Our very own Murray Robson LFIES (Life Fellow, The Illuminating Engineering Society) has announced his retirement from business life, after nigh on 50 years designing lighting and electrical systems both in Australia and around the world. Murray will step down as Design Director of Haron Robson on 30th June 2014 and will become a non-executive director of the Haron Robson Group. 

Continuing in their roles as Managing and Technical Directors are his business partners of over 25 years, Glen Haron and Tom Russell. Leo Trimboli will continue as Lighting Principal and Bow Jaruwangsanti as Lighting Design Manager. Together, and with the collective of engineers and designers, technicians and project managers who make up the highly skilled Haron Robson team, will maintain their dedication to design excellence. 

Murray has been instrumental in setting those extraordinarily high standards for which we have become widely renown and regularly awarded. Murray's creative output during his 40+ years in the Australian lighting industry is extraordinary, and his talent will be missed by clients and colleagues alike.

In order to pass on his wealth of knowledge and experience, Murray has been holding design workshops and master classes with the Haron Robson team over the years, continuing his legacy of educating and mentoring young talent. One of his post-retirement activities in fact, is as Visiting Lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Illumination Design program - “It gives me a chance to leave a legacy of knowledge” explains Murray during our informal interview, “I’ve learned a lot from my many mistakes!” 

Murray speaks of the need for designers to retain their sensitivity to beauty, which is at risk of being lost in this new era of computer modelling and software programs which aid the scientific and technical aspect of lighting design. “I’m sharing my knowledge of light and life, the broader capabilities of light and the effects it can have on personality, passion and emotions. There is still a need for lighting as an art form” 

His knowledge of the art of light has developed throughout his career, which started in 1964 when he began his first job at the age of 16. But his Australian Story doesn’t start till a bit later than that… in fact Murray stepped off the SS Australis onto Sydney’s shores in 1971, at the ripe old age of 23, deciding to leave the UK as a “ten pound Pom” to chase his dreams (and an Aussie girl he’d met in London). 

In 1972 Murray joined forces with W Allen Smith, who was recognised internationally as one of the leading lighting designers in the world at the time, and had high-profile projects such as The Marble Bar and the Hilton hotels in Sydney and Melbourne on his drawing boards. He was also well-known for his custom-designed glass chandeliers and was apparently quite the eccentric.

Having started working life in the UK as an apprentice draughtsman for the London Electricity Board then for WS Atkins and Partners working in electrical and lighting design, Murray was no stranger to light and power. But under the stewardship of Allen Smith, Murray soon embraced the emerging field of creative architectural lighting design and a career was born.

Murray worked with W Allen Smith for six years, their main project together being the Eastern Suburbs Railway. He was “nudged out of the nest” by Allen Smith himself, who identified in Murray a keen desire to continue his exploration of the possibilities of light, so in 1978 Murray joined Macdonald Wagner and Priddle to work on the lighting design for the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.

At the culmination of that project, Murray joined APS Consultants, then in 1989 he met Glen Haron through their mutual friend Richard Massey, and the rest is history. 

Glen was already working within a small but established team of specialists who had seen success with high profile projects such as the New Parliament House, the Hills Centre and Tusculum - the heritage building with modern extension which is now the headquarters of the NSW chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.

When they met it was still the relatively early days of lighting design, and they discussed their common goal to promote it as a point of excellence in the design field. Where previously lighting had been used to illuminate a space, both Glen and Murray were innovative in their idea to use light to create a space, to create ambience - to enhance the environment. In their eyes, lighting was “more than just lights; great lighting should be sensed, not necessarily seen”

In 1990, Tom Russell joined the dynamic duo and the electrical engineering capability was added to the pool of talent. Together, and with their team of specialists, they have completed over 3000 projects. Murray is extremely proud of their combined achievements, having grown the company from a small 5-strong team to a group of people who have emerged as one of the few major specialist lighting and electrical design companies in the country.

Some of Murray’s favourite projects include his collaboration with Altis Architecture on the original foyer at Canterbury ‘Bulldogs’ League Club “the one with the amazing water feature”, and the Chinese Restaurant at the same site. He reminisces about his days commissioning the specialist lighting at the Arthouse Hotel, which was designed to illuminate Shona Wilson’s delicate artworks, and he is proud of the results achieved by his team for the Virgin Airport Lounges as well as the Pinctada Resort in Broome for the Paspaley family.

One of his proudest achievements to date is receiving a National Trust Heritage Award for the lighting design of the St Peters Cathedral in Armidale. It was the third award Haron Robson had won for that project, but it was the very first time in history a lighting design solution had been recognised by the National Trust. Murray partnered with Hector Abrahams on that project, and his respect for the celebrated heritage architect is clear.

Having the opportunity to work with highly-regarded designers throughout his career is something Murray is thankful for, “working with some of the greatest architects and interior designers in the country is a great thrill, and indeed, a major privilege in my life and career”.

Having won almost every lighting design award going, Murray doesn’t let it go to his head. He is proud of the fact that his peers respect his portfolio of work, but that doesn’t encroach on his modesty. He recognises his business partners - Glen Haron, “himself, a very accomplished lighting designer” and Tom Russell, “one of the best electrical engineers I have worked with” - for their support, encouragement and friendship, and of course the part they have played in opening up new doors and opportunities to work on such amazing projects. 

And now he feels the time is right to give those same opportunities to others, retiring is his way of encouraging younger people in the company to take on his mantle. As one of the elder statesmen of lighting design, he should know… and we should listen. He feels now is the right time to let the new guard through, and we are just as excited as he is to see what they have in store!


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