Profile Spotlight: Yah Li Toh – Certified Lighting Designer and Principal of Light Collab, Singapore

Yah Li Toh | IALD
Principal | Certified Lighting Designer
Light Collab

This content is part of the luxe design series. Check out the other posts on this topic.

Yah Li is the Principal of Light Collab, Singapore, and a professional member of International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD). She graduated from the architectural school of National University of Singapore and pursued Masters’s in Architectural Lighting Design in Hochschule Wismar, Germany. She also interned in Stockholm and Athens prior to joining the Singapore office of Lighting Planners Associates. Yah Li is also one of the first 5 in the world to be recognized with Certified Lighting Designer(CLD) Certification, one of 6 to be shortlisted as Designer of the Year, for the Singapore President’s Design Awards 2018, and the only one to receive commendation from the Jurors and also named as the top 40 under 40 lighting designers by Lighting Design Awards 2019. She also serves as the regional coordinator for IALD SEA and CLD board. She also served as a judge for the 36th IALD Lighting Awards 2019 and the content steering committee for the IALD Enlighten 2017 conference in Denver. She also speaks about lighting, is an educator and engages in facilitating workshops for design and lighting at tertiary institutions.

How did you get into lighting?

Since young, I was interested in architecture and loved beautiful images of spaces bathed in light and shadow. It makes my heart skip a beat. However, while I was interning at an architectural firm, I realized that light is the intangible material that made spaces come alive. I then decided to pursue the path of light. Light is the medium that can evoke emotions in spaces and that is what I wanted to work with. Since then, I furthered my education and career in lighting and there has been no looking back.

You have said in another interview “Lighting is the soul of a space and the fourth dimension.” Could you elaborate?

Light is an intangible material, that can bring life to any space. It is so magical. it can affect people physiologically and psychologically. A space made of simple planes can be made interesting with lighting.

What is your approach to “designing luminous concepts” and how do you adapt it to different spaces?

First, we listen to the client’s perspectives and project’s needs and brief. Next, we explore various possibilities and opportunities to make a difference, create different but relevant perspectives. We then explore how to go about achieving this using the art and science of lighting design. With this methodology, it is quite easy to adapt to different spaces, clients, project types.

We always start with a clean slate and challenge and explore the brief. 

How would you define Luxe Design and how do you see it evolving?

Luxe Design in relation to lighting design speaks to the exquisite quality of lighting effect, ambience and concept being expressed in the space.

Luxury for lighting has evolved from using aesthetically pleasing forms of the lighting fixtures to areas of light and health, and even light with other elements such as plants.

Tell us about a challenging project.

Project: PARKROYAL COLLECTION, Marina Bay, Singapore | ND Photography

The project
We recently completed the PARKROYAL COLLECTION Marina Bay. The hotel was completed in 1987 and has now undergone renovation works which we are involved in.

The challenges
The challenges of lighting design involve introducing layers of light in the impressive atrium space, working with limited existing lighting points, integrating the new and old elements, and the trees and planting scheme into the cascading planters. The atrium receives limited daylight exposure and poses a challenge to the survival of the trees and plants.

Project: PARKROYAL COLLECTION, Marina Bay, Singapore | ND Photography

While grow lights are definitely required to support the growth of the garden to achieve certain technical requirements of photosynthetic active radiation levels, the question was how the exposed grow lights would impact the experience of the hotel’s guests and even complement the ambience for the hotel. The garden and atrium can be seen from the surrounding guestroom corridors.

The approach
We did extensive studies and selected the grow lights carefully, to be able to be part of ambient lighting and also to sustain the growth of the plants and trees.

Luxe design in this case is about how lighting effect can transform from day to night, in co-existence with the luxury hotel for both guests and landscape. Lighting up the indoor landscape became an important part of luxe design.

Project: PARKROYAL COLLECTION, Marina Bay, Singapore | ND Photography

You are an award-winning certified lighting designer and one of the first to be recognized as a CLD. What is your advice to emerging professionals?

Perseverance and staying focused to achieve your goals...
When things become tough, do not give up. Persevere, and try different ways to tackle the issue. Explore and be open-minded and stay true to your ideals. Give yourself time to learn, gain experience and explore. It takes time for projects to be completed, thus, be patient and be hungry for knowledge. Works towards being a true professional. Being a certified lighting designer does help to elevate the status of our lighting profession.

How do you envision the ideal collaboration between client and designer?

Be patient and persevere. Communication is key. It is important to discuss and let the client buy in. Once you have their buy-in and they are very clear about what you are doing and they will not try to change your ideas..

Thoughts on networking

Networking is important and works on different levels. Networking spreads the importance of lighting design to potential collaborators and clients. Networking with fellow lighting consultants/ researchers and industry people share great knowledge and experience. I love the cross-talk networking sessions at IALD conferences and the parties at conferences where people come together to experience lighting installations. Anyone can basically network anytime if one reaches out. With such events, I feel I am not alone and able to discuss and share challenges and fellow designers often give great insights. 

Thoughts on LightFair

I would have been a first-time attendee to the LightFair last year (2020) if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. I had already planned to attend some interesting talks and was also looking forward to checking out different manufacturers, who might not be represented in Singapore/Asia. I was excited to be learning and meeting people. Unfortunately it did not materialize due to the pandemic. I hope LightFair will be in a hybrid form in 2021 so that it allows opportunities for people who cannot travel to be able to participate!

Note from LightFair: We hear you Yah Li, and we are delighted to say our 2021 conference will indeed be hybrid to allow passionate lighting professionals like you to attend from anywhere.

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