August 2020

Michiru Tanaka, IALD, MIES
Principal, Michiru Tanaka Lighting Design

Q: How did you first get started in the lighting industry?
When I was a student at Musashino Arts University in Tokyo my major was in Interior Design. As an interior design student in Tokyo I spent a large portion of each day looking through design magazines – this clearly dates me! I found the projects that most inspired me were credited to the same lighting design studio – ICE ( that was then a small two-person studio based in Tokyo, led by Masanobu Takeishi. I started calling them about an internship, but their answer was always “no.” One day, I was walking near their office and I decided to just ring their doorbell. The staff was so surprised, but they were also impressed by my “guts.” They invited me for a coffee, offered for me to work for them part-time while I finished school. I quickly became addicted to the magic of how lighting can improve the space significantly. I worked as a lighting designer for ICE for five years. I moved to New York in 2007 with “two suitcases and a head full of dreams” – I know it is a cliché, but it’s true. I did not know a soul, and I was not really able to speak English. Before starting Michiru Tanaka Lighting Design in 2013, I worked for Coley Monato Studio, L’Observatoire International, and Arc Light on a variety of hospitality, retail, commercial projects such as Tiffany & Co, Fendi’s global concept, Rosewood Hotel Phuket, and Grand Hyatt Chengdu. After starting my own company, I worked on the Freer and Sackler galleries LED adoption project at The Smithsonian Institute, as well as Grand Central Terminal Centennial Holiday Light Show, Disney World’s Epcot Japan Pavilion Renovation, an OLED decorative fixture called Kumiko for KANEKA Corporation, and Toshiba Materials’ full-spectrum LEDs. I’ve become quite passionate about bringing wellness lighting and full-spectrum LEDs to the industry. I hope to share the studies I am working on with manufacturers and universities to the IES community.

Q: How did you first get involved in the IESNYC?
So, when I got my first job as an intern, I was invited to attend the Lumen Awards Gala. I was really impressed by how large the lighting industry in New York is. Later on, a close friend of mine, Brian Belluomini, became president (2015-2017) of the IESNYC, and he told me about volunteer opportunities. I offered to help on one of the committees and selected the Programs Committee. In 2013 I led a tour for IESNYC EP’s of the Holiday lights at Grand Central Terminal that I worked on and that was rewarding. Just recently, I worked on a lighting tour of the newly reopened MoMA. It was supposed to be in person, but then COVID-19 prevented that. Since we were all set to go, we decided to make it a virtual tour and I was the moderator. It was my pleasure to serve as moderator and I was so happy with how well the program was received. Over 300 people logged on to hear – and see - wonderful presentations by lighting designers from Tillotson Design Associates (public spaces) and Renfro Design Group (galleries) about their work.

Q: How do you see your role as member of the IESNYC?
I have been in the lighting industry for over 17 years and feel extremely fortunate to be in the industry which has made me who I am now. Along with teaching at Fashion Institute of Technology and Pratt Institute, being part of the IESNYC is a really rewarding way to give back. I hope I can return my knowledge and experience to IESNYC and help open the industry door to students and young designers.

Q: In your opinion, what are the best assets of the IESNYC?
To me the IESNYC possesses a strong sense of community. Coming from Japan, that really appealed to me. I think the IESNYC provides great resources and experiences for designers at all stages of their career.