Architect and lighting designer;
Born: March 2, 1958; Died: June 18, 2012.
Jonathan Speirs, who has died aged 54 of cancer, was an architect who came to specialise in lighting. He was one of the world's leading exponents in the field of lighting design, and he leaves a remarkable legacy in the built environment and in the profession.
Born in Scotland, he moved around the UK as a child, as the family followed his father's positions in hotel management. After settling in the west of Scotland, he was educated at Bearsden Academy, then trained in architecture at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh College of Art.
As a student, his lifelong enthusiasm for live music led him to become involved in lighting and pyrotechnics for friends' bands, and to take part-time jobs crewing at local venues. The worlds of architecture and entertainment were to merge in his realisation that light was at the centre of his interest in buildings and their environment.
In 1984, while completing his studies, he co-founded Lighting Design Partnership. The company went on to become a hugely successful leader in the still-nascent profession of architectural lighting design, completing a hugely varied portfolio of projects throughout Europe and beyond.
In 1992 he left to form Jonathan Speirs and Associates, shortly followed by Speirs and Major Associates in partnership with Mark Major. The two firms eventually became what is now Speirs + Major, recently named Lighting Design Practice of the Decade at the 10th annual Lighting Design Awards.
The practice has won many awards in the UK and internationally for its diverse projects, including an unprecedented consecutive hat trick of the Radiance Award from the International Association of Lighting Designers.
He was made a Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland in 2010 and given the Incorporation's Lifetime Achievement Award – the highest award the organisation can bestow and only the fifth to be conferred. He also received an honorary doctorate from Heriot Watt University, was made an honorary member of the International Association of Lighting Designers and was accorded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Professional Lighting Design Recognition Awards.
This level of respect from his peers does much to characterise his influence; he was hugely respected by everyone in the lighting industry, always generous to students and young designers with his time and experience, always genuinely interested in the work of others, in lighting, architecture, landscape and beyond.
He was in demand as a knowledgeable and entertaining conference speaker and enjoyed addressing the widest range of audiences, from architectural congresses through hands-on student workshops to an appearance on Blue Peter talking about London's nightscape from a boat on the Thames. Despite all this, he was generally modest about his achievements and those of the practice.
The passion and curiosity which drove him into design and into lighting originally never abated – everyone who has ever worked with him remembers his returning from far-flung travels with a camera full of photographs, already mentally translated into inspirations, and shared with enthusiasm.
The portfolio of projects which he and his team delivered is as varied as it is prestigious. Major projects include EuroDisney's hotels and Terry Farrell's Embankment Place at Charing Cross in London with LDP; and as Speirs + Major, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Henning Larson's Copenhagen Opera House, Nicholas Grimshaw's Berlin Stock Exchange, Swiss Re (the "Gherkin"), Zurich's Dolder Grand Hotel and numerous other projects with Foster and Partners, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge with Wilkinson Eyre and dynamic lighting on the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa, with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.
In Scotland, he played a part in the Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; Glasgow's Lighthouse, HBOS' historic headquarters, the refurbished Usher Hall and Buchanan Street's Princes Square. Alongside these obviously notable commissions, he was always interested in smaller interesting projects, such as The Eric Morecambe Memorial in Morecambe, coincidentally a place where he had spent time as a child when his father managed the Midland Hotel.
As an employer, he gave many lighting designers (this writer included) an early break, encouragement to develop, a hard (but fair) time when things were not good enough, and some almost impossible technical challenges to realise.
"Almost", because the ideas were always so good, that his team and his many collaborators across the industry would go the extra mile, innovate, and do things which had never been done before in order to deliver them.
This influence is embedded in the profession as the many designers who worked with him at some point between 1984 and 2012 continue to produce acclaimed work at practices around the world, to start new firms, to educate students and young designers and to pass on the inspiration.
Speirs + Major, the practice which still bears his name, continues to evolve and to work on worldwide projects from bases in London and Edinburgh, under the directorship of Mark Major and Keith Bradshaw, and retaining a number of staff who have helped to grow the practice for over a decade.
For many years, he spent a great deal of time travelling – finding, securing and working on an extraordinary range of international projects.
What always grounded him, however, was returning to his family in Edinburgh, and to their second home in New York state, where they have many good friends.
He will be missed not only by his family, friends and immediate colleagues, but by his peers in the lighting design profession, those in the wider lighting industry, in architecture and design, and his many friends the world over.
Jonathan Speirs is survived by his wife Liz, daughters Lucie and Erin, his sister, brothers and father.
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