Class Notes Profile: Illuminata

Pavlina Akritas brings award-winning lighting to galleries and museums

Pavlina Akritas “You have to consider how light will enter the interior [and] how it will behave,” says Pavlina Akritas, a designer with Arup, a London-based architectural and engineering firm. (Image by Ed Estrada)
Pavlina Akritas brings award-winning lighting to galleries and museums

When rain and clouds wash over London, the gallery is muted, even somber. In sunny hours, the big white rooms beam. And every day, the changing light in London’s Gagosian Gallery reveals new dimensions in the artwork.  

Natural enough. Except—it isn’t. The effect is the gift of Pavlina Akritas, ’06 ENG, a self-described “painter of light” who has won an international reputation for her work illuminating indoor environments.

“You have to consider how light will enter the interior, how it will behave and how you need to shape the architecture in order to make it work as you want it to,” she explains. A designer with the London-based firm Arup, Akritas grew up on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus and studied electrical engineering at Illinois. Her award-studded portfolio includes high-tech skylights at Mexico City’s Museo Jumex and at The Broad, a contemporary art museum in Los Angeles. Her LED track-lighting replacement system at London’s Royal Academy of Arts allows museum staffers to control illumination in the galleries using tablets and smartphones. She has even lit runway shows for Paris Fashion Week. 

But her most triumphant innovation is at London’s Gagosian Gallery, where owner and superstar art dealer Larry Gagosian wanted his gallery flooded with natural light when the space was renovated for a 2015 opening. But a skylight wasn’t possible. So Akritas devised a skylight look-alike, putting LED lights behind large glass panels on the ceiling. Using data gathered by a roof sensor and processed by a custom computer program, the LEDs mimic the intensity and color of the light outside—even dimming as clouds pass overhead. “It was quite incredible to see it,” she says of the system’s debut, which was met with rave reviews. “I wasn’t really expecting it to work.”