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Carmenza Henao Londoño


Lighting designer  

Bogota, Colombia


Interview by Mauricio Gómez

Urban Plaza, EK Hotel - Rodrigo Samper - Lighting designer: Carmenza Henao Londono © Carmenza Henao agency
Lighting designer Carmenza Henao Londoño
Pioneering, experienced, meticulous, passionate, creative, but with a stamp that is recognized by experts in the field... that’s the description of Carmenza Henao Londoño, Colombia’s first independent lighting designer and one of Latin America’s most important figures in professional lighting design.

What kind of career have you had?

I’m an industrial designer, not an architect. I ended up in this profession when I was offered the opportunity of becoming a business consultant in a lighting firm. I fell in love with light and hardly 18 months had passed before I sold the timber company that I owned to my partner and threw myself entirely into lighting.

How did you become Colombia’s first independent lighting designer?

I worked for nine years at the first company, then became independent, and in 1992 I took part in the design of the Centro Andino Mall in Bogotá. This was the first project in which someone in Colombia was paid for doing a design. That was when lighting design became a profession in Colombia.

After that I worked with another company, where I created the lighting division, alternating this job with independent consultancies.

In 2000, with the building industry in deep crisis, I resigned and set up my own business which concentrated on advising without selling. I wanted to free my mind. My first project was a small office, where I was able to keep the commercial side of the work separate. Without question the issue of rates was never simple, but without having a deliberate plan, I created lighting design in Colombia. It was an unconscious decision in terms of what it meant to the rest of the world, but very conscious as regards what it meant for Colombia.

My first step was to show all the companies that I was not competing with them, and that they were my closest allies. Fortunately I received their support. People then started to follow in my footsteps, and awareness was created among suppliers and customers.

I love what I do, I’m crazy about it, and every day I like it more. Life has always given me an excellent team of people to work with. I owe what I do to my husband and my team. I couldn’t have done it on my own.

I’ve always been industrious and committed. I learned from magazines and catalogs as well as by attending trade fairs, taking training courses and traveling a lot.

What does light mean to you? 

Everything. Light is a social topic that covers everything: man’s best friend, the sun, reflections, shadows. Light has been converted into a responsibility, light revives spaces, beautifies, shows defects.

Without light nothing functions. It’s a tremendous responsibility since we are replacing and competing with what is supplied by the universe.

What is your best lighting design and why?

There’s one project that’s very important to me: I did it with Philips. It’s the San Felipe de Barajas Castle in Cartagena. This has particular significance because it was a huge responsibility, because it has remained valid until now, and because it’s an iconic work that you don’t often have the opportunity of illuminating.

How was Asdluz founded?

Asdluz, the Colombian Lighting Designers’ Association, was founded by thirteen of us, all independent lighting designers. It was born of the need for a united association relating to this activity and the need to create policies in Colombia relating to the profession.

The first thing that we created was the EILD, the Ibero-American Meeting of Lighting Designers, an event that brought together manufacturers, designers and architects. It was attended by 500 people and allowed us to get to know one another and to create awareness of the profession.
Plaza Bocagrande, Ospinas y Cia - Architect: Taller De Arquitectura De Bogota, Daniel Bonilla – Lighting designer: Carmenza Henao Londono © Jose Caballero

How do you feel after being presented with the EILD’s award that recognizes the lighting work that you have done during your life?

It is not common that colleagues recognize the work done. I did what I did without thinking of what I was sowing. This award allowed me to realize what I have managed over the years to achieve the recognition of the profession in our market.

It was very emotional, I feel proud. It never crossed my mind that I might win it, and I appreciate it. I believe that they placed a great deal of responsibility on my shoulders. And a huge commitment to working for the people who will come after us.

How do you see the future of professional lighting design?

The technology is changing: we haven’t worked out the consequences of the changes that we’re making, so there are still many intangibles. We can’t forget that light is at the service of man, and not man at the service of light.

I believe that there is a commitment to energy saving, but we must take care not to overlook brightness and color rendering, which as far as I am concerned are as important as comfort and aesthetics. LED technology has changed our way of thinking. It has increased people’s awareness of energy saving.

What do you need to take into account on a lighting project?

You don’t design for yourself, you design for the client. If you go to my home it has lots of contrasts and shadows, for instance, but that is not what everybody wants. The hard part is to interpret the client’s wishes and at the same time be satisfied with the result as a professional. That’s what makes a design successful.

You need to know who you’re designing for and also do a good job of managing all the aspects relating to technology, standards, budgets and energy awareness.

What are the standards in Colombia as regards lighting?

We have access to state-of-the-art technology. Fortunately I’ve been able to work with many foreign firms, and it’s very gratifying to say that we’re at the same level. We’re independent, up-to-date, serious about technical and design aspects, and disciplined.

Who do you admire in the field of lighting?

In Latin America, Claudia Paz is an inspiration. She’s very visual, has impressive creativity and has created a milestone in the profession.

I saw Elías Cisneros for the first time at a conference in Chile and I saw the light in his heart.

Here in Colombia, Édgar Prada has been an inspiration in the technical area, and I’ve met people who have inspired me at lighting companies. I wouldn’t have achieved anything if it hadn’t been for the people around me.

What did it mean to be a judge for the Iluminet awards?

It was a huge honor. When you see the stature of the judges with whom the projects are being discussed you feel very proud. Many top-class projects were submitted and when I had the opportunity of seeing them I encountered a great deal of professionalism, quality and creativity.

The judges we had there were Anne Bureau, Gustavo Avilés, Mauricio Ginés … people with tremendous careers, so finding myself at the same level as them is in itself a huge compliment.

We’re doing things well in Colombia. When we evaluated the projects we did so without knowing who was doing them, and Colombian projects proved to be outstanding. One of them is worth mentioning in any part of the world: Un Litro de Luz (A Liter of Light), a proposal that proved to be outstanding.

Do you think there is a trend towards repetition in lighting design?

The personal stamp isn’t bad, there’s a brand of repetition that I try to manage in all of my projects, so when I’m told that this space is an architecturally balanced space, for me that’s a success.

It’s very difficult to repeat designs because every space is different. Even when you’re lighting spaces that are the same, you have to bear in mind that the client and the decoration are different, so even if you use the same products it will look different. You’d have to make an effort to be repetitive.

It doesn’t bother me that they say “Carmenza Henao was here”, because there’s a balance in the design, not because it’s repetitive…
Interview published in Luminous Magazine 15/2015

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