Inspired by the United Nations’ International Year of Light, Lightswitch is exploring Why Light Matters throughout 2015.

We have asked our designers why light matters to them and will be sharing their responses in a short Q&A each month. Each Q&A will focus on a different way light shapes our lives—from buildings we live in to the emotions it evokes. We hope our stories will inspire you to think about why light matters to you, and we invite you to join the dialogue on Facebook: How does your culture celebrate light?

From New York to New Delhi, light impacts us all. The global International Year of Light initiative is dedicated to engaging people worldwide in a conversation about the importance of light. We couldn’t agree more. As an international lighting design consortium, Lightswitch designs lighting for places and spaces across the globe. Our designs reflect the many unique cultural environments that surround them, whether it’s a scared Native American site in rural Virginia or a busy urban streetscape in Suzhou, China. With experience serving as the Director of Lighting Design for Lightswitch Hong Kong, and currently for Lightswitch Los Angeles, Warren Kong knows how culture can impact lighting. He shares his thoughts on designing across cultures here.

Q: What’s your cultural background?

Warren: I’m first-generation Chinese-American. My parents emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1960s with my grandparents. At that time, it was more about being American, so a lot of cultural traditions and references were thrown by the wayside to be American.

Q: How did that affect your upbringing?

Warren: It’s interesting. People ask me all the time, didn’t I love the food when I lived in Hong Kong because it must be like the food I ate growing up. The funny thing is I never grew up with that kind of food. My grandparents owned a Chinese restaurant, but it served American Chinese food. You wouldn’t see anything like that in China, but that Americanized ‘Chinese’ is my comfort food.

However, the traditional approach to Chinese education, which is very analytic and technical, was a part of my childhood. But being first generation in America, I had the chance to apply my analytical upbringing with the American emphasis on arts; it was perfect for lighting, which is really the combination of art and science.

Q: You’ve designed lighting all over the globe. Where have you worked?

Warren: Some in Europe, but mainly in the U.S. and Asia. I have worked throughout the States and in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, among other places.

Q: What is the difference between lighting design in Asia and in the States?

Warren: I think that in Asia, in general, lighting is never thought about but always required. Lighting as a craft is fairly young there, so there is a lot of catch up. You have two very polar opposites viewpoints that are common in Asia: One is it’s just light, put a can light in and it’s ok, and the other is if I’m paying for RBG lighting, then I need all the colors. A lot of my job is educating the consumer and clients to explore the subtleties of the middle range of the pendulum.

Q: What kind of education needs to take place?

Warren: For instance, there’s a backlash in more upscale environments against RGB lighting because it’s seen so often as an overload of color and imagery that inundates your life when you’re walking down the street. We recently illuminated a lobby ceiling and the client wanted very traditional cove lighting. We suggested a color-changing product that would add the brand colors to the ceiling instead. When we said ‘color-changing’ what they heard is, it's going to be a rainbow chase that is gaudy and disruptive. We proved that it could be a subtle and beautiful expression of their company brand and at the every end they were very happy with it.

Q: Do you prefer designing in Asia or the U.S.?

Warren: For the most part, I prefer Asia because there is more access to products, mostly because they don’t have the same regulations they do in the U.S. So, if an interior designer comes to me and gives me their ideas about a decorative fixture, I can design a custom fixture and then a sconce or cylinder to go with it. I can create an entire series of lights and have them manufactured locally for 5% of what it would cost in the U.S. It means that as I designer I don't have to compromise.

Q: What can American designers learn from other cultures?

Warren: I think too often in the U.S. lighting designers are close-minded when it comes to working with other cultures. We reference what we do in the U.S., what’s popular and relevant here, instead of listening to what the client’s needs are and what culturally is relevant in that region. For instance, I recently had a conversation with an American lighting designer who was quoting American codes when talking about a project in Hong Kong. The assumption was that this is the way we have to do it, even though in reality those codes are not relevant there.

We should always keep in mind that the rest of the world does not revolve around America. The products we select, the way we design and the references we call upon need to be regional.

Q: Are there any ‘universal’ lighting truths that apply to all cultures?

Warren: The utility of lighting and light as art. All cultures in Asia and the U.S. accept light as a form of art. Whether it’s for a rock concert or an art installation, light is understood as an acceptable form of artistry. I think that holds true for all cultures. And, to that note, the emotional impact that light has also transcends all cultural boundaries.