Block 41 lighting designer Tom Sturge realized as a stage-struck kid watching the Broadway debut of “Pippin” that here was magic to do. Determined to get closer to the magic he’d witnessed, young Sturge waited until the theater emptied and made his way to the stage. All he saw was a bare wood floor with bits of tape and string. Turning around he noticed an array of powerful light fixtures aimed at the stage. Instead of being disappointed, Sturge felt a surge of elation.
“It was all done with lighting,” Sturge recalls all these years later. At that moment Sturge knew he had found what he wanted to do for his life’s work.
In choosing a path in theatrical and event lighting, Sturge was artfully merging both of his parental influences. His scientist father had been lured from England by the cutting edge Bell Labs, based in suburban New Jersey. His mother had given up a career as a concert pianist to raise four sons but made sure the family attended every concert and Broadway show they could. “I practically grew up in Carnegie Hall,” Sturge recalls. In theatrical lighting, Sturge found the perfect fusion of science of electricity with the beauty of live performance.
After two years as an engineering student at the University of Pennsylvania, Sturge followed his dream to Boston University for a degree in theater lighting. Although he loved working in New York’s theater scene, marriage and a family prompted him to relocate to sophisticated but affordable Seattle. Here he continues, along with his wife, to do theater and set decoration for 5th Avenue Theater. But his career is mostly focused these days on event lighting.
What is your role in Block 41?
I am designing the lighting for the entire space along with the audio video systems for the event spaces, the video screens, microphones and stage lighting.
How is the lighting for each area in Block 41 different?
There are separate aspects to lighting to go with each floor. On the second floor, the lighting is permanent. It is very warm super efficient high LED lighting.
Downstairs the lighting has a more flexible, theatrical approach. Here we have highly efficient par lights. We can move them around and change their colors.
Upstairs there’s also a stage area with theatrical lighting. The prep kitchen has high output LED lighting and in the green room, there’s a huge mirror with lighting all around it.
What do you like about Block 41?
I love all the new technology we are using in Block 41. The performance space downstairs has lighting that is programmable for different colors and for dimming or fading it out. We could make downstairs all blue with one white light in the middle if someone wanted that look. This technology was not widely available even a few years ago.
I love turning old buildings into modern spaces with modern technology while still retaining the charm.
What is the most important aspect of event lighting?
The most important thing in event lighting is the color of the light. As humans evolved, our eyes became accustomed to candlelight and then incandescent light bulbs -light that was basically yellow or orange hued. When LED lighting came out, it was a huge improvement for energy efficient lighting. But early LED lights were horrible for skin tones. Recently, they figured out how to mass produce warm LED lighting that is very flattering. So that is what we are using for Block 41. It is super efficient too; far exceeding LEED standards for green buildings.
What are the challenges?
The biggest challenges are installing daylight sensors so the lights inside are in tune with the outside environment and getting the building up to code. Modern electrical codes are extremely strict, as they should be.
Another challenge is that the ceilings are about 15 feet high. We are installing lights at about ten feet up so people don’t feel like they are in a cavern. The lights are tubular so a little bit of light goes up to the ceiling to create a glow that expands the space and makes sure there’s no black ceiling effect.
What makes Block 41 unique?
The custom-built chandelier in the entryway is very unique for a building like this. It is really more of an art installation piece.
Overall Block 41 is unique because for a big modern space it is warm, intimate and inviting. It is also very flexible and dynamic with lots of different lighting moods.