William Ming Cheong Lam, 1924-2012

William Ming Cheong Lam, 87, of Cambridge MA died on April 6th in his sleep at home. Bill Lam is survived by his wife of 58 years Dianne Jones Lam, sons John Lam  & his wife Luanne Stiles of CT and Kwai Lam of CA; granddaughter Sylvie Lam of MA. He is also survived by a brother Dr. Fred Lam Jr. of HI, sister Genevieve Fraiman of VA, and many wonderful nieces and nephews. 

Bill was born in Honolulu, HI in 1924, son of Dr. Fred Lam and Ah Chin Loo. Bill Lam graduated from Punahou School in 1941 and received a BA in Architecture from MIT in 1949.  His studies at MIT were interrupted by service in the Army Air Corps as a B-25 co-pilot. After graduation he formed Lam Workshop, which manufactured furniture and lights of his own design, one of which was included in a traveling exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art.  In 1951 the business became Lam Inc (Wakefield MA) and focused on manufacturing architectural lighting fixtures.  The company is now a division of Phillips.

In 1959 Bill Lam changed his role from designer/manufacturer to consultant to architects.  He was a pioneer in the integration of lighting-, day-lighting-, and building systems. He quickly coined the slogan “Lighting by Design, Not Engineering.” Bill's goal was buildings that were comfortable, functional and sustainable.  He was active in creating standards and guidelines, such as 'An Approach To The Design Of The Luminous Environment', for State University Construction Fund of New York (1976).

His firm: William Lam Associates, consulted/collaborated with architects, urban planners and governments on more than 2000 projects of many types on several continents. A notable early project was the design of the Washington Metro subway system.

Key to the collaborations were an innovative team-design process, where lighting, structural, mechanical and architectural aspects were coordinated from the beginning of design. The firm became Lam Partners in 1980 as his associates took on larger roles. Lam Partners continues as an active and thriving consultancy.  Bill 'retired' to solo practice in 1995.

In 2000 the American Institute of Architects honored Bill Lam with the Institute Honor for Collaborative Achievement. Quoting from the award:

"Sought nationally and internationally by the world's leading designers, his lighting completes rather than competes with architecture, supporting his strong conviction that the best lighting results the integration of all design elements through team collaboration."

       Bill influenced the emerging field of lighting design through teaching generations of students at Harvard, MIT and elsewhere. His articles and books were also influential. His first book Perception and Lighting as Form Giver for Architecture, serves as both a manual for architects, lighting designers and planners and also a manifesto advocating comfort over numbers. A later book, Sunlighting as Formgiver for Architecture, advocated natural lighting, energy efficiency and solar architecture.

In 2001 Architectural Lighting Magazine chose Bill as one of their 6 inaugural "Living Legends" saying:

"A pioneer in the field of lighting design and consultation, Lam enjoyed a career spanning more than 50 years as a designer, consultant to architects, teacher and author."
Bill had many pleasures in his life: tennis, early music, travel, opera and exquisite food.

Services will be private. A memorial celebration will be held on May 14th, 2pm at the MIT Chapel, 48 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA, 02139. Donations may be made to Boston Baroque or a charity of your choice.