Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Iran. My stay lasted about 4 days and caused quite an impression on me. Western media has had significant influence over our perception of the country so hopefully, this blog will help give a different perspective.
I travelled to Iran’s capital, Tehran, to attend the Iranian Lighting Design Conference (ILDC). I recommend the conference and luckily, I was able to meet with a variety of different professionals from the industry.
As I went from meeting to meeting, I would look out the taxi window and pay attention to the people, the architecture and the differences between urban quarters. I noticed an unusual amount of large-scale projects spread throughout the city, but many of them were either at a slow pace of construction or completely paused. The impression this left on me was that the Iranian people had ambitious aspirations for their city but that the city also felt the weight of international sanctions.
My meetings with local industry colleagues proved to be very important as it again reminded me of the differences between business cultures. Lighting design in Iran has a very well defined method of how things work and understanding this is essential for any lighting designer that aspires to be successful.
In the West, lighting designers pride themselves as independent professionals with no direct links to the supply chain (manufacturing and distribution). That is not to say that this is the case for all lighting designers but most professional bodies make this a mandatory requirement and I abide by this philosophy as well.
The crux of this issue is that a lighting designer has a professional duty to provide an unbiased service to their clients; in other words, to provide the best possible design that considers with the entirety of the market and not only a limited product range of a specific company. The reality of the Iranian market is different, what the local companies provide is something they describe as a “Full-Package”. This service includes design, engineering, supply and installation with the additional after-service option of maintenance.
There are a variety of reasons that lead the local industry in this direction. To begin with, the client prefers to not have to pay for the design service (although we all know that nothing is free, the design costs are simply hidden within the cost of purchase); 2nd, the Full-Package provides absolute control over what is offered ensuring that the design stays within the know-how of the installer; and 3rd, the solutions put forward are realistic as independent designers are not always aware of the supply difficulties that the project might suffer from due to trade barriers.
This reality was strongly emphasised by everyone. The architects I spoke to expressed liking the idea of working with an independent lighting designer but had a fair amount of doubt whether it would be viable in Iran.
I think the way forward for the lighting professionals of Iran must lay somewhere in the middle ground. There is no easy short-term answer as the core concept of independence is contradictory to the Full-Package deal provided by the local companies but it is important that designers work at bridging this gap!