An Illustrious Career in Illumination

Oct. 17, 2023
Lighting designer Randy Burkett shares insights from some of his latest and greatest projects.
Randy Burkett is a charter member of the group of North American lighting design innovators who initiated their careers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Over 33 years, he had grown Randy Burkett Lighting Design into a major specialty lighting consulting practice based in St. Louis. His incredibly diverse portfolio is filled with extraordinary and distinguished projects including the world-renowned Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

In spring 2022, he spoke with Architectural SSL about some of the latest and greatest projects he had been involved with over his illustrious career in illumination.

The Fisher Center for the Performing Arts

In September 2021, the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Belmont University, in Nashville, Tenn., opened to resounding applause. The building, fashioned after a traditional European opera house by an architectural team at ESa led by David Minnigan, is considered one of the best performing arts centers on a university campus. The lighting design, provided by Randy Burkett Lighting Design, also successfully balanced the traditional aesthetic with the top-tier performance expectations.

For proof, look no further than the lobby, where three stunning chandeliers, constructed by Crenshaw Lighting, are both classic in profile to blend with the Corinthian capitals and contemporary in their overall effect. Each feature three paired ornamental rings that contain decorative elements inspired by other architectural details found elsewhere in the building. 25W LED medium base filament lamps mimic a historic look.

To determine exact positioning of the fixtures, Randy Burkett Lighting Design worked with the artists who designed and provided the full-height arch-top windows. The faceted glass creates color reflections during the daytime. The choice of the faux filament LED sources also created nighttime refractive effects when passersby view the glass from outdoors.

Interestingly, the contemporary ceiling of the Fisher Center lobby stands in contrast to the classic grandeur designed throughout the rest of the building. The ceiling surfaces were constructed from a 40-millimeter BHASWA Phon plaster system with a post-consumer marble finish that manages sound. Measuring approximately 40 feet by 75 feet, with curved side wall returns, the clean, crisp lines in the ceiling was part of the architect’s vision for the volume. Linear, soft-faced LED sources, 3000K, with a 0-10V control system were integrated into the acoustical surface. “Light’s role was to emphasize the linear aspects of the coffer delineation,” Burkett said.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Located on the National Mall, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial features a 30-foot-tall sculpture that captures the image of Martin Luther King, Jr. emerging from a stone with a thoughtful and resolute expression. David Mintz, who was responsible for the lighting of the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, was offered the commission to light Dr. King’s memorial as well. Because he was nearing retirement, he asked Burkett to team up with him.

“I would say that this was one of the more challenging commissions we have had over the years,” Burkett said, “both technically and from the perspective of needing to please such a wide range of stakeholders, including the King Foundation, National Park Service, National Capital Planning Commission, Commission of Fine Arts, and architect McKissack & McKissack, among others.

“The nighttime revelation of the face and upper body of Dr. King’s likeness was very important to the client team. The mock-ups for illuminating this work were done using a pair of personnel lifts. This allowed us to study several possible pole locations and heights, as well as the nuances of color and textures. Distributions, intensities, and glare control were all very important. David Mintz and I spent hours on the site considering every facial feature, hand winkle, and jacket fold as each lighting position was studied.”

Ultimately, Bega’s 77 869 large scale floodlights (150W) with narrow beam light distribution were selected to illuminate the silhouette of Dr. King. The fixtures were mounted on two 45-foot-tall poles, one on each side of the sculpture. Deep, custom-designed, gale control snoots greatly minimized stray lights and off-axis glare. To render the facial expressions and definition of shadows that the team wanted, the lights were set at a higher perch than the statue itself.

The team was also tasked with illuminating the crescent-shaped Inscription Wall that flanks the Stone of Hope. Mintz and RBLD prepared numerous mock-ups, both in-studio and on-site to evaluate lighting strategies. The goal of the lighting on this element was to reveal and make legible the Wall’s carved text, 14 hand-carved quotations chosen from several of Dr. King’s speeches, while creating drama and a sense of place.         

The final design featured below-grade luminaires that were installed near the base of the wall at an angle, which succeeded in visually pulling the text out of the background. The elliptipar Style F164s from The Lighting Quotient were modified with internal cross-baffles and located within recessed troughs. The lighting shines through laminated glass panels that were mounted flush with the surrounding pavement. The designers selected 3500K T5HO lamps to complement both the color and scale of the granite wall panels.

“In the evening,” Burkett said, “the in-ground fixtures resemble theatrical footlights that heighten the experience of Dr. King’s words.”


Prior to this article’s original publication, in spring 2022, Burkett told Architectural SSL, “I’ve been considering how to transition over the next few years.” In July 2022, Randy and Lisa Reed of Envision Lighting Design announced the merger of their two St. Louis–based firms into Reed Burkett Lighting Design. The combined firm is certified as a Women Business Enterprise in Missouri and Illinois and has similar national certifications. The merged team includes LEED and WELL accredited professionals. “With environmentally responsible design as a pillar of our team,” Burkett said, “the merger means a combined portfolio of design expertise.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 2022 issue of Architectural SSL magazine.

About the Author

Vilma Barr

Vilma Barr is a contributing editor to U.S. and international professional journals and trade periodicals published in the U.S. and internationally in the fields of lighting and the built environment. She has served as author, co-author, and editor of design and business books.

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