Q&A with "let there be lighting" designer Bradley Meeker
Bentley Meeker, 44, is head of Bentley Meeker Lighting & Staging, Inc., which provided illumination for Chelsea Clinton's wedding and Ralph Lauren's fashion shows. The author of Light X Design, Meeker lives in Harlem, with his girlfriend, yoga teacher Elena Brower, his son, and her son.
Q What would you most like to see changed or accomplished in NYC?
A Not much. I love this town! I have rats in my basement, but they're a part of the city, too. I guess I'd like more gas stations. We need to change the law that gas stations can't have anything built over them: Put in some kind of bombproof cover and put them together with garages: There are plenty of garages, but not enough gas stations.
Q New Yorkers took our illuminated city for granted before Sandy. Did the city plunging into darkness give you any new insights into the importance of NYC night lights?
A We were completely unaffected during the entire storm. We had some postponements of events, but no cancellations, which goes to show that events are an integral part of the city's fabric.
Q But downtown and other parts of the city were just plunged into darkness. We think of Paris as the City of Light, but we really realized how much we relied on electrical current during Sandy.
A New York is a much better town than Paris in terms of lighting. They put a lot of light on things in Paris, but they don't do so creatively. We have a really interestingly lit skyline at night -- vapor lights, white lights, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building . . .
Q Incidentally, what do you think about the controversy caused when the owners of the Empire State Building refused to honor the request of The Catholic League to light the building blue and white in honor of Mother Teresa's 100th birthday?
A "My building: My choice!" The Catholic Church has enough money to buy the Empire State Building. When they do, they can light it in whatever color they want.
Q What public lighting is done really well in NYC?
A Central Park is really well lit at night. It's dim, but not so dim so you don't feel safe, and the blue in the lights really lends itself to green surroundings. The Christopher Columbus statue at Columbus Circle is well done, too, and a lot of those little parks down by Maiden Lane.
Q Why doesn't NYC have any more great neon signs?
A Neon is fragile -- drop it and it's over. LEDs are not fragile and they can be manufactured cheaply in China. If you want a neon sign, you have to go to a local neon shop. People just go to what's cheapest and most efficient -- "watt for lumen efficiency." But what about life efficiency?
Q Should those two beams of light that go up every year in honor of the World Trade Towers remain in place all year?
A They should do it annually and forever, in my opinion, for about a week. It's a crime there is not more funding for it. That project is just terrifically done. I should tell you I know the guys who do that, but it really matters. It's a really moving, beautiful tribute that is not ostentatious and that I hold in the absolutely highest regard as a lighting designer.
Q Incandescent light bulbs are being phased out for environmental reasons. How do you feel about this as a lighting designer?
A I'm in vehement opposition to that law. In my house, I use LED on the stairs and in the basement, but where I live and spend my time I use incandescent lights or halogen. These fluorescent lights use only a tiny sliver of the light spectrum, and unlike incandescents, which give full spectrum light, they can't be dimmed. It's a false economy. There's a phantom carbon footprint because you want to go out and consume things to get away from them. And they make you feel tired, and can even make you sick. One day in the hospital wipes out whatever carbon savings you've accrued. You could use incandescents where necessary and just install dimmers to achieve the same efficiency. I'd rather be mandated to achieve efficiency, but be allowed to figure out how to get there on my own instead of being required to use a certain lightbulb.
Q I know you're more a lighting guy than an electrician, but do you think those overhead power lines that caused so much trouble during Sandy should be buried underground to prevent future outages?
A That would be great. It would be terrific. That would be a very large public works project, but it would eliminate outages and reduce a lot of maintenance costs. Who wouldn't want to pay a couple extra grand to guarantee that you don't go a couple of weeks in the middle of winter without outages? I would! We don't govern that way, though. Right now the only thing in vogue is getting the electric bills lower. We won't do it until a school bus full of kids gets hit and dies from downed electrical outages. We were actually lucky this time with Sandy.
Q What was the coolest job you ever did?
A In the late 1990s I lit this little wood paneled Louis Comfort Tiffany Room in the Museum of the American Indian for a party Madeleine Albright was giving a private dinner for eight female heads of state. We made them all look amazing: That's what I do.
Q So what kind of lights do we use if we want everyone to look thin, young and beautiful?
A Dim ones. Dim lights! Everyone looks beautiful in dim lights. You make the ladies look good and everybody has a great time.