Your Interview Sebnem Gemalmaz
Designer, Artist, Educator, Management
Introduce yourself (name, company, position, country) and tell us how you got into lighting design (including education/qualifications).
My name is Sebnem Gemalmaz, from Istanbul. I am leading lighting design discipline at Arup in İstanbul, Turkiye.
My background is urban planning, holding M.Sc. Urban Design (YTU) and M.Sc. Lighting Design (KTH). My interest in lighting is derived from 2005, when I was doing my first master’s in urban design. While studying “The image of A City”, had realized that the night-time was missing in our ideal city discussions. I remember a friend of mine was talking about lighting masterplans. It was the turning point of my design approach and sensed that I might have found an amazing tool to integrate the night-time into overall design process.
Finalized my urban design thesis about lighting, with using “space syntax theory” to analyse correlation among night-time conditions of the landmarks, pedestrian movement rate and street structure of a heritage district in Istanbul. Since then, I have been thinking, writing, talking about nocturnal cities and integrating different aspects into lighting design.
Upon practiced as an urban planner-designer for a while; in 2008, I decided to completely change my career path and go further in the field of lighting design and joined KTH-Royal Institute of Technology-Sweden for my second master. In there, I met “a real darkness”, the beauty of Scandinavian Design and amazing Lighting Laboratory People. I never forget how I was mesmerized by the skyline of the city, the colors and the light.
While writing my thesis, I had also worked for the Municipality of Stockholm to develop an urban study which was about creating methodologies for both analyses and strategy development processes for existing and expecting night-time image of Stockholm. The City was planning to do a refreshment of its nocturnal image for the Millennium. That experience has always been the most valuable one of my lighting paths.
In 2010, I came back home- Istanbul and had worked as a lighting designer. In 2013, decided to leave again and apply to Arup Singapore office to join the lighting team with my classmates from KTH. I ended up starting the lighting design department in Istanbul, though. Since then, I have been leading lighting design business in Turkiye and focusing on my editorial and educational lighting design studies.
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?
In Arup we work for a very large variety of projects, different scales, in different locations. It is amazing to have a global lighting team to be in contact and design together. In Istanbul, we have been mostly involved in large scale multifunctional complexes, urban lighting design and planning projects.
What project are you most proud of and why?
The latest lighting masterplan, just finalized in 2022, Konak-Kemeraltı Lighting Masterplan II (KAMP), is one of the key projects of mine in many ways. I like not to repeat myself, to push my boundaries and be innovative and unique for each of my projects. KAMP shows my vision and my relationship with light and space.
Focusing on the social lighting concept, the plan proposed to create dialogue with light among different communities through turning some streets into playscapes permanently. There is an additional plan layer “PLAY” which shows how play expands itself with light beyond playgrounds to let the children be involved in the city, be seen to enhance sense of belonging and facilitate to create community.
The area- Konak Kemeraltı- has always been a cosmopolitan core for the city with the commercial and residential zones. Nowadays the area hosts Syrian and African refugees and families from the East part of Turkey, keeping multicultural characteristics. There is no common spoken language, but PLAY. Children are out, playing on the streets. It was what I forgot to see because of living in big cities for many years. I am very happy to be able to hear the stories the area has been already telling us to include them into the planning process.
The plan might be the first lighting masterplan which puts “Children” in the core and add “PLAY” as a permanent planning layer.
How does light inspire you?
Imagine that you have a very artistic medium which links you to the field of physics, biology, physiology, sociology and even politics- unbelievable rich with many dimensions.
This richness inspires me every day to create.
What is your message for other Women In Lighting?
Collaboration and multidisciplinary working will always expand your horizon. You might have a fantastic idea; but you can better improve and achieve your project with others. Not only with technical/design experts but also collaborating with finance or management teams will help improve your work. So, the key is to be open for new ideas and challenge yourself to explore more.
I also believe it is very important to be aware of your “own light/sparkle”, it might be different than the others, still let it shine”
“I also believe it is very important to be aware of your “own light/sparkle”, it might be different than the others, still let it shine.”