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Avraham Mor of Morlights: “Lighting has been an area that has grown tremendously in sustainability over the past decade”

Lighting has been an area that has grown tremendously in sustainability over the past decade. The shift to LED technology moved us in that direction, but today that technology has matured and become not only more widely used, but more able to meet the needs of homeowners who are looking for a quality of light […]

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Lighting has been an area that has grown tremendously in sustainability over the past decade. The shift to LED technology moved us in that direction, but today that technology has matured and become not only more widely used, but more able to meet the needs of homeowners who are looking for a quality of light and better control of the light in their homes. Those new developments mean that more people will be happy using more energy efficient lighting, and thus it will be able to have an even greater impact on the environment.


As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Avraham Mor.

Avraham “Avi” M. Mor has been practicing lighting design for over 15 years, growing his business from a small operation with only a handful of clients to a bustling firm with projects of all sizes located around the nation. Avi’s work spans commercial, hospitality, residential and educational projects, including work for major U.S. museums and multiple collaborations with renowned architects such as Studio Gang. Avi has been recognized by The U. S. Department of Energy, where he serves as a committee member and forum reviewer for The Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

After graduating from the University of Kansas with a BFA in Theater Design with an emphasis in Architectural and Theatrical Lighting Design, I moved back to my hometown, Chicago, to further my craft. I knew even then that I wanted to find that “sweet spot” where architecture and lighting intersect to elevate the built environment to something that truly becomes art. I love the impact lighting has not only on what we see, but how we see it; and also on a million factors we take for granted: safety, ability to perform our work, our mental wellbeing — all the human considerations.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

An early tipping point was breaking through to working with two major architecture firms in Chicago. It was right after we completed work on theWit Hotel in downtown Chicago — a project that garnered a lot of attention for its design and demonstrated that we could really provide a great design solution. More recently, a tipping point was the renaming of my practice in October. Covid definitely interfered with our plans for the full rollout, but we are busy, and we are working with StudioORD on designing the O’Hare airport expansion lighting design — with two of the city’s most recognized architectural firms.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

In 2000 I was at the University of Kansas studying Theater Design specializing in Lighting Design. My favorite trade magazine was LightingDimensions. In the fall issue, I believe, there was an ad for a senior lighting designer at an architectural lighting design firm located in Chicago. As a Chicago native… I sent my portfolio and applied for the job. A few weeks later I went home, and met Jim Baney and Carla Bukalski of Schuler Shook. I learned that I could get a full time job doing architectural lighting design. Carla had even gone to Kansas and told me of the classes I could take. I was blown away. I met a number of other designers in Chicago such as Robert Shook, Gulio Pedota, and Leslie North who were all doing architectural lighting design and making a living. Up to that point I had never been exposed to the prospect of this line of work… and I have never turned back thanks to all these people.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

When I was younger I attended a talk by Ken Billington, famous theatrical lighting designer. He said that, at the time, he did not hire kids who had college degrees. He wanted to train his assistants himself. He also talked about graduate degrees: “You will not get paid more in our field just because you have spent more money on a degree.” This has always stuck with me. I believe that real-world experience is more valuable than educational experience. It’s how I looked for my staff; people willing to learn and know there is so much more to learn. I spent more time in school learning about who I was and how to treat people, just learning to be on my own, than I did about lighting design.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Well less of a life lesson but a favorite phrase is “suspension of disbelief,” the idea that you believe in the alternate reality being presented to you, whether in a theater watching a movie, or entering a space. I believe lighting design helps tell a story in the spaces we design. And for some of the restaurants we have designed, we assist the chef, owner and interior designer in creating an atmosphere where you are comfortable. Your company and the food is all that exists in that time and space.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.

Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?

Lighting has been an area that has grown tremendously in sustainability over the past decade. The shift to LED technology moved us in that direction, but today that technology has matured and become not only more widely used, but more able to meet the needs of homeowners who are looking for a quality of light and better control of the light in their homes. Those new developments mean that more people will be happy using more energy efficient lighting, and thus it will be able to have an even greater impact on the environment.

There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?

One easy way to think about Smart Homes is that they are about control and automation. More and more products — including many home lighting products — allow us to control the lighting in our homes from apps on our cell phones or computers; to program scenes to change on their own; and even to be responsive to changes in the environment such as daylight or time of day. Moving forward, there will be increased capacity for that kind of automation and responsiveness, but current technology and controls already allow us to use smart lighting to enhance the safety of our homes, make them more comfortable and customized to our particular needs.

Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?

Lighting controls have become very innovative, allowing homeowners to set up zones and pre-programmed settings that essentially stage direct your entire day, allowing the lighting to move and change with you as you go about your daily and nightly routines. Color and white tuning has also taken a leap forward in lighting — you can now precisely tune light to the warmer or cooler white light you prefer, make it different for each space in your home, and even switch to pink, blue or any color you can imagine for events, holidays, or just for fun. Controls have also become more user friendly and programmable. In the past you might have had to call a technician to install and program a lighting control system. Today’s systems can be purchased at your local home center and installed and programmed by a do-it-yourself homeowner.

How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?

As for lighting, we are seeing more homes use solar panels and battery inverters for emergency power use. With the use of LED this becomes easier as it needs less energy. We also recommend to our clients to make sure all their networking equipment is on a generator, or at minimum a battery backup. Also, I believe that if there is a smoke detector going off, the lights should come on to full — this can be done with most lighting control systems.

Let’s talk a bit about housing availability and affordable housing. Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

The housing crisis in my hometown, Chicago, is definitely a part of that picture, and it continues to be one of our community’s most pressing and stubborn problems. Going back to the days of redlining, housing issues helped to make our city incredibly segregated — a problem that persists today, with affordable housing nearly impossible to find in huge swaths of our cities, meaning that poor families often cannot find a safe neighborhood to live in. It is a major contributor to racial inequality and a huge stumbling block to families trying to exit poverty.

Is there anything that home builders can do to further help address these problems?

Though I’m not a builder, I do think that all of us, perhaps especially those of us who work to construct the built environment, both residential spaces and public ones, should be constantly thinking about inclusivity and about how our work can open doors that have been closed for far too long. We need more affordable housing, and we need to focus some of the incredible creativity of our industry on finding solutions. Those solutions need to be focused on quality, too: we need to be building this housing not on the cheap with horrid lighting, but with good lighting design meant for humans to live under, as well as other quality materials and systems. Just because it’s lower cost space does not mean there should not be thought put into the lighting design — and the rest of the design — of the space.

How can our readers follow you online?

http://www.morlights.com/

LinkedIn: Morlights

Facebook: @Morlights

Instagram: @MorlightsDesign

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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