needs (type of performances, capacity), programming (type of theater, equipment), and budget (construction and operation). From our experience in Vietnam, we realized that a lack of preparation impacts the entire development process, with a lot of time consumption testing different options and confusion about the impact on the venue’s operation, all the way until the bidding period, when it’s time to review for budget, safety, and operational reasons. Concerning safety, we observe that the regulations governing theater buildings must be reviewed and updated to reflect the new evolution of space and equipment used in contemporary theaters.
Performing spaces reach their final destination when they welcome performances, which require professional technicians, show productions, and operator teams. In Vietnam, these would involve the development of dedicated training in specialized schools, national funding support of production, and professional operators that can manage international co-production because, in the end, spaces for performance and the performing arts are linked, one and others will grow only by being together.
— Cyril Lamy, Founder & Creative Director of SLA Designers
SLA Designers is an international creative agency with tailored expertise in Scenography, Lighting and Theater Design for hospitality, entertainment, and cultural projects.
SLA Designers have been facing many issues about bespoke decorative lighting that do not satisfy the interior designers’ expectations, the investors’ budget, or the lighting standard requirements.
Our analysis of this situation is that the technical development is being placed under the responsibility of the suppliers based on a concept provided by the interior designer, usually a 3D render with general dimensions and main materials. While as lighting designers, our task only consists of the light bulb specification, which is obviously a weak process because we are responsible for the lighting design but not in charge of elaborating and advising to improve the design and technology of the decorative lamps.
Creating a bespoke lamp requires specific skills combining aesthetic, lighting, and engineering approach, but the process to achieve a qualitative product and proper lighting effect is misunderstood and underestimated by our collaborators and clients. It is why we advocate being involved in product development for providing proper detailed documents to the manufacturers and delivering a professional product that will fit the design, the light, and safety regulations. We look forward to seeing the trends to pass the bespoke lighting design mission to a lighting expert becoming more popular and being considered essential.
Here are the main aspects that we consider for our bespoke lamp product studies:
Aesthetic and Design Accuracy
Light Source Technology
Safety and Responsibility
Ergonomic and Maintenance
AESTHETIC & ACCURANCY
Bespoke lamps should match the concept in terms of aesthetic and lighting effects to illustrate the storytelling of the whole project, which is very important. This way of approach is only successful when the bespoke lighting designers work closely with the project designers and the client to understand and exchange ideas, give pieces of advice on materials used, or follow up on the affordable budget for producing the lamps, this task is crucial and needs to be missioned to a professional lighting designer.
APPLIANCE UP-TO-DATE TECHNOLOGY
Light technology evolves a lot since the light bulb, even LED bulb, and we now have multiple options for an integrated customized light source for decorative lamps, particularly accurate for hotels. As lighting designers, we always think of the optimal experience for the users and bring delicate value to the projects. Decorative lighting is always an impression whether it is a huge glass pendant light in the hotel lobby or a bedside table lamp, when it is a decorative object, it catches attention. The technology used for the bespoke lamp cannot be underestimated because the lighting effect itself contributes directly to the common scenes of the environment. The lighting effect from every decorative or functional light needs to be able to expose its function and also merge.
SAFETY & RESPONSABILITY
We are aware that industrial design for lighting products requires high knowledge about materials’ performance with electricity, heat, and light. It comes to a serious safety engagement for tailor-made lamps in the operation process for hotels and resorts guestrooms. Accident consequences involve origin and quality certificate inspection, but who would take responsibility? Would it be the developer, the interior designer, the hotel operator, or the contractor? We should start thinking about this safety and responsibility for the advantage and the welfare of everyone involved.
ERGONOMIC & MAINTENANCE
A decorative lamp has to tolerate high manipulation from the users and for maintenance. This aspect of the product is a crucial section for hotels since it can be an issue to fix the lamp monthly or even weekly as it has not been designed for a highly demanding environment. Lighting designers are aware of this aspect and take into account these constraints of manipulation by the users and the durability target.
At SLA Studio, besides architectural lighting design service, we also offer lighting design for bespoke lighting in various fields including Hospitality, F&B and Nightlife, Park and Urban, and Entertainment. Whatever we do, we aim to contribute our knowledge, our creativity and build up the true value for our client’s projects.
As a Creative Lighting Designer, I would like to clarify some definitions of the various actors in the lighting industry, which owners, architects, landscape, and interior designers should know for dealing with their projects. This comes also from my experience working in Asia where there are still misunderstandings about the designer’s mission and some blur self-positioning of certain actors in this industry. But finally, the best option to get valuable lighting comes from the gathering of all these actors working together collaboratively.
Creative lighting designers
For a creative lighting designer, the starting point is the project design, a complex creative process considering all aspects of light: Space, physical, psychic, physiologic, engineering, and regulations.
The second step is technical development, including light calculations, implementation layouts, integration details, and the choice of light fixtures within the budget.
The third step is assistance in the choice of the proper supplier – contractors and the installation follow-up until the completion.
So, Creative Lighting Designers do not supply products but offer customized design services that they operate in close collaboration with other designer consultants.
Lighting manufacturers / Lighting distributors
The starting points are the products and their possible applications. For creative lighting designers, a close collaboration with manufacturers and their distributors can be a key for some specific projects where bespoke luminaires need to be developed, and, in general, to keep a permanent update on the new products and get the best choice for our clients.
Manufacturers and distributors generally give lighting solution services. These are strictly technical studies to implement exclusively their products, also advice on the best design option and quantity is not the point. Here is where it makes a big difference with lighting design.
MEP engineers, Fitter and Electrical contractors
Creative lighting designers collaborate closely with engineers and consultants when it comes to electrical diagrams and control systems. Engineers also know how to calculate light distribution but only in 2D for general lighting in basic areas.
Then the contractors have the final responsibility of the shop drawings and coordination on site, still under the supervision of the Creative Lighting Designer till the last setup.
As creative lighting designers, we extremely concern about the nighttime environment context, which is very variable from one site to another, particularly when we are involved in seaside projects. The seaside night environment is not uniform; therefore, it can split into at least three zones, from the last point of view on the water until the waterfront, the contact point with a large horizon, and the great spot to enjoy the sunset and starry night. Thus, as lighting designers, we aim to preserve these feelings, while we have to deal with the legibility and safety constraints, and also be aware of lighting pollution.
Less than 100 years ago, everyone could look up and see a spectacular starry night sky, but now, in our modern world, most of us will never have the chance to experiment with the Milky Way. So, today, as a consequence of living in light-polluted cities, people tend to choose peaceful areas to enjoy moments of relaxation, comfort, and the experience of watching the sky along the waterfront is part of this moment. However, it is not easy to fully feel that emotion as artificial light increases and spreads widely which directly impairs our view of the universe and negatively affects our environment, humans, animals, and plants’ health. Most of us are familiar with air, water, and land pollution, but light pollution is being overlooked. The inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light is known as light pollution. Components of light pollution include:
Skyglow – brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas
Light trespass – light falling where it is not intended or needed
Clutter – bright, confusing, and excessive groupings of light sources
Artificial lighting allows us to engage in nighttime activities along the waterfront that would be impossible or unsafe under normal nighttime conditions. Whether it is for allowing us to get from one point to another, security, or simply making a property more attractive at night, our enjoyment of the night will be enhanced by artificial lighting’s usage. At the same time, our lakes or beach at night provide a quiet open dark space that gives us privacy and the opportunity to enjoy the heavens. Imagine you are sitting on a dock during a crystal clear summer night, the water as flat as glass, the dark surface mirroring the sky, the stars shining brightly above, a falling star tracing a path across the heavens. Unfortunately, this precious part of our heritage is often obscured by the glare from a distant source of light across the water or by light trespass from a nearby property.
But it should not be this way. In most cases, making a few simple adjustments to existing lights will make them darker and sky-friendly and easily be able to solve the problem of light trespass that blinds us from our view of the night sky. The goal of sensitive waterfront lighting is to balance the ability to see at night with the desire to preserve the beauty of the night.
As lighting designer practitioners in Vietnam, our mission is to face multiple situations where lighting contexts are not considered carefully, such as the size and rate of lighting, human moving time, human vision, or the fixtures of lighting. Also, the fact is that much outdoor lighting used at night is inefficient, overly bright, poorly targeted, improperly shielded, and, in many cases, completely unnecessary. This light, and the electricity used to create it, is being wasted by spilling it into the sky, rather than focusing it on the actual objects and areas that people want to illuminate. Vietnam is facing increasing outdoor light pollution, according to local experts, and artificial light from coastal buildings affects coastal creatures, disrupts the World’s Ecosystems, and leads the baby sea turtles to their demise, birds and insects, in fact, a full ecosystem.
The good news is that light pollution, unlike many other forms of pollution, is reversible and each one of us can make a difference, and as lighting designers, we are on the front row to explain and give answers to action by:
Balancing minimal energy consumption with efficient use of lighting. Especially landscape lighting, outdoor lighting or facade lighting.
Applying timer and dimmer solution to adapt the quantity of light through the night, from sun until sunrise.
Minimizing glare and light with specific luminaires and smarter directional lighting.
Creating a clearly legible nighttime environment considering the functions of the space.
Using the absence of light as a design tool, a lack of light can be used to guide behavior or to protect the natural environment.
A suitable lighting design for the waterfront is aim to make this unique area a destination by night, a special place, playing a key role in special events. This has to be combined with a very attentive analysis and strategy to preserve the natural sky night environment. This dual approach is, in fact, one of the best occasions for a lighting designer to express their art of combining light with shadows, because it requires high preciseness in terms of implementations, light intensities, and general atmosphere concept. Therefore, this is also our role to raise awareness among our partners and clients because the waterfront is a valuable place for commercial. It can be in contradiction with the will to make this place similar to a city zone, both urban planners and architects have a big part of the responsibility, and we are glad to share your point of view from the preliminary strategic lighting master plan to fulfill our goal to preserve the night sky.
If you have a project inquiry, collaboration proposal, or job application, please don't hesitate to reach out to us via email and provide essential details about yourself and your request. Our dedicated team will get back to you promptly to discuss further.