Jeffrey W. Sladen AIA, LC
Job title and company: Principal at Sladen Feinstein Integrated Lighting, Inc.
Degree(s): Bachelor of Fine Arts in Architecture, Massachusetts College of Art. Bachelor of Architecture, Boston Architectural College
Professional interests: Gardening with a sense of structure and design, historic preservation as it relates to present-day history and the juxtaposition of old and new.
What are you working on now?
As principal, I work with a talented team on a variety of projects ranging from academic and corporate to residential and hospitality. I am working on several projects: the Class of ’45 Library at Phillips Academy Exeter, bringing new life to an extraordinary building designed in the 1970s by Louis Kahn; the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library at Phillips Academy Andover; a project at Yale University that combines several buildings into the new humanities complex; the Lowell Judicial Center; and the renovation and expansion of the Huntington Theatre in Boston. I am also collaborating with a corporate client on a new 250,000-square-foot office build-out with a strong focus on environmental longevity and the well-being of the building’s occupants.
How do (or how did) you explain to your mom what you do for a living?
My dad was an electrical draftsperson and my mom was a French and Spanish teacher. She really had no idea what my dad did; when I would discuss what I did she would say, “that’s nice, dear,” a line I had heard her say many times to my father. However, the love that she gave to both of us was unconditional.
What inspired you today?
Having recently had a stroke has changed my outlook on life and is what I refer to as the “new normal.” Today, I have my health, a successful business, a partner, family, and friends. Everything else is icing on the cake!
What architectural buzzword would you kill?
I have a few: Sustainable or Green—a better word might be resilient. Certifiable—either it is or it isn’t.
Image: Restoration of the Barker Library Reading Room and Dome with Simpson Gumpertz & Heger. Credit: LumenPulse.
When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?
My life is a process of shared communication and collaboration; it is who I am, and that goes for my professional life as well. My colleagues are what make Sladen Feinstein the firm we are today. I believe the input of colleagues of all levels on trends, material and fixture selections, installation techniques, technology integration, etc. is paramount to the success of any business in today’s society.
What are you reading?
Unfortunately, I don’t read as much as I should as I cannot focus without thinking about everything else I should be doing or hearing my surroundings. I have always thought it is a gift to be able to escape reality and just read, a gift I do not have. I remember once being on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine on vacation, where I was really immersed in a series of books, but once I left the island that feeling was gone.
Do you sketch by hand or digitally?
When I sat for the architectural exam many years ago, I was the last test taker that did the exam by hand over the course of four days with the final culmination of the design itself, which was 12 hours long. To this day, I enjoy sketching by hand and use it often to conceptualize. I do miss hand-lettering on drawings and sketches, something the digital age has taken away from me.
Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?
Indeed! I wanted to be an architect from the time I was 4 years old, when I would draw facades on red bricks to play with my Matchbox cars and would create my own Levittown. After nearly a decade of practicing architecture, I was introduced to lighting design and was hired by a firm, Berg/Howland, as an architect. I remember saying: “Of course I’ll help with lighting, but I don’t want to lose my focus of architecture.” Six months later I knew that lighting design would be my lifetime career and that I would never lose my architectural focus, just embrace it through lighting design.
Image: New 300,000 SF building with Wilson Architects and Wingardh Arkitektkontor AB of Sweden. Credit: Peter Vanderwarker.
Where is the field of architecture headed?
Sometimes I tend to think new buildings have the opportunity to excel in design but other days I feel like everything is a variation of glass and a brick box. I believe and hope that technology integration and efficiency of product and environmental-friendly materials will drive building design in the near future.
Can design save the world?
It can help. Through design, we are constantly challenged to make life better in our schools, at work, in our hospitals, and in our homes.
What do you hope to contribute from your work?
I believe that the integration of appropriate lighting for a space can excel an architectural design to greatness and create a truly amazing space, both inside and out. With that said, one of the best compliments you can ever give a lighting designer when asked about your lighting integration is “I didn’t really notice it.” Lighting is an experience and should not necessarily be seen. It is there to compliment the architecture and to assist in creating an environment. Even when a bold fixture is selected or color is added, it should never feel forced and should just make the user feel right in the space.
Who or what deserves credit for your success?
I credit my father for my success because he told me at a very young age that there was a lot more to architecture then drawing facades on bricks and those words will stick with me for the rest of my life. I also credit my business partner, Josh Feinstein, for the mutual support we have given each other for more than 16 years.
Image: Renovation and expansion of the UMASS Dartmouth Library with DesignLab Architects and Austin Architects. Credit: Peter Vanderwarker.
Your least favorite college class?
Unfortunately, it was my thesis in architecture. This was because of my representative from the school; he was only interested in code issues and turning radiuses of cars and never expressed a thought about design and its process. Thank goodness I had peers that pushed me through it.
If you could give the you-of-10-years-ago advice, what would it be?
Stay true to everything you feel from within, and if you can’t help yourself, who can you help?
Your favorite Boston-area structure?
The MIT campus, for its unique New England campus design.
Image: Restoration of the Executive Suite with Finegold Alexander. Credit: Jane Messinger.
Who would you like the BSA to interview next?
Stefanie Greenfield from Cambridge Seven Associates.
If you were on a late-night TV show, what would your 30-second plug be?
Here is a kid that grew up in a small mill town in Maine and today works with some of the most talented architects in the field, bringing his lighting expertise to such an important piece of the design puzzle.
If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?
It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.