Your Interview Ruth Kelly Waskett
Introduce yourself (name, company, position, country) and tell us how you got into lighting design (including education/qualifications).
I’m Ruth Kelly Waskett and I’m an Associate in the Lighting team at Hoare Lea in the UK. I’m originally from Dublin, Ireland and have lived in the UK, with a brief stint in Stockholm, since 1999.
I originally studied building services engineering at Technical University of Dublin. Lighting was very briefly touched upon as part of my degree, but when I graduated, I ended up being more focussed on mechanical building services, so I didn’t have much to do with lighting for the first few years of my career. However, my interest in lighting, and in particular daylight, was still there.
Feeling a bit restless, I came across a profile of Florence Lam on Arup’s website. It explained how she had moved into lighting with the help of the MSc in Light & Lighting at UCL. I was inspired and enrolled on the course. I did the MSc part time whilst working for Atkins, during which time I asked to get involved with lighting on the project I was working on at the time, which was a refurbishment programme of several London Underground stations. Atkins was very supportive, but at that time they did not have a lighting group. I was seconded to Pinniger & Partners and the exposure I got to the work of a lighting design practice was invaluable. I knew that lighting was where my passion lay.
When my first child reached school age, I hit a career wall. We had moved out of London when we started a family, we don’t have family nearby and childcare provision was limited. Then I saw an advert for a PhD studentship at DeMontfort University. The project was to investigate the benefits of an innovative smart glazing material, with daylighting and visual comfort being at the heart of it. I applied and was accepted. It was a dream come true to be able to continue my career, albeit in a more academic direction, whilst being able to manage looking after our young family. I did my PhD over 5 years, and towards the end I became involved in the MEng in Architectural Engineering at UCL, developing and teaching lighting to first year students. I also became a dissertation tutor to students on the MSc Light & Lighting course. But an academic career didn’t seem like the right fit, and I tentatively started to look around for opportunities to get back into consultancy again. A chance conversation with another wonderful woman in lighting led me to Hoare Lea, where I have been working since 2017.
I got involved with SLL (the Society of Light & Lighting) back when I was studying for the MSc. I went to an SLL conference in Dublin where I met Liz Peck, who I now can say changed the course of my life by persuading me to volunteer for the SLL Newsletter Committee (now the Communications Committee). I owe so much to Liz and her untimely death earlier this year is still painful, as I know it is for so many people in the industry who knew her. I stayed involved with SLL through the years, contributing to guides and standards with a focus on daylight, eventually being nominated as Vice President in 2017.
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 specialise in Daylight. It’s easy to be passionate about daylight because it’s so fundamental to architecture and to our lives. We need daylight in the same way that we need food and exercise, and it also defines so much beauty in our lives. As lighting designers one of our challenges is to recognise daylight as the unique light source that it is, so that we can embrace it and use it as part of a holistic lighting design practice.
What project are you most proud of and why?
It’s not built yet, but Timber Square is a project that stands out for me. It’s a new workplace development for Landsec at Lavington Street in London. It’s a landmark project in terms of sustainability, with the ambition for net zero carbon in construction and operation. It also aims to be the largest commercial development in the UK to use cross-laminated timber (CLT). We worked closely with the architects Bennetts Associates to carefully balance daylight and thermal performance, and develop a lighting design that is flexible enough to minimise wastage during fit-out stage. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it become a reality!
What is the biggest challenge that you have overcome in your career?
One of the biggest challenges has been to keep my career going through having children and raising a family. The fact is that the burden of parenthood falls more heavily on women’s shoulders. Though we know it doesn’t have to be that way, and things are changing, there are many barriers to cross for a woman who chooses to become a parent and whose partner also has a career. There were several moments when it would have been easier to just stop trying and stay at home for a few years to focus on the family. That’s what many talented women I know did when they had kids, because they just couldn’t make things work. Certainly, company policies around parental leave and flexible working help, but what we really need is to see more women in our field who reach senior positions whilst still managing their personal commitments and staying sane(ish).
How does light inspire you?
The transformative power of light inspires me. Whether it is natural or artificial, I love how light can completely transform our perception of a space and change how we feel. I also love the unexpected “wow moments” that daylight in particular can bring. For example how sunlight sometimes casts a beautiful pattern, which is completely accidental, but nonetheless magical. This can happen in any setting from the domestic to the majestic.
What is your message for other Women In Lighting?
Follow your passions! Don’t let others’ expectations of you be the thing that drives your decisions – trust your instincts.
Ruth Kelly Waskett
Designer, Educator, Engineer
“Don’t let others’ expectations of you be the thing that drives your decisions – trust your instincts.”