A Bright Future

Alumna’s work shines a spotlight on human-centered lighting design
Andrea Schwebel at The Modern Theatre
Andrea Schwebel, MAIA '18, is a lighting designer for Sladen Feinstein. The Boston firm has worked on lighting projects around the country, including the 2010 redesign of Suffolk's Modern Theatre. 

“Have you ever gotten to the office and realized you are wearing one black sock and one navy blue one?” asks interior architecture alumna Andrea Schwebel. 

That can happen because the lighting in many homes renders colors poorly, making it difficult to differentiate between similar shades. In her role as a lighting designer for Boston firm Sladen Feinstein, Schwebel works with architects and designers to avoid such pitfalls and ensure that projects meet client needs and building codes. 

Looking up

Becoming a lighting designer changed the way Schwebel sees the world. 

“Now the first thing I do when I enter a room is look up. Before I even notice furnishings, I’m looking for an evenly-spaced reflective ceiling plan, which is how we ensure the right lighting for a space, and LED lighting. The worst thing I could see would be a single chandelier trying to light an entire room,” she says. 

In her Suffolk courses Schwebel studied human-centered design—creating spaces that promote wellbeing for the people living and working in a building—and incorporated it into the Sustainable Design Fair she helped coordinate on campus. Now she hopes to enhance quality of life through thoughtful lighting of the spaces she designs. 

“I’m working on six projects currently, including one in California. Their building codes stress sustainability and human-centered design and that filters down to our lighting choices. For example, all lighting has to meet a high color-rendering index, which guarantees a more functional space for everyone, not just those with high-end homes.” says Schwebel. 

Different spaces have vastly different lighting needs. The ideal brightness for a research lab would be unsettling in a hotel guestroom, for instance. Schwebel understands those nuances and knows how to calculate the proper illumination for any given use. 

Right now she’s working on a plan for a university library. 

“I’ve spent so much of my life in a university library—including managing the Art and Design Department’s Materials Library as a graduate student—and it’s great to have input into how the space looks and functions,” she says. “I want to help create a space that’s comfortable to spend a lot of time reading in, but bright enough to keep students awake and allow them to collaborate on group projects.”

Schwebel creates lighting plans, recommends fixtures, and monitors the installation when her concepts are implemented. She appreciates the supportive environment of her small firm, and the responsibility she’s been given to tackle complex projects early in her career. Learning by doing is how she landed the job in the first place. 

Shining moment

During her final year of graduate school an internship opened Schwebel’s eyes to lighting as a potential career path. Encouraged by that experience she entered an international lighting design competition. Although her project didn’t receive the top prize, she did impress at least one of the judges. She turned out to be a principal at Sladen Feinstein, whose colleagues remembered Schwebel from an earlier informational tour the grad student took of her company. 

Schwebel didn’t win the competition, but she did graduate with a job. 

“Entering the lighting competition was the best thing I could have done. I encourage every graduate student to get involved with free networking, meeting and talking with people. Everyone has been in your position. You have nothing to lose, so go for it.”
Andrea Schwebel MA in Interior Architecture, 2018

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