Light in the [d]arc: Jinkie de Jesus of Light Plan Inc.

Kanto catches up with Light Plan’s principal lighting designer Jinkie De Jesus and finds out why she and her team are beaming

Interview Angel Yulo
Images Light Plan Inc.

Jinkie de Jesus, Header: Jordan Manila, one of two shortlisted Pinoy projects for the Structures, Low Budget Category at (d)arc awards 2021

Another building façade on 5th Avenue in Bonifacio Global City is lit. Walk slowly. Look up or, if you are on a west-facing balcony, look closely. On the block beside the Philippine Stock Exchange’s ticker-tape marquee and One Bonifacio’s festive podium wall, mercurial like the economy and the holidays, a glass curtain sways in the dark. The sandblast-finished mullions that support it are softly illuminated at 3,500 Kelvin. The streaks are programmed to roll across the façade in slow waves. They are not meant to flood the skyline nor the street, but the subtle dance commands our attention to Arthaland Century Pacific Tower, the world’s first EDGE Zero Carbon building, also rated LEED Platinum and BERDE five-star. Such is the work of lighting design studio Light Plan Inc., founded in 2010 by Jinkie De Jesus.

“In a period where many developers would forego façade lighting due to the strict restrictions for LEED platinum projects, we pushed the envelope to come up with solutions and a beautiful design,” she says of the project.

Jinkie is beaming, shedding light wherever and however she can. For over a decade, she has been heralding lighting design among her peers in the Philippines by founding the Philippine Lighting Conference, mentoring younger designers through the Women in Lighting ambassadorship in 2019, and growing the studio. Light Plan’s portfolio includes Benjarong restaurant at Amanpulo Beach Club, Dusit Thani Manila, ABS-CBN Experience Center, and the Mactan Cebu International Airport, winner at the World Architecture Festival 2019.

In 2020, Jinkie made it on to Light Collective and Filix’s 40 Under 40 Winners List—the first from the Philippines. This year, two Light Plan projects—St. Jude College and Jordan Manila—are shortlisted in the [d]arc awards, which is organized by the most respected lighting design publication in the world.

In the [d]arc awards, winners are determined by votes from fellow architects, interior, lighting, and industrial designers. Light Plan’s shortlisted projects are under the Low Budget – Structures category. The voting window closes on 28 February 2022, Monday (11:59 p.m. GMT).  If you are a design professional and want to vote, you can register here.

Saint Jude College in Sampaloc, Manila,

Kanto catches up with Jinkie on what’s keeping Light Plan busy besides awards season (although, we cover some of that too), the best desk lighting set-up for video calls, and more. The following interview was conducted via email and edited for publication.

How has Light Plan grown in the last two years?

Aside from a few lucky projects awarded over the pandemic, we have been busy reviewing and improving our processes, services, and team collaboration. The pandemic gave us the pause we needed to see what we were doing wrong and closely look at inefficiencies in our workflow.

Pre-pandemic we were blessed to have so many projects, but we were running like headless chickens, delivering just enough in a highly stressful environment. I am so much prouder of our work output now and confident we are delivering top-notch service. The pandemic made us grow better as a team and an overall service provider. I think it’s the best kind of growth we have had in years.

How did your career in lighting design begin? What did you see or experience that made you decide that this is the track for you?

There was no dramatic moment when I decided on this career. I found out about lighting design while searching for sub-specialties during my final year in Interior Design at UP Diliman. From my research, lighting design made the most sense.

My boyfriend back then (now my husband) found a one-year master’s course in Milan in architectural lighting, so I took it. Going to school gave me the basic tools, but my practice really took shape when one of my teachers took me in as intern then regularized me as a lighting designer for an international lighting studio. I was based in their Singapore office for a couple of years. There I delved into the craft and had the honor of working on such amazing projects. I was hooked because, even if it was a stressful job, I thrived. I still could not think of doing anything else.

The Light Plan team

What do you think is the biggest lighting mistake you’ve seen on our buildings? On our streets? In our rooms and spaces?

Over lighting and under lighting are common since light planning is often neglected or overlooked in the Philippines. Places and spaces end up too bright or dim.

Maintenance is also another issue. When you drive around our CBDs at night, you will see busted lights on building façades. This eyesore can be avoided with the proper planning of access points for maintenance and specifying products that last.

Third is how our public spaces are not provided with the proper lighting. Aside from safety and security, there are many benefits from drawing up a lighting masterplan for a city or town. It can improve its nighttime economy. We also live in a hot country so many people exercise at night. Imagine if we lit up our parks and open spaces correctly. People will be encouraged to be more physically active.

Can you share a photo of your work-from-home set-up? What desk lighting are you currently using?

I don’t really work from home, so I don’t have a special set-up. When I need to, I work in a communal table with my daughter who attends her online school. I still prefer the good old office. Here is a pic of the desk lamp I use at the office. It’s from Louis Poulsen, has a 2-step dimmer, and comes in warm white, which makes you look great in video calls.

Some advice on good lighting for video calls: aside from a front light (say, your desk lamp), also consider some backlight or your general illumination in the room which lights the walls and vertical surfaces. This balanced lighting approach will make you look great on video.

Jinkie de Jesus’ Louis Poulsen desk lamp

What lighting design project is on the top of your list now?

I cannot disclose the exact details of the project since it’s confidential, but it’s a historic space that we often see on TV. I’m a little nervous about the project since we have a short timeline, but at the same time excited because we have the chance to revive a sleeping beauty and contribute to the country. I am getting more nervous as we talk about it. Haha. The architectural design is already looking great, and we need to make sure the lighting vibes with the interiors. We’ll surely keep you posted on this project once it progresses or has been completed.

In your opinion, what is the most game-changing lighting fixture or innovation?

Tough one. Every six months new tech and product make debuts in the lighting world, and we need them all. There are millions of off-the-shelf products out there, but at times we still need to tweak and customize to find the right one. I guess that is how lighting designers are. We design based on our imagination and not around a certain product.

Right now, I am a fan of dim-to-warm technology for interior lighting. This means your normal downlight is warm white but dimming changes the color to an incandescent warm orange and then to candlelight. This would be perfect for a dining area. While having dinner, the lighting can be whiter and more functional. Then, as you move on to drinks, you can dim it down for a moodier color. 

Are there any lighting ideas you are tinkering with right now or waiting for the opportunity to finally implement?

We have a huge archive, or, should I say, hard drive of all the “what might have been” lighting concepts. When given the time to make our minds wander, we can really come up with crazy creative ideas in our studio.

One landscape project we recently worked on but paused because of the pandemic was a magical mushroom garden with the central structure floating from the ground using light. Another was a powerful dragon that changes its scales from red, white, to gold with programmable lighting. These ideas of course get tempered once the actual implementation starts. But during our brainstorming sessions for a lighting concept, there is no right or wrong, no standards that box us. I encourage the team to do storytelling. This process was also very much part of my early training.

Saint Jude College in Sampaloc, Manila, one of two shortlisted Pinoy projects for the Structures, Low Budget Category at (d)arc awards 2021

Golden hour seems to be a favorite of many photographers and cinematographers. Is this also your favorite time of day? Or is there another time when sunlight looks best?

I think sunrise and sunset really have that special something that is compelling for portraits. They are the most flattering, but the other times in a day also render spaces and structures with interesting light.

For example, I like the sharp and strong shadows the summer sun brings to structures or our tropical landscape. Then, around December the light shifts to provide façades with softer, diffused light. In our work, we consider and sometimes compute for the balance of natural and artificial lighting in a space so we are quite aware of the subtle nuances of how natural light can shift and affect the spaces we design.

Congratulations on the 40 under 40 win and the two shortlists in the [d]arc awards. For those who are not familiar, who organizes it? Who usually participates in them?

Thank you so much! We are also over the moon with these successful back-to-back recognitions. The 40 under 40 is an annual global competition that recognizes the works and selects outstanding individuals under 40 years old who creatively apply lighting in architecture. We were asked to submit our best works, achievements, and contributions made to the field of lighting design. There were over 300 nominations last year. It was so exciting to make the cut and secure a win for the country for the first time.

[d]arc awards, on the other hand, is a competition for exceptional lighting projects, but it employs the peer-to-peer voting process. Once the projects have been shortlisted, only allied professionals such as architects, interior designers, and product designers can cast their votes.

Organizers for 40 under 40 are Filix Lighting and Light Collective while [d]arc is organized by ARC magazine, the most established lighting design publication in our industry, and Light Collective. Both these competitions are participated in by lighting designers. 40 under 40 is for individuals but [d]arc is for lighting studios around the world.

Being shortlisted for [d]arc is a dream for our team since we always look forward to the yearly shortlist for references and inspiration to apply in our own projects. Especially now that travel is still restricted, competitions like DARC allow us to see what the best of the best in the lighting world is up to while staying safely at home.

Can you tell us a bit more about the shortlisted projects?

For Saint Jude College, we took off from the vision of Phinma Education’s boss. He had done extensive traveling and research and decided that for their school’s exterior façade design they would keep the original form of the structure but enhance it to celebrate art deco. We took our cue from this and worked on a lighting concept that is inspired by the era but implemented a modern lighting system.

We were also in luck because the client was open to our suggestions on how to make the lighting really pop out. The structure’s renovation was planned to receive light properly. For example, we suggested rough Acrytex with a semi-gloss paint finish for the façade since textured surfaces catch light better than glossy surfaces. The paint plus the warm light made a stronger impact. Aside from this, all the installation details we suggested were followed. So, the lighting was never awkwardly placed, and we had the proper distance from the structure to make the light reach further. These minor details spelled the difference for the project.

Since our client was open to our suggestions (for as long as these fit the budget), there were no major hiccups. However, we started designing in 2019 and what was supposed to be an eight-month project got stalled. During the height of lockdowns, discussions, and meetings had to be done online. With lighting, we really need to see the actual effect in person, so we resolved the issues and visited the site. That was the only way to move forward and complete the project. Everyone was happy in the end.

Saint Jude College in Sampaloc, Manila
Jordan Manila in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

There was an existing lighting direction from the Nike Headquarters for Jordan Manila and they needed a lighting professional to ensure that lighting was executed to a tee. The concept for the façade lighting was to make the second floor, which is a basketball court, glow. Basketball events are to be held in this space, and customers can also try on their new purchases.

We had two layers of lighting to achieve the desired effect. The first one is perimeter light to feature the white mesh façade from top and bottom with the Jumpman logo as the focal point. The second is the functional sports lighting for the basketball court, which had to be code compliant using the least amount of lighting fixtures. Both layers had the same color temperature of 4000 Kelvin cool white and, when turned on at the same time, create a powerful effect. On most days, the lighting is just white, but the system can also change color if needed during holidays or events.

Jordan Manila in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

The location of the project was also critical in light planning since the store sits at the end of a beautiful park with unobstructed views. We wanted the structure to stand out like a gem when viewed from afar or approaching the park.

This project was also planned and constructed during the pandemic. The biggest frustration we had were delays in the delivery of the light fixtures. It can be a real disaster, especially for façade lighting projects. Unlike interior installation, cut-out holes on the ceiling can be made prior and other trades can proceed to work without being affected by ours. But for the façade, they could not complete the installation of the mesh façade without the lighting integrated. We had no choice but to wait. The project turned out well in end, but the process of getting there was a big learning experience for our team. •

Vote for Saint Jude College or Jordan Manila and help the Philippines bring home its first [d]arc award for lighting design here. Architects, interior designers, and industrial designers are eligible to vote.

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