Judith Haase is a German architect who, upon graduating, began working with the famed stage designer and ‘theatre artist’ Robert Wilson. Through working with Wilson she met the French scenographer Pierre Jorge Gonzalez, and together in 1999 they formed Gonzalez Haase AAS, a Berlin-based studio that specialises in a distinctive blend of architecture, scenography and lighting-led spatial concepts. Their instantly recognisable aesthetic was cultivated during a leaner economic period for Berlin and they now apply it to high-profile, global commissions in the fashion, art and civic sectors.
We sat down with Haase to delve into the singular way she works with light – an often overlooked element of great design.
How did lighting become one of the driving considerations in your work?
Well, Robert Wilson’s work was not like typical stage dressing – it’s so three-dimensional and also the lighting was always very beautiful. When I started working with Pierre Jorge, lighting quickly became an important part of what we do. We started with gallery spaces and then came into fashion. Our thinking was that, whether it’s art or fashion, it’s about creating a nice way of exposing objects, without revealing the distracting, technical elements. We never wanted visible lighting in the form of, say, a spotlight.
How does this play into the overall sensibility of your practice?
[Pierre Jorge and I] were both very influenced by being in Berlin. When we came here there wasn’t any money but there was a gallery boom. We’d worked together and planned Robert Wilson’s cultural centre in the US and knew how to light galleries and art spaces, so it felt like we were in the right place at the right time. We had to find concepts and materials that fitted the budgets and from this came a truly multidisciplinary language, which became recognisable and is still one that our clients ask for even though there is more money now!
How does light dictate the way you approach each new project?
Firstly, it’s not the light itself that’s so important, it’s the space we want to light – the light is a tool. A good example is the private collection and exhibition space we designed for Jarla Partilager. We spent two months on the lighting alone, calculating how to reflect the perfect amount of it off the concrete ceiling, but in a way where you never actually ‘see’ the light.
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Is there such a thing as ‘perfect light’ in your field?
It’s case by case. Sometimes we make it a little bit warmer, sometimes a little bit colder. Whatever we’re supposed to be showcasing we look at the colour rendering and how to highlight that best. With fashion stores it’s so important, of course – you don’t want to buy something that looks black in the store and then discover outside that it’s blue! Restaurants are interesting as well. For Manufactum in Stuttgart we had to consider how, for example, meat might look unappetising in the wrong light.
Do you ever stumble across beautiful light in your work by accident?
No, it’s always very thought through. After we clean up the space [that we’re going to be working with] we take the exact measurements: from every beam, from every little step or jump. We measure it totally and then we build it in 3D, inserting the elements that need to be included. We work out how to light it from there to achieve the light we need.
Are there certain inspirations that you draw on from a lighting perspective?
Not so much in new architecture but certainly from artists. There are classics though, such as [Mexican architect] Luis Barragán. [He] thought about everything already; he was always integrating light from nature – the colours he worked with were often very different but we take inspiration and apply a more ‘Berlin palette’, perhaps.
Do you have a type of light that’s a personal favourite?
No, although I’m very much surprised by that. The most amazing light, of course, is in nature but you cannot imitate that. And I’m always surprised when I go to Italy and the light is so different. Everything changes, in the right light.