Johan Moritz Interview with Archifos


I firstly met Johan Moritz as a student participant on the International Lights in Alingsas workshop in 2016 while I was studying my Masters at KTH. I was very surpised to learn that Malmö has been the first and maybe the only (so far) city worldwide that has hired a Lighting designer (since 2002!). Johan has been giving talks and leading lighting workshops all over the world and he has been mentoring many young professionals on their first steps of their career. It was very inspiring to discuss with him his experiences and his professional journey in the Lighting world.


When and how did you realize your interest in lighting?

Back in 1980 ́s, I was working as a sound engineer and realised that nobody was “taking care” of the lights. All the cool guys were working with the sound. I realise that if you could add lights and variations on a show you could be part of it and be able to create an atmosphere that the band would look better in. Generally, they used to have the front lights on and few red lights on the back with no movement. I took a step into the lighting world and got an understanding of how things worked. That was when I started playing with variations other than just turning lights on and off. I realised that you can add another dimension to the show. It felt like being part of the band enhancing their work. At that time also, DMX was starting to take off and you could also get programmable consoles and do more advanced things. Before I used analog systems with dimmers and faders. You could have lots of faders on the console and you had two fields and you had to change every fader and then you had to change between the two fields. That was another job. And you had a lot of papers writing down percentages etc. There was no way to pre- program anything so everything was done manually. After the introduction of digital consoles you could set things up in more complicated scenarios with different timings and actions which was almost impossible before. And with this a lot of other technical things was introduced and upgraded from analogue to digital. This is all everyday things but all this gave me a thorough knowledge of how systems are built and interact. As a lighting designer it is a tremendous help to know the technical part so you understand the possibilities and don’t feel you are restricted to engineering but also stretch the boundaries. And I have always had a personal interest in how things work. I studied computer construction briefly just to see how it works from the inside, not just coding but also the hardware.


Tell us about your career steps 

Until I started working for the city 2002 I had been working for 16 years in the lighting events industry. I discovered a new segment in the architecture and outdoor environment just before 1999 in which I could contribute to a bigger scale for more people instead of doing a show for extremely rich directors and spending millions of money in a small enclosed room. You could take a 10th of that money and do something amazing for the urban environment and do more people happy. That was the reason why I decided to switch and became a lighting designer for Malmo when the possibility was given. To create valuable projects for the city and its citizens.

Points of view Johan Moritz project
Points of view, Lighting design by Johan Moritz and Tina Wikström, art work by Tony Cragg.

Describe light with three words

Light is NOTHING and it is EVERYTHING. No light no life.


How does it feel to be the lighting designer for a city?

It’s a ‘scary’ thing. The job itself is not different from working in theatre, events or architecture i general. There are the same rules how to use light. In this case thought, working for the city, you don’t have one client, you affect many different types of end users. It’s everything from small kids finding their way to school in the middle of the winter to old people trying to find their way home with partial blindness and then you have all the ones in between. Before I begin the designing phase, I am visiting the place and spending many hours to understand how people are interacting with the environment. People are also encouraged to fill forms on how they feel and how they experience the place. Most of the times, I am receiving feedback from people, through postcards or they are approaching me on the streets. I appreciate how honest they are with their positive and negative feedback. They might say, “-I don’t like that, but I understand why you did it”. Usually they have references from other parts of the city and they may ask, “- Why didn’t you do what you did on this other park” etc… I like very much this open dialogue with the public. It is very important that people know who to contact in order to address issues in the Urban Space. For example, I can see here, in London parks and squares that there is always a telephone number that you can call a person and say things like ‘you must empty the bins’, or generally have the opportunity to explain how you feel for a certain public space. I always observe the negative feedback from a constructive perspective. Sometimes people are mentioning something very important that I might have missed while I was examining the context of this area. For example, dynamic lighting on facades and public areas affects people. I believe that it is important to be able to dim down the streets and public lights to save energy, however, people have complained about the dynamic changes because the light poles are near their windows and they are looking at this dynamic light change from a different perspective. They have asked to change this movement, and we will need to drop the lights on 75% and create a smoother transition. I wouldn’t know that if they didn’t contact me. However, there are cases where people are complaining for things like the colour that we would choose for an installation. And in that case, if the majority is happy and sharing positive feedback like “-The kids love it etc’’…and just one person complains and says that mrx doesn’t like the colour, I would not focus on this comment, I would explain that mrx is one out of the 333.000 people that live in the city and the majority like the installation. I always have to filter the constructive feedback, review the comments and sometimes change decisions.

Rosengard stool, Lighting design and design of stool: Johan Moritz
Rosengard stool, Lighting design and design of stool: Johan Moritz


The biggest challenge as a lighting designer employed by the municipality.

My biggest challenge has been procurement. For example, if I find the perfect product for a specific project I can’t choose it and buy it. I have to provide the values that the product needs to have and the responsible team from the municipality will choose which one to buy. On that way you are always independent and not in favour of any manufacture. That’s very good because it works towards ending corruption but sometimes you find products that are really interesting and of extremely high quality on a good price but you can’t go out there and buy them. We are trying to do something which is called innovative procurement and in that way we are changing the way the evaluation of the procurement rules and we will see if this is something that can be improved. Another challenge is the non existing conformed quality standards. All evaluation of products are media out of old conventional standards. This makes it incredibly hard to compare products and qualities between different producers. For instance colour rendering is almost impossibly to understand from just a CRi value with LED. And flicker is something we didn’t have to consider in the same way as today. And the change of cut-off angles and glare control is just a big joke today in conjunction with multi shadows. So there are a lot of challenges, not just one.


A funny story as the lighting designer of Malmo

We did a Christmas calendar for 2019 with the city hall and we asked the kids to draw their feelings for Christmas. The kids are most likely to be able to draw feelings while adults can’t cause they are uniformed and will draw a Xmas tree or some other conventional object, and that’s Christmas. We had 24 motifs available and 200 kids were competing about this. Then, 24 drawings were elected from different schools, and we had a combination of Christmas trees, father Christmas, other symbols for Christmas time but there was one with a mouse and a cheese on it. And that was on the 19th. I really wanted to find this kid and get the story behind the mouse with the cheese drawing. When we met, the kid said that for him, Christmas is when his grandmother is reading him the story of a mouse that steals the cheese every Christmas. And that kid really understood the actual concept of the calendar. To communicate the emotions and feelings of the kids for the Holidays season. And with this project we can see how kids can be inspiring and take part of designing things. Picasso said : It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.


What can we do to educate people for the importance of lighting design?

Good examples are always the best way to educate people. For starters we have to go back on time, when we had only the first light bulbs and understand what light is. There are reasons why they started hanging the light on a specific way and these have to do with, the functionality and the fact that it is also a beautiful centre piece. If people want to use colours or enhance their world in another way, we have been doing this on churches for thousands of years and the Greeks before that, and light is a thing that you should use it when you need it. There are many people who do not really understand the difference of using light in a way that enhances their life. They will just turn on or off their lights. They don’t care about the color temperature, if it is glary or where it comes from. There are many cultural differences, that we can’t really change. When it comes to the personal home environment of every individual you should be able to produce good quality products with no glare and good color rendering and that is the manufacturers’ responsibility. If you are not presented on good quality products you will never ask for it. We should have some standards of minimum quality on lights and the market should only produce good quality products. Unfortunately, there are still luminaires with very low quality that are being used and they should actually be banned.

Spillepengen_Johan Moritz project
Spillepengen – Fly over bridge. Lighting Design by Johan Moritz DARC Award winning project


Could we introduce levels of non-verbal communication in the urban space in order to communicate social, environmental and health messages.

We have colour changing lights in about 20 bridges around the city and in other places, that are remotely controlled to communicate specific messages. For example when Prince died, the lights were all purple, or the lights are turning pink to raise awareness for breast cancer and so on. We can also see a good example of this in the Empire State Building in New York. It changes colour all the time, every day it communicates a different message. However, I think it would be confusing to have many buildings in the city, changing colours on different days, different moments to commemorate different events. But it should be something consistent, something like following the changes of the year or communicate specific messages on a particular day. The colour selection is also confusing. Some colours might be offensive for different cultures. When you have a mixture of 169 cultures in a city, how could you use specific colours without offending people. Also another question here is, who is the one in charge of the colours? Who decides? The citizens should be in charge of the city, the municipality is in charge of the city and the politicians are elected by the people so the people are the ones in power of their city, and when you have a mixture of different cultures, how should you be able to use coloured light. So I believe that we should have a general idea about how to change the state and the mood of the city throughout the year rather than getting into religion and cultural issues.

General big campaigns like recycling, need larger impact than lights. They need campaigns and the physical environment to inform you for what to do. You can’t just have a building lit in green and say to people ‘you should recycle more’. That wouldn’t be impactful. Light can be used as a supportive medium for advertisements and physical mediums, it is all about the combination of all mediums together with light. It is important to have collaboration between the municipality and organisations in order to achieve bigger impact and provide information to a personal level to the citizens so they will be able to understand the message that blue light for example, communicates in the Urban Space for autism etc.


What is the level of importance for travelling the world by your point of view as lighting designer?

None. Travelling doesn’t make you a better lighting designer. However, if you have an interest in different cultures, in their approach of lighting design and the impact that light has on different countries it is very valuable to travel. Some years ago, I went to Abu Dhabi to see Jonathan Speirs design of the Mosque because I have seen it so many times on pictures and I had to experience it and see it in the environmental context. And it was actually even better in real life. Also, Kaoru Mende made in Singapore the Garden by the Bay and it is an overwhelming feeling to be in front of it. But I also went to Hong Kong to see the permanent light show they run every night and that was just confusing. And that is also good, to understand the limitations of creating an impactful installation depending on the environment. If you want to develop yourself as a designer, you can travel but also, you should do research in your home area. You can examine how lighting design has been done locally, understand it and be well prepared on doing anything.

Lastly, another advantage of traveling is that you create common references with your colleagues. When you are working on a project and mentioning the Empire State Building, the whole team can understand the context and “talk the same language”. Travelling is more of personal development than lighting design.

Lighting Design project
The Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi, winner of the Radiance Award 2010. Photo: Allan Toft
Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, Photo: Colin Watts 


Which is your favourite movie from a lighting point of view?

‘Hero’ which is a Chinese movie, is one of my favourites because you can stop it anytime, take a screenshot and hang it on the wall as beautiful picture. It is a colour themed movie. There is a blue section, a yellow and a red section. And of course, one of my favourites movies is Avatar. It is just MAGIC! And clearly someone had a great interest in light when it was produced.

Hero moovie
Hero 2002 movie
Avatar 2009 movie


What development you would like to see in the lighting design field in the next five years?

I would like to see the lighting design field to going towards better quality in products and going back to the knowledge that we had before the introduction of the LEDs. Instead of putting the LEDs in front of the luminaires to fit the drivers behind and keep the same size and shape of the luminaire is just poor understanding of why a fixture looked like it did. The entire tube was a glare shield.

Another development that I would like to see is Control Systems that have an open and common source so you could work easily with different products and not require to push simultaneously different buttons from different control systems. We should have universal control systems for indoor and outdoor lighting fixtures that can work together. I am an independent lighting designer and I need to have the flexibility to use different products from different manufacturers.

The third one would be connected with the control systems. But it would be “ Personal Control without any other device”. To give you an example, If you get into the toilet, there is a sensor, the lights are going to turn on automatically. It is very convenient. When you finish and go, the light will be on for a few more minutes, but why? I want to save energy, I want to turn them off, how can I do that? Maybe it could be a small button on the sensor that you could reset and turn off the lights. We should be able to take responsibility for the energy saving. I want to be part of doing the job of ‘saving the human being’. That’s an important thing.


What advice would you give to a passionate young designer who is starting his/her career?

TO FIND A MENTOR. You need someone to call 3 in the morning when you are stuck out of ideas and be able to talk. Not necessarily to get help for doing the specific job but someone that you trust and by sharing you will be able to find your own solutions. Also, another piece of advice is to expect to spend thousands of hours, learning new things and not get paid for them. But, always remember to NEVER do a job for somebody else without getting paid. Don’t even go to a meeting without getting paid. Learn to value your time and yourself. Getting paid doesn’t always mean cash.There should always be some kind of transaction that values your work and your time.


Short Bio:


EXPERIENCE: Johan Moritz – Lighting Designer for 35 years. Experience from theatre, movies, entertainment, residential, public and private lighting design. Awards won at the Milan Furniture fair, DARC Awards, Golden mask. Since 17 years full-time hired by the City of Malmo to develop and implement a master plan, design fixtures and drive development on how to make best use of the urban landscape during the nocturnal hours. Well recognised as speaker, workshop head and teacher in many places around the globe. Examples are University of Szhenzen (China), KPU in Vancouver (Canada), IALD West Coast tour (USA), KTH in Stockholm (Sweden), AAU in Copenhagen /Denmark), Lights in Alingsas (every year for ten years and counting) and so on. As workshop-head at the Lights in Alingsas (Sweden), Tartu Valgus (Estonia), Lights in Blokzijl (Netherlands) to be mentioned.

CONTACTPhone: +46702909489 / Mail: johan WEBSITE: 


Read more about the Archifos Interviews section here. and stay tuned, more is coming! Have a great day wherever you are in the world 🙂

Love and Light, Katia 

2 Responses

  1. Stephen Lankford

    I love this post but just a tip… you should really write longer articles. I was sad this post ended, and I think your writing style would keep people really interested in what you had to say about all of this

    • Katia Kolovea

      Hi Stephen,
      Thank you very much for your message and for sharing your tip with us, will be doing some longer posts for sure
      Have a great day 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *