April 2019

Jackson Ning II
Principal and President
Kugler Ning Lighting


Q: How did you first get started in the lighting industry?
If an IES member encourages you to take lighting classes, can it be considered a random discovery? It was indeed an IES member. Michael Fink, my stepdad, who owns a lighting design firm, Magical Designs, first put lighting on my radar and he suggested lighting as an area of study. I was an economics major at Emory University, headed towards a career in finance. Ever since I was old enough to work, I always had a summer job. During my college summers I helped Fink, similar to an apprentice of an electrician for lighting and controls. The work was not particularly inspiring, but it was a gateway. It was physical, required focus, followed a strict set of rules and somehow, oddly more interesting and satisfying than anything else I was doing at the time. Like many of us in lighting, I did not realize that lighting was something you could devote your life to and study until I was at least 20 years old! I also followed his advice and sought out theater when I attended Emory, to test the waters and study lighting. My theater lighting professor, Judy Zanotti, was my next influence. She was warm and generous with her time and introduced me to technical theater design. In theater I learned that a design concept, a symphony of lighting “instruments,” a dimming rack and some subtle programming could be orchestrated to manipulate environments, moods and emotions. For my final two years at Emory I helped her produce shows for Theater Emory and the Emory Dance Company. I graduated in 1995 with a degree in Economics and after college I returned to New York City and dabbled in design and production for theater and construction projects, helping my step dad and friends. After two years I gravitated towards architecture and construction. The hours and people in construction seemed like a way better fit for me. In 1997, I answered an ad in the New York Times for a junior designer position at Johnson Schwinghammer Lighting (JSL) and thus began my life in architectural lighting design. After five years at JSL I was looking for more responsibility and ownership, so I went to work for Ann Kale Associates for a year before she moved to Santa Barbara. I wanted to go with her, but she could only take one person, so she took her senior project manager, Jeffrey Boynton. So, I was out of a job and Kugler Tillotson Associates was hiring. It was all meant to be!

Q: How did you first get involved in the IESNYC?
I did not attend a New York City lighting education program, so I missed out on the guided tour of the IES and other lighting associations. I was also in IES darkness because, JSL, purveyors of finely crafted and beautiful lighting projects, was not active in the IES and almost never submitted projects for awards. One year, The Rockwell Group submitted a project that I worked on, Pod Restaurant, for a Lumen Award... and won! My first Lumen award! Pod went on to win the IES National Guth award as well. Not long after, I was asked to present the lighting for Pod for an IESNYC event. It was a terrifying as well as gratifying event. At my first public speaking engagement, via the sheer enthusiasm in my voice and some lighting samples, somehow, I connected with a room filled with curious and excited lighting students.

Q: How do you see your role as member of the IESNYC?
Many years later at my current office, I spoke again at an IESNYC event for the Foster & Partners and Gensler designed Hearst Tower project when LEED and sustainability became a hot topic. I’ve also been a Lumen award judge and a National award online judge. In 2015 our office was blessed with an incredible, four Lumen Awards – Two Awards of Excellence for The Carnegie Hall Façade Lighting and the The Pavilion at Brookfield Place and two Merit Awards for the McKim Meade & White Library Renovation, and another Merit for the Restoration of the Nave at the Yale Sterling Memorial Library. These same projects won awards that National that year. I presented one of our winning projects, the McKim Meade & White Library and Jerry Kugler led the walking tour at an IESNYC event. I also presented our work on the Foster & Partners and Gensler collaboration on the Hearst Tower. I was a guest judge for the 2019 IESNYC Scholarship. We took the care and were respectful when evaluating every candidate although there was one candidate that stood out. As a judge, as well as employer, it's always satisfying to reward talent and commitment. My life is split between designing projects, co-managing our 25 person office with Amber Moriarty, MIES, and spending time with family but I do try to give back when I can. The IESNYC does a great job selecting their officers and if my schedule allows, I always say yes to them.

Q: In your opinion, what are the best assets of the IESNYC?
I love that the IESNYC promotes our craft and educates. I love that it acknowledges its members and inspires others within. I love the people and friends that I have made. The IESNYC is the glue that binds us all together.