From the Archives
Making a Difference
Alumni Travel Program
By Jodi Ackerman
to ancient Greek myth, mortals came to grasp light with their hands
when Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. The titan
was greatly punished for his deed because the gods feared their brilliant
flame would give humankind greater power than they possessed.
Howard Brandston, adjunct profesor
at the Lighting Research Center and world-renowned lighting designer,
pictured with his two hunting dogs, Purdey and Corey, at his Hollowville
home in Columbia County.
We have not been
transformed into gods because of Prometheus' gift. Yet the flame we
have cultured to brighten the depths of darkness has allowed us to take
full command of not only how we live, but who we are, how we think,
how we express ourselves to others.
The power of illumination
as an art form, bringing out deep emotion and wonder of the individual,
is what Howard Brandston has worked to achieve around the world for
the past 35 years.
"Light is the primary fact of our existence. It governs our daily
life in the most basic and comprehensive ways,'' says Brandston, a world-renowned
lighting designer and adjunct professor at the School of Architecture's
Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer. "Light symbolizes understanding,
emotional as well as intellectualthe sudden grasp of a concept,
that flash, that moment of empathy of when we can say 'we get it' and
we have seen the light.'"
Through his company, The Brandston Partnership Inc., based in New York
City, Brandston has shed light on more than 2,500 projects all over
the world, ranging from skyscrapers, museums, and subways to waterfalls,
historical buildings, and monuments that continue to touch the minds
and hearts of millions.
Since Brandston opened his lighting design firm in 1966, he has received
countless awards from professional associations, including the Illuminating
Engineering Society of North America and the American Institute of Architects.
As an energy conservationist, Brandston, who wrote the mathematical
equation for lighting standards in the first U.S. energy code, helped
set the initial energy standards for lighting from 1975 to 1985.
Brandston is probably best known for relighting the Statue of Liberty
as part of the 1986 restoration of the 150-foot copper monument that
stands in New York Harbor as a symbol of freedom and opportunity. The
year marked the centennial of France's gift of Lady Liberty to the United
States to commemorate the American Revolution.
Although it wasn't Brandston's biggest project, to him it still holds
great symbolic meaning.
freedom. The Statue of Liberty carries a torch that can be seen not
just in New York Harbor, but in the hearts and hopes of people around
the world," he says. "Miss Liberty also carries a book, which
she can read by torchlight when it gets dark. Because of manufactured
light we can control and turn light on to see whenever we need to. And
reading is the indispensable building block of freedom."
WORLDWIDE, AND HOMEGROWN
Brandston and his 14 associates illuminate architectural masterpieces
throughout the world. The company recently completed the lighting for
Petronas (National Oil Company) Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Erected in 1998 and rising to 1,483 feet, the buildings are the tallest
in the world.
Some of Brandston's additional lighting projects in the United States
include New York's Central Park Zoo and Battery Park City. He also developed
the lighting master plans for the Meadowlands Sports Complex in New
Jersey and the Central Business District of Detroit.
Yet, despite his successes nationally and internationally, Brandston
generally prefers to talk about projects in New York, the state he has
called home for most of his life.
In recent years, Brandston has paid particular attention to Central
and Upstate New York. Last November, his company completed the lighting
for Niagara Mohawk's famous 1932 art deco building, which houses the
utility company's headquarters in Syracuse. The idea was to replicate
and add to the spectacular illumination of the building as it had existed
before World War II using modern technology. This undertaking represents
the significance of Niagara Mohawk's civic pride and community responsibility,
Brandston is currently assisting in redeveloping Columbus Circle in
Syracuse. Home to several majestic churches, the historic Fourth Onondaga
County Courthouse, and the internationally known Everson Museum of Art,
the circle is the city's center of civic, cultural, and religious life.
"We are going to turn it into a really wonderful celebratory part
of town," he says. "The lighting is really meant to be an
expression of civic pride and responsibility and to create great places
for people to enjoy. A city is the living room center of the region
of which it serves, so one has to keep the grandeur and display the
context of what the city is."
The Columbus Circle
concept calls for a downtown square with its own distinct character,
and separate from the typical streetlight grid that tends to highlight
city traffic and crowded highways at night. To create this "special
room," Brandston will use soft white light to turn the area into
a warm, safe, and inviting plaza for families and other strollers to
enjoy festivals and celebrations while discouraging motor vehicle intrusion.
Brandston used a similar soft light approachdimming the lights
just a little morein illuminating the falls in Ticonderoga, just
north of Lake George, last spring.
"You'll see these falls in a natural way, like we turned up the
moonlight just a little to create a romantic place within this park,
where couples can walk around and hold hands and get away from the computer
world," he says.
SPOTLIGHT ON SUCCESS
Brandston, who attributes good mentorship not only to his successful
career but to a life of personal satisfaction, is known by many to be
an in-your-face" kind of man.
His warm, infectious smile and deep philosophical conversations speak
to how far he will go to meet the stars, to see the light, and to transform
what could be to what is. So it's not surprising that he did not passively
wait for the chance that a great mentor might happen to cross his path.
Instead, he was determined to find the one who would serve as the launch
pad for his career in lighting design.
While studying at Brooklyn College, he pursued Stanley McCandless, a
legendary pioneer in lighting design at the advent of the incandescent
lamp in the 1920s and 1930s.
McCandless, a part-time professor at Yale University at the time, liberally
gave Brandston advice and eventually offered the young college student
a job as his assistant at Century Lighting.
For nearly five years, Brandston immersed himself in everything the
professional designer had to offer, becoming a McCandless protege. "I
learned to be a human being. I got more opportunities and more latitude
than most people ever did in school. He [McCandless] was the one I would
look toward for the answers," Brandston says. "There were
others who wrote articles and books. But they never had quite the same
clear, educated approach that he did. He wrote the foundation from which
other work came and I was really fortunate to get a job as his assistant."
Brandston designed lights for touring shows and eventually for off-Broadway
productions before he left stage work in 1959 to pursue artistic challenges
in the world of architecture. Besides the substantial comfort achieved
in being paid regularly, Brandston says he wanted his work to have greater
meaning and to stamp his name more permanently on the product.
"In theater ... if it's a good play it will last a while, whereas
if you build the pyramids, you create a culture," he says ."Architecture
is the chronicle of the times, and light is part of that if you build
it into the architecture. If it's a good piece of work, your contribution
will always be there."