|The illumination of the Osaka
Aquarium in Japan is among the 2,500 projects Brandston has
lit over the past 35 years.
of two brothers, Brandston was born in Toronto. When he was 9,
his family moved to Brooklyn where his father found a job as a
mechanic at a textile factory in New York's garment district.
"Money was nonexistent. The 1940s were not great years,"
Brandston took advantage of a free higher education available
at the time through the City University system. He enrolled in
a liberal arts curriculum at Brooklyn College in 1953, studying
theater, philosophy, art, and literature. He says those years
were instrumental in transforming him into who he is today.
"Humanities is the most education you can get. It allows
you to find out who you are and whom you live with. Other education
is, in reality, training, and just teaches you how to earn a living
and how you serve others in earning that living. But it doesn't
make you a whole person and the humanities do," he says.
"Specialization should occur in post-graduate studies. Then
you get a total human being with expertise, a person far more
likely to make a meaningful contribution throughout an individual's
career and to continue one's education for life."
The first rule in lighting design is that there are no rules,
says Brandston, an adjunct professor who has been teaching master's-level
courses at Rensselaer’s Lighting Research Center for more than
"For him [Brandston], it's all about what you wish to see,
what effect you want to create, what mood you want to set. However,
he'll never give you the answeryou always have to find that
for yourself,'' says graduate student Patricia Rizzo '01, studying
for her M.S. in lighting.
Brandston is known for bringing hands-on experience into the classroom.
For their class exercises, Rizzo and her classmates created lighting
designs for several buildings on campus, including the Folsom
Library, Voorhees Computing Center, and the recently renovated
The graduate students also worked with fifth-grade students at
School 16 in Troy to develop lighting designs and other building
improvements that the school district may incorporate into a master
|Brandston received the 1996
American Institute of Architect's Honor Award for the illumination
of the Lighthouse, one of New York City's many structures
that have been enhanced through his lighting.
Brandston also has brought Rensselaer to his firm. William "Burr''
Rutledge '95, who earned his bachelor’s in architecture in 1995
and an M.S. in lighting design in 1998, now works for Brandston
as a lighting designer. Rutledge is currently working on lighting
designs for projects at MIT and Yale University. He is also involved
in the $250 million visitor’s center at the U.S. Capitol.
"This office does the best in the world. Each of us is involved
in every phase of the projects, from client presentations to design
layouts to CAD (computer aided design details). The responsibility
is daunting, but it's a great opportunity for me,'' Rutledge says.
"Howard insists on high-quality, well-researched, contextual
design from the students. He stresses professionalism," says
Russell Leslie '80, professor of architecture and associate director
of the LRC.
"He is widely considered the pre-eminent lighting designer
in North America, if not the world. He is an important emissary
to the lighting industry for the LRC and a tireless public champion
for our graduate education program."
For Milena Simeonova '01, also earning her master's in lighting,
it was a dream come true when she found that Brandston would be
her teacher last spring.
"I knew him as the great lighting designer who lighted the
greatest symbol of the USA, the Statue of Liberty. I was in ecstasy
when I learned that he would be my professor," she says.
Brandston, who commutes to Rensselaer from his farmhouse in
Hollowville, Columbia County, on Fridays, doesn't limit his local
involvement to his students. For the past two years, the professor
has been working with the LRC to assist three municipalities along
the New York State Canal System in developing lighting designs
and other improvements. The project, involving the village of
Whitehall, the town of Waterford, and the city of Little Falls,
is part of New York’s Canal Revitalization Program to help municipalities
along the waterfront build up their economies.
Before World War II, commercial activity along the canal drove
the economic prosperity of dozens of towns along its waterway.
But growing competition from railroads and highways, and the opening
of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, caused commercial traffic
on the canal system to all but disappear.
Yet 75 percent of New York’s population still lives along the
canal's corridor. Although thousands of boaters use the Canal
System each year, its potential to become a world-class destination
and recreational waterway has not been fully tapped. The objective
now is to promote tourism by showing off some of the beautiful
landscape, accentuating the communities’ rich history, and connecting
the municipalities to the waterfronts, says Peter Boyce, professor
of architecture, who has been at the LRC for 10 years.
One of the LRC’s challenges is to determine the best way to use
lighting to connect the boaters with the townspeople. In Little
Falls, for instance, a major roadway and a set of railroad tracks
separate the canal from most of the city.
"We want to provide some new lighting to direct people to
the waterfront and to bring the boaters into the towns,"
says Boyce, whose specialty is the interaction of people and lighting.
"The road and railway are major psychological barriers. People
have a mental view of what their home territory is."
For example, the dark and damp underpass beneath the railway is
not very inviting. With this in mind, Boyce suggests building
a pedestrian bridge across the railway to create a connection
and then design lighting to make the bridge inviting. Boyce envisions
a covered wooden bridge with lighting aimed into the woodwork
to make the structure an attractive experience.
"The lighting would offer a soft glow to make the bridge
warm and interesting," he says.
The illumination would also provide a forward view toward the
canal and the city's interior while directing attention away from
the side views of the railroad tracks and an unattractive roadway.
Additional nighttime lighting, lamps, boat tie-ups, and 12-foot-high
post-top luminaires along the canal in areas that lack electricity
are other LRC designs the municipalities are considering.