RIAS Lifetime Achievement Award, Jonathan Speirs, 2010, Scotland, Architecture, Buildings, UK

RIAS Lifetime Achievement Award : Jonathan Speirs

Architects Prize in Scotland

8 Oct 2010

RIAS Award for Jonathan Speirs

Scottish Based International Lighting Architect wins Fifth Ever RIAS Lifetime Achievement Award

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) has presented the internationally renowned lighting designer, Jonathan Speirs, of Edinburgh and London-based, Speirs and Major, with a Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest accolade within Scottish architecture and the greatest honour the Incorporation bestows. The award was presented at a Parliamentary reception at Holyrood, hosted by Rt Hon Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Alex Fergusson.

The RIAS reception celebrated Speirs and Major’s unprecedented recent achievement of winning a third International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD)’ annual Radiance Award, in a row. This is the world’s most prestigious award in lighting design.

Jonathan Speirs with his Lifetime Achievement Award at the reception at the Scottish Parliament:
Jonathan Speirs of Speirs and Major Associates
photograph : Malcolm Cochrane

Jonathan, a Chartered Architect and lifelong member of the RIAS, is the fifth recipient of the Incorporation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Previous recipients are Richard Gibson of Richard Gibson Architects, Robert Steedman, of Morris and Steedman, and the architectural partnership Professors Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia.

David Dunbar, President RIAS commented: “The achievement of Speirs and Major is remarkable and something of which all of us in Scotland should be very proud. Founded and based in Edinburgh, this is a company with worldwide reach and very significant international success. The fact that Speirs and Major have worked alongside very many of the best known architectural names across the world, indicates the high regard in which they and the quality of their work, are held.”

Jonathan Speirs - RIAS Lifetime Achievement Award 2010
photograph : Malcolm Cochrane

Jonathan, who believed he was invited to the Parliament to receive a Fellowship of the Incorporation (which was presented at the beginning of the reception), declared himself deeply shocked, but delighted by the Lifetime Achievement Award. He insisted on emphasising the contribution of the staff of Speirs and Major, his co-directors Mark Major and Keith Bradshaw and colleagues from the Edinburgh and London offices of Speirs and Major.

The staff of Speirs and Major attended the reception along with Jonathan’s wife and daughters, senior members of the RIAS and Linda Fabiani MSP, the Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Architecture and the Built Environment, an Honorary Fellow of the RIAS.

The citation for Jonathan, was delivered by Neil Baxter, Secretary & Treasurer RIAS and follows:

Writing in the RIAS Quarterly, the Incorporation’s Depute Secretary, Sharon McCord, commented that Speirs and Major’s work is “considered, thoughtful and often understated”. In this it is perhaps a reflection of those who create it.

It is ironic, given what they do for a living, that Speirs and Major might even be accused of ‘hiding their light’. There is no question that the co-founder of the practice, Jonathan Speirs, is an individual who, over the last quarter of a century, has substantially changed the world of architectural lighting and the appearance and perception, not only of many major buildings and structures, but of many international towns and cities in the process.

Jonathan’s early years in the west of Scotland have tended to be overlooked in the reporting of his career. His education ranges from Bearsden Academy via the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture in Aberdeen, concluding at Edinburgh College of Art.

In 1984, along with Andre Tammes, Jonathan co-founded Lighting Design Partnership and over the rest of the 1980s and the early 90s the practice worked on major projects throughout Europe and beyond. Notable endeavours included: display lighting for the Hermitage Museum in Moscow, the Edinburgh Lighting Vision, one of the first city-wide lighting masterplans ever to be produced and the event lighting of London’s Natural History Museum for the spectacular after show party for the 1991 revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph.

In 1992 Jonathan left LDP to set up Jonathan Speirs Associates in Edinburgh. Relatively soon afterwards, his working association with Mark Major led to the evolution of the company into Speirs and Major Associates. They were subsequently joined by a third director, Keith Bradshaw. It is notable that all three senior directors of, what is now acknowledged as one of the top lighting design consultancies in the world, originally trained as architects. Jonathan does emphasise that the involvement of specialists in many other fields is also crucial to their output.

At Copenhagen Opera House by Henning Larson Architects, the lighting scheme blends seamlessly with the extraordinary architecture of one of the most elegant and sophisticated opera houses ever built. The list of iconic structures, whose night time appearance has been substantially influenced by the collaboration between Jonathan Speirs and their architects is a long one. Richard Rogers’ Millennium Dome, Madrid’s Barajas Airport, also by Rogers, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, Gateshead’s Millennium Bridge by Wilkinson Eyre and Lord Foster’s Gherkin are among the very many examples on a list which covers most of the great world cities and many of the best known names in contemporary world architecture.

The practice won the International Architectural Lighting Designer of the Year Award in 1997. In recent years they have lit five of the RIBA’s Stirling Prize winning projects as well as receiving numerous International Association of Lighting Designers Awards of Excellence. In 2005, Light Magazine recognised Jonathan Speirs as the Lighting Designer of the Decade and since then three successive IALD Radiance Awards in 2008, 2009 and 2010 have consolidated Speirs and Major among the brightest stars in the architectural lighting firmament.

In 2010 the IALD Radiance Award was given to the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayhan Mosque, the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi where the lunar cycle, of crucial importance within the Islamic calendar, is reflected in gradations of light through a spectrum from white to deep blue. It has been said of this project that St Paul’s Cathedral could fit comfortably within its courtyard. This slightly odd concept has the singular merit that at least the quality of lighting design would be compatible as St Paul’s recently restored interior benefits from a Speirs and Major lighting scheme.

At $545 Million, the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is a fairly substantial investment. However Beijing Capital International Airport was no modest undertaking. Speirs and Major also lit the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. This display ensures maximum impact with remarkably low energy consumption. Sustainability in lighting is now a major preoccupation and another area where techniques developed by Speirs and Major lead the way.

Jonathan Speirs has achieved more than the vast majority of architects could ever dream of. He has worked on projects throughout the world, has innovated and has helped to produce images by which some of the world’s totemic structures are promoted and recognised across the globe. He has taught in architectural schools and delivered lectures and seminars at international events for audiences of high level professionals and for students of architecture and design willing to learn from an acknowledged international master.

Jonathan has won all of the supreme accolades in his field, some of them on several occasions. He is a man of considerable modesty whose work declares his genius. As a Scot, he has been a superb ambassador for Scotland, enhancing our national esteem in innumerable world forums. His work touches buildings, towns and cities gently, but fundamentally alters the way they are perceived, understood and enjoyed by people. There are very few architects who can be credited with achieving quite so much.

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland recognises the achievement of its members in a number of ways. A limited number are recognised through election to Fellowship. A very select few are accorded the Incorporation’s greatest honour, the RIAS Lifetime Achievement Award.

This medal, specifically recognising architectural talent and creativity, is the highest honour bestowed by Scottish architects upon their peers. To date it has only been awarded to four Scottish architects. The fifth ever RIAS Lifetime Achievement Award is granted to Jonathan Speirs, a Scottish architect of international repute whose work has, quite literally, brought light to the world.

A previous RIAS Lifetime Achievement Award:
Richard Gibson at the RIAS Convention:
Richard Gibson architect
photograph : Wattie Cheung

RIAS Lifetime Achievement Award images / information from The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland

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The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) was founded in 1916 and is the professional body for over 3,500 chartered architects in Scotland. The RIAS works in partnership with the RIBA (the Royal Institute of British Architects) to promote excellent design in Scotland.

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