People, Perspective

Profile Spotlight: David Ghatan

PROJECT Music City Center LOCATION Nashville, TN ARCHITECT TVS Design, Tuck Hinton, and Moody Nolan


David Ghatan, CLD | FIALD | LC | MIES
President, CM Kling + Associates

David Ghatan is deeply involved in lighting design through professional and personal pursuits. Ghatan is immediate past president (2018-2019) of the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), is active with the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) on the Hospitality Committee, and a former member of the LightFair Management Committee.

David Ghatan will be presenting a 45-minute talk on “Lighting Design +” on Architecture Day, May 13, 2021 as part of NYCXDESIGN’s Design Days.

We asked David about his approach to lighting design, thoughts on trends and transitions, favorite LightFair memories, and more.

Inspiration, early career, mentors

In theatre, there’s often a physicality to light where you can reach out and touch it.

I started my lighting career in the local DC theatre community. I have always had a passion for architecture and art and thought I would grow up to be an architect. As a kid, I enjoyed building cities with Lego and blocks in the basement. At University I chose a broader course of study. Focusing on the training of the Designer and investing in Theatre Design, Fine Art, Art History and Architecture.

While studying at GWU, I interned with Candy Kling and found my future profession in architectural lighting design. Candy was my closest mentor. I worked and learned alongside her for 14 years, then succeeded her as President of CM KLING.

In theatre, there’s often a physicality to light where you can reach out and touch it. Much of my architectural design work, especially hospitality, is a derivative of my theatrical storytelling experience using that physicality.

Building a professional brand

David Ghatan - Square 37, Washington, D. C
Square 37, Washington, D. C. | Luxury residential completed in 2017 | Lighting design: CM KLING + ASSOCIATES | Lighting design: Ingo Maurer – Decorative lighting and custom luminaire credit | Architect: Arquitectos | Architect of Record: WDG Architecture | Photo credits: Courtesy of CM KLING + ASSOCIATES

My professional success has been based on advocacy for the profession and quality lighting design.

I believe strongly that the “lighting family” is a strong community. Through our shared experience we are defining the Profession of Architectural Lighting Design. This connection allows you to learn, find mentorship, and grow your own identity in a supportive and forward-thinking environment.

I have long been a believer in core values. Those you keep as your own personal values, those a company can maintain, and those a society or community can cherish.

For me finding these tenants anchors the design process and professional development. I am lucky in that the company I work for and the team I work with share common beliefs to my own values. We focus on integrity and quality, spending significant time advocating for the value of these elements in design and construction. We focus on a healthy and collaborative process where we work hard but find joy and laughter while doing so. And work with the best designers we can to make that experience even better. It is important as you look inward in your career to figure out what you want out of it.

Design, to me, means more than just locating which light goes where on a plan. This is a relationship. We need to be invested in controls and how the lighting works. We need to engage beyond the opening day to make sure the design is living and working. The development of LED really clarified that for me. This new source that can be integrated in so many ways, do so many things, and does not have a clear end of life means that the lighting system needed to be thought of as a living and breathing part of the building.

The designer has a duty to think of their work beyond just what does it look like on day one.

Project spotlight

Javits Center
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Expansion, New York

To solidify Javits’s position as the premier event facility and convention center, the focus on state-of-the-art meeting space including the unique roof pavilion is key. The entire project is flooded with natural light and features spectacular views of Manhattan and the Hudson River. The glass façade allows natural light in throughout the day. The building is designed to be a jewel box at night along 11th Avenue. This is a project about grand spaces on a large scale. The East/West concourses run a full city block.

  • Project: Design Build.
  • 90,000 square feet of additional permanent exhibition space, 45,000 square feet of additional meeting spaces, 55,000 square feet of additional ballroom space
  • New roof terrace for 1,500-person outdoor event space and farm
  • Digital controls system with individual fixture controls allows for maximum flexibility.
  • Bright and luminous spaces: wall washing, ceiling uplighting, and custom backlighted ceilings in concourses
  • NY Architect: tvsdesign. Contractor: Lend Lease/ Turner Joint Venture


Lighting design trends

Photo: Cranes, Washington, D.C. | Lighting design and photo credit: CM KLING + ASSOCIATES
  • UV trends are a mystery. We are keeping tabs but taking a cautious approach.
  • Human Lighting and lighting for healthy living are being embraced at a higher level. We have always thought about the experience. Now we are including the health of the experience in our design thinking.
  • Office environments: We see the mix changing—not as much open office and not as much assigned work stations. I expect we will see more of a hybrid work model and that will impact the layouts in office environments.
  • Public sector: While funds from local governments are down we are finding a higher level of discussion about how quality lighting and lighting controls can impact the space and be a participant in the safe use of the space.

Best advice I live by

Be nice to everyone.

I was told early on “be nice to everyone because you never know when it comes back.” I have experienced this remarkably often in my career. Someone whom you think is your biggest enemy in a meeting or on a project somehow changes jobs, and years later reaches out with a project or opportunity. It is key to remember that as a lighting designer, you are one piece of the puzzle. And only one piece of the lighting team. Respect for everyone’s role and everyone’s time is important. Be nice to everyone.

Networking, volunteering and associations

LightFair is the only show that is developed by and for the lighting community due to the unique shared ownership.

Participation in the industry societies fosters national and international connections. IALD/ IES provide a community. Their ownership stake in Lightfiar is critical. LightFair offers an opportunity for members to get together in person, network, and collaborate. It is also is the only show that is developed by and for the lighting community due to the unique shared ownership.

  • Volunteer for the IES and the IALD. The connections and career development opportunities are invaluable.
  • Attend conferences, trade shows, events. Obviously, in-person helps but the quality of the virtual conferences has been high and allowed for creative networking.

Mentorship is key

Ideally, it is a close, collaborative relationship. This requires work from both parties but the payoff is lasting and great. Look for an environment where you feel your voice can be heard, you can learn, and where the values are similar to your own.

Seamless transitions and Covid-19 silver linings

The transition to remote work was seamless and the lack of interruption in productivity was a surprise. CM KLING has always fostered in-office work to encourage collaboration and corporate culture.

Design-wise we continue to explore technologies and solutions that were not on the top of our minds 6 months ago- UV lighting, lighting as a disinfectant, etc.

We also are seeing a greater awareness of the humanistic approach to design: thinking not just about Circadian Lighting as a technology but as a philosophy for creating environments that promote healthy lives.

Favorite LightFair memories

Networking at LIghtFair
Networking at LightFair

So many great ones. I will go with two.

My very first Lightfair I was an intern. The office decided to drive from DC to NY for the day and do a mad sprint through the show (it was a smaller show). A daunting task. We arrived at Javits and realized that we showed up on the last day and it was only a half-day. I think we literally ran from booth to booth. Had wonderful introductions to products, saw friends and colleagues and then found time to head to the Empire State Building and enjoy the great views of Manhattan. A wild and crazy introduction to the energy of Lightfair.

In 2018-2019 I was IALD President. As part of that role, I was lucky enough to present at the Innovation Awards and do the Best Booth Awards. Both experiences were wonderful. They were great ways to connect with products I might have otherwise overlooked and to emphasize the relationship of IALD, IES and IMC in Lightfair.

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