Anne Militello followed a variety of different pathways to architecture, most of them in entertainment. Before moving to Hollywood and founding Vortex Lighting, she lived in Manhattan working on and off Broadway—designing sets for stage plays and illuminating them—a career that has earned her an American Theater Wing nomination and an Obie Award.
She also did lighting for punk bands and got her first go at architecture after meeting Patricia Field and lighting her store on 8th Street. “All the punks and New Wavers shopped there,” said Militello. “I went down to the Bowery and went into all the shops where the Hasidic men explained to me what down lights were. The project turned out great, but I faked my way through it.”
In the late 1980s Militello started working for Disney. “I heard that Michael Eisner was in New York recruiting Broadway designers to build Euro Disney,” she said. “I was interested in doing something else. They hired me and I wound up in LA working for Disney Engineering for four years, training with them and then doing theme park rides.”
Though she never worked on Disneyland Paris, she contributed to just about every other Magic Kingdom in the world. “It was a great proving ground for architectural lighting,” she continued. After leaving Disney, Militello got a job with Universal, where she lit The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man ride. The ride’s groundbreaking use of technology earned her a Lighting Designer of the Year Award from Lighting Dimensions International.
Militello started her company in 1996 and was launched into the architectural limelight with one of her first projects: the New 42nd Street Studios building, which won a Waterbury Award in 2000. The building is a city-funded rehearsal studio for the New York performing arts community. Militello outfitted the 200-foot facade with a computer-controlled display of flashing colors that change rapidly, creating a different light show every night of the week. The original installation was primarily made up of tungsten halogen lamps, but in 2007 Militello replaced those with LEDs—1,000-watt fixtures for 30-watt fixtures—reducing the energy consumption by approximately 90 percent.
These days, Militello’s architectural work is split between artistic installations on building exteriors and hospitality environments, though she has also worked on some museums. “We deal a lot with environment and mood because of my background,” she said.
The designer sees a common thread between lighting for the stage and for hotels and nightclubs. “I’m doing the same thing,” she said. “When lighting a play, the first thing you figure out is what’s the story on stage? Here it’s real life, but it’s also a sexy mood play. People have to look good. I certainly know how to do that after working in the theater with these old divas who don’t want their wrinkles to show.”
One of Militello’s most recent projects is The Playhouse, a 750-person capacity nightclub in Hollywood’s Fox Theater designed by New York firm I©RAVE. While another firm did the dance floor lighting, Militello designed custom fixtures for the space, and equipped the bar’s back wall with LEDs. “We got value engineered out the wazoo, but as long as I’ve got dimmers I can create a mood,” she said.
Militello still does stage lighting, and currently has two concerts on the road: Leonard Cohen and The Decemberists. She also works on her own art and has done gallery shows. She sees these and the architecture work as a triumvirate that keeps her in balance. “I’ve had the opportunity to go crazy on stage, to take color and splash it all over and have a disco party. When I do my own work I can do what I want. With architecture I have to make it simple and elegant and non-intrusive and just calm and beautiful. That’s a challenge that I’ve been working with in the last few years.”