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Telling Stories with Light

For Teal Brogden, Senior Principal of HLB Lighting Design, light is a powerful agent of expression. Her mastery of the medium, honed over a career that helped build HLB into the largest independent architectural lighting design firm in North America, is rooted in a sincere appreciation for the balancing act at the core of her profession: the dichotomies of light and shadow, aspiration and pragmatism, and the ephemeral and technical qualities of illumination. “The art of illumination and the science of delivering illumination is a place of harmony for me,” Brogden explains. “I’m grateful to come into a profession that affords opportunities in creative explorations. Artistic essence is the core of any design challenge.”

Teal Brogden is a senior principal at HLB Lighting Design.

Teal is particularly passionate about the concept of storytelling through light. As a longtime lover of dance, she draws upon its many parallels with lighting design to communicate visual narratives through rhythm, composition, and nuance. “Light, architecture, and landscape tell a story in every community, even in the daytime. We ask the architects and clients we’re collaborating with for their emotional and aspirational narratives. What are we trying to do? In great design, there is always a story behind the inspiration for the design, even if that story is to make something as practical as it can be.”

Brogden uses several of her projects to illustrate how lighting tells stories.

Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles (image credits: Raimung Koch & KPF)

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California, features a striking façade of undulating cladding. It creates a sense of motion, quite appropriate for a museum that tells the story of the automobile. “We took our inspiration from the architecture,” Brogden explains. “Lighting is a magical mystery that beckons people to explore. “Museums provide adventure. People come here to learn, to follow their curiosity.” The simplicity of Brogden’s design lets the power of the architecture come through. “The light dances with the architecture,” she says.

Tobin Performing Arts Center in San Antonio (image credit: Ed LaCasse Photography

The Tobin Performing Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas, had survived a fire, but was languishing and located in an underutilized area of the city. The project offered an opportunity to save an historic piece of the city while modernizing the facility with a substantial addition and also attract people to the area for events and community activities. “New and old architecture weave together but have their own stories to tell,” says Brogden. “The historic architecture is juxtaposed with the new. The lighting design similarly celebrates the historical part of building with warmer lighting and the modern architecture with subtly cooler light.”

Xiqu Centre in Hong Kong (image credit: Ema Peter Photography)

The Xiqu Centre in Hong Kong is a place that many hands built, so the façade has a handwrought character to it. “The artistic essence of this project is expressed through the allegory of the curtain being drawn. The story of the illumination is to light the sculpted architecture to appear as fabric, as a curtain, celebrating the art-form Xiqu,” says Brogden. For the exterior, all lighting is at the crown of the building and lights downward, sustainably setting the stage for the experience of the architecture. “Lighting moves through the forms and takes you on the journey of the architecture, to the ultimate crescendo, the performance hall,” explains Brogden. “Flow and chi were considered in every move we made with the light.”

San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso (image credit: Jonnu Singleton/SWA)

Something that stuck with Brogden from her college days was learning how sculptures in Rome help people orient and navigate through the city. “That idea of discovery plays strongly in the work that I look to craft,” says Brogden. In the San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, Texas, for example, the canopy above an iconic alligator sculpture brings prominence to the center of the park. That gave Brogden and team the opportunity to illuminate the canopy and sculpture and help people understand there is more to discover in the plaza than just its perimeter. A series of outdoor ‘rooms’ move the public from the bustle of the urban center at the perimeter to quiet inner spaces and finally to the sculpture of the center.

“Light helps pull people along the process of discovery,” Brogden says. “It reassures and piques your interest. Sometimes it is meditative and sometimes it can surprise and delight you along the way. In outdoor public spaces, safety is important, and lighting designers have to cover the basics of making places feel comfortable and safe, but there are lots of ways to do that. In every discipline of design, you need to think about the holistic gesture you’re making and about community engagement, but it always comes back to the individual experience, so we find ways to engage curiosity and a sense of discovery.”


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