Women in Lighting

Your Interview Mari Sakaue Kato

Introduce yourself (name, company, position, country) and tell us how you got into lighting design (including education/qualifications).

My name is Mari Sakaue Kato. I have worked in various fields related to lighting design, including as a lighting designer and engineer.  I currently work as a certified electrician at an electrical installation company.

I pursued my strong interest in the field of architecture as an architecture major at Musashino Art University.  My first encounter with the field of lighting design came as a revelation during an exhibition I chanced to attend during my university days, which sparked my interest in the field. I then met a lighting designer whose work greatly inspired me, and my interest shifted from architectural design to lighting design. Once my interest was sparked by lighting design, I was hooked and knew I needed to get into this field.

After graduating from university, I worked as an in-house lighting designer for a lighting manufacturing company for five and a half years. Although I greatly enjoyed this formative experience in my career development, I didn’t feel the position was right for me long term, and I began to look for a better environment. At the same time, I still wanted to be involved in lighting design, and became more interested in the system of constructing lighting installation, as opposed to the design process itself (For example, the structure of light fixtures or control system of lighting effects). At this point I decided to change my career from a lighting designer to an engineer.

I spent 10 years at my next job, where I was mainly in charge of designing lighting control systems. I was involved in a wide range of lighting designs, such as designing custom fixtures, creating lighting systems for events, and so on. I also sometimes did on-site supervision, which allowed me to learn a great deal about control systems while on-the-job.

It was a valuable experience for me to learn how to solve system problems while on-site. I often worked with lighting designers, and I could make creative attempts as an engineer at the actual locations while collaborating with them. I also communicated directly with clients and lighting manufacturers. These experiences showed me how many people in different positions create lighting together - something I couldn’t see when I was an in-house lighting designer.

This experience, and in particular the on-site learning I was able to accomplish, was very fulfilling, and instilled a desire in me to expand my learning about electricity and the electrical installation process, as opposed to focusing solely on lighting control systems. I decided to change my job and joined the electrical installation company where I currently work.

During the course of my career, I have obtained certifications as a first-class architect and first-class electrician.

Tell us about your work – is there a specific type of project you like to work on or an area you specialise in and why?

I currently engage in general building electrical installations and the design of lighting control systems focusing on DMX, my area of expertise. There are still very few electricians who understand control systems such as DMX, and conversely, control system designing companies often have problems coordinating with actual electrical work. There are established experts in design, construction, and programming, but few people that can connect all of them.

I am in the position of a lubricator, bridging the gap among them on the side of the electrical installation company.

When working on the control and installation, I need to communicate with everyone involved - lighting designers, architects, other designers, the actual end-users, installers, and even clients. Since I have the expertise to adjust the electrical works, I can be flexible in communicating fairly, balancing the team. It’s an irregular position, but it’s fulfilling to be able to solve problems that others find difficult.

Given my interest in architectural lighting, I would like to get involved in lighting design used in our daily lives. Nowadays, IoT systems can manage many things like telecommunications, HVAC, window blinds, sounds, security, etc., and it’s becoming commonplace for these systems to be installed as part of the building environment. I want to put it together as a total environmental network system, including lighting Reading Counts.

What project are you most proud of and why?

I had the opportunity to work on a project for the Tokyo headquarters of a global IT company. I designed and installed a lighting control system on the floor, with many unique lighting effects. It was tough to link the latest network system with the lighting effects. The process was complex as well, but I’m happy with the way I was able to solve problems when they occurred. I think being on-site in my role as electric installer helped tremendously in that situation.

Aside from specialized projects such as stage lighting, lighting control in buildings is usually installed by general electricians. Some of them feel that the project is complete as long as the lights turn on, meeting the minimum requirements. They don’t necessarily care much if they don’t completely understand the system. When defects occur later, it isn’t easy to find the reason for it because the installation process was unclear.

While it’s true that some issues can only be found after all the programs are built-in, I realized that by tracking the process, we could save time by solving problems before they got bigger, by having electric installers who understand the system like me on-site. This led us to exceed the expectations of the designers and the programmers. I think it was an excellent example of this new position.

What is the biggest challenge that you have overcome in your career?

To create a designer lighting space on a construction site, various people in various roles are needed, and they each have their goals and agendas. For example, if you are a designer, you want to create the space you envision. If you are an equipment manufacturer, you want to sell more of your fixtures. If you are an electrical installer, you want to have enough time to do the job safely. It is necessary to find a way to complete the actual construction, while respecting the different views. It’s important to realize that everyone’s opinions are equally valid from their standpoints.
What I’ve learned is how to offer solutions, balancing the situation by understanding the different positions. Now I can empathize with many different standpoints and imagine their responsibilities, based on my experience. It’s a skill I acquired little by little, as I worked naturally, not something I was taught. I believe my mission is to get a broad perspective and use my knowledge to optimize different ideas from different standpoints so they can work together.

How does light inspire you?

Light is so appealing to me because it changes. I can see it in the weather, for instance. I am interested in shifting light.

I think lighting should be changeable to make the environment comfortable depending on the season, time, temperature, humidity, and emotions, just like a human’s biorhythm.

I am attracted to lighting control because I can completely change the impression of a place with it. There is no doubt that lighting significantly decides the comfort or discomfort of a space. This interesting facet of lighting makes my work exciting and fun, and it’s a constant fascination.

What is your message for other Women In Lighting?

In the Japanese lighting industry, there are many women in the design field and fewer in the control and installation fields. I experienced both. What I want to tell you is that there is no barrier if you wish to do it. I hope more and more women will get rid of the assumption that “it might be difficult to do it because I’m a woman” and take up the challenge.

Lighting designer is not the only position needed to create lighting. There are many positions out there. I hope to see new roles that have never existed before, including positions like mine, and I believe you can get involved in lighting in various ways if you love it. I want to see more opportunities for women in the field of lighting.


Interviewed by Lyshus; Translated by Akane H / Michael J. Terry

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Mentor

Mari Sakaue Kato

Electrician, Engineer
Japan
Lives in:
Kawasaki Kanagawa, Japan
Born in:
Kawasaki Kanagawa, Japan
Qualifications:
Musashino Art University / Department of Architecture
Started working with light in:
2003
Offices worked at:
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (Panasonic Corporation), CREA Ltd.
Now works at:
Shoei Electric Company
As well as being:
A Certified Electrician
haHas been awarded:
IEIJ Design Award for Light and Lighting for A Modern Symbol of the Cityscape : ONOMICHI DISASTER CONTROL CENTER in joint names with Akira Ito from Kume Sekkei Co., Ltd.
Loves:
Bridges, Letters, Green plants

“What I want to tell you is that there is no barrier if you wish to do it.”

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