Why He’s Top 40: He has helped Edmontonians see their city in a new light via a series of illumination projects that include the Muttart Conservatory and the High Level Bridge.
If you could change one thing about Edmonton, what would it be? “I’d like to see more of a walking atmosphere. It would do a lot for our downtown – and maybe other areas as well – if they blocked off an entire block or street to make it an entire promenade.”
It wouldn’t take long for anyone looking around the North Saskatchewan River valley at night to see how the cityscape has changed. The dazzling light show from the High Level Bridge and the multicoloured glow emanating from the pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory have certainly made differences after sunset.
Sunil Nakai can take part of the credit for coming up with the programming for the features that animate those structures. He especially had fun with the High Level Bridge, which had over 60,000 LED bulbs for him to play with.
“It’s probably the biggest project of its nature in Canada,” says Nakai, who had a hand in programming some of the shows on the bridge, including the eye-catching display on Canada Day. “I mean, that bridge is huge! So in that sense, the size and scale is unprecedented, especially in Edmonton. That bridge has so many fixtures, you can program shows for Canada Day and other events. It can get pretty complicated.”
Achievements like these put Edmonton on the forefront of lighting design, Nakai believes. “I think we’re pretty leading edge with the rest of Canada; we’re right up there in terms of lighting design with current and fresh approaches. Our city has dramatically changed over the past few years in terms of what we light up, how we light up and the statement that it makes on our city skyline.”
Away from his desk, Nakai is also making his mark on his profession as an executive member of the Edmonton chapter of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and teaches lighting to architectural students at Athabasca University. He has also worked on fundraising drives for the United Way, supports events like the Johnson MS Bike Tour and has volunteered to referee sporting events facilitated by the Edmonton Sport and Social Club.
While Nakai’s daily occupation involves everything electrical, it’s the illumination part of his itinerary that sparks his drive.
“Lighting is the most fun of my entire job,” he says. “It’s the part that people see and it’s the most creative aspect. I think it’s how you most make an impact on a building.”