Nader Gammas is a lighting designer with a purpose and it’s about much more than brightening a room
It was while studying architecture at the University of Jordan in Amman that Nader Gammas decided there was no sense in becoming an architect. “I discovered that there are way too many architects, and that there are way too many architects that are true architects,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I was a true architect, so I had to find something else that I could excel in.”
This isn’t a sad story, however. Far from it. After graduating in 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, instead of saving and being conservative, Gammas decided to spend more and travel back to the US, where he is from. He was literally heading out of darkness into light – to study lighting design at New York’s Parsons School of Design. The 36-year-old now runs his own firm – and produces his own works – in Dubai. “It wasn’t really about lighting that I liked, it was about the environment, I could play with the atmosphere, I could play with the settings, I could play with the emotions,” he says. “Architecture has some limitations, and vice versa, lighting has some limitations but it is more malleable, you could play with it.”
After graduating he consulted for several years in New York before that company sent him to Dubai, where he discovered a whole other side to his craft. There are downlights, up lights, accent lights, wall lights – and hardcore architectural lighting fixtures to consider, too. “So, I thought, what happens if I want to design the sculpture of it?” he says. “How can that be informed?”
He was working on a facade lighting project in Amman when he became obsessed with sculptural elements. First, he tried to launch a studio, but the other interested parties didn’t come through. Frustrated, he contacted Dubai Design Days and secured a booth for the 2017 edition – with no idea what would be involved, or showcased.
He hadn’t fabricated anything at that point. He had only ideas. The cost was besides the point. He just knew: “I’ve got a thing, I want a show,” he says. He also knew he had five months to sketch, prepare and build, an arduous and agonising process. “Then we went into more detailed work of going from pure drawing, which is normally very bulky and ugly and once you look at it you would [say] ‘Oh, my God. This is terrible,’” he says. “Then you build a paper model, a second paper, third, fourth, and fifth.”
He found several fabricators and went through seven metal prototypes. All that work went into his FIN collection, which he launched during Dubai Design Days along with his company Nader Gammas Lighting Design. His collection included a table lamp, wall light, chandelier and two panels. The media took notice and, to his surprise, his first customer called. “A studio in New York that happened to be there that year presenting was admiring my work,” he recalls. “The guys called and said ‘I want this’. So I thought this is going somewhere. My feelings were true. Okay great.” After the show wrapped, Nader felt too nervous to attempt designing a light of his own again. “I wasn’t confident enough because I could fail the next time I design something, who knows where it is going to go?” he says. “So I told myself, stay humble. Just focus.”
He was working on a villa project when he encountered an awkward space, with stairs going through a catwalk. None of the designs he was looking at with the client were working, so he explained what had happened at Dubai Design Days and offered his services. “I told myself that ‘I am not going to put any emotion in this’,” he says. “The space was going to speak for itself. So I presented to her [the client] and she loved it and it is hanging in that space.”
Gammas had similar freedom working on another project, Emaar X, residential towers that were destined for Al Quoz but have since stalled. “It is community living that is a little bit more hip with smaller units, but bigger community spaces – it’s fun,” he says. After some discussion that the interiors should reflect Emirati history, he went to Dubai Museum for research purposes – and inspiration. He found it, in the people who built homes and long ago figured out that a chimney could work as a funnel to suck air into a room and create circulation. “When I stood in the model of the original houses that were made out of weaved plant material, it looks primitive, but I am telling you, once you stand underneath the wind tower you see science,” he says. “You see more than what meets the eye and you’re like ‘people have thought about this for years’. This is a well-studied element of architecture.”
He ended up designing a piece where the light was flowing down, too. “The source is inside, you do not see the light source,” he says.
Although Nader works mostly on high-end residential projects at the moment, he’d love to get into restaurant and retail, to introduce more people to his idea of lighting. “I want people to experience settings that they are not familiar with, and it gives designers an opportunity to conceptualize ideas and give the opportunity for passersby to experience new things, feel new things,” he explains. He likes to follow what others in his field are doing, so he knows what to avoid. And when it comes to the perfect client? He prefers people who have no idea what they want. “That gives me total peace of mind,” he says. “I have time. No pressure. I could think about the concept. I talk to the client and ask them to tell me about themselves and I try to figure out something that lets me go back and say: ‘here! Here is something that I would love to have in your space’.”Nadergammas.com
- Words by Anne Marie McQueen
- Photography by Borna Ahadi