Education + Resources, Lighting Industry

LEARNING TO SEE: A Matter of Light

Last year, it was my honor to work with legendary lighting designer Howard Brandston on editing his new book LEARNING TO SEE: A Matter of Light, which was subsequently published by IES. I wrote about the book in Illuminate, a magazine I edit for the publishers of Architectural Products and several other magazines for which I write, but never produced a comprehensive review here at LightNOW. I am now writing to correct this and encourage you to get a copy.

LEARNING TO SEE: A Matter of Light by Howard Brandston

At 138 pages, it’s a slim book, but its content is ambitious in its comprehensiveness, covering the science of art and the art of lighting. It is Brandston’s gift to the design community, a playful but incisive distillation of more than 50 years of experience designing and teaching lighting. It’s a career boiled down into insight and advice, complete with an appendix comprised entirely of quotable musings. You will find yourself quoting from the entire book, in fact, after finishing it.

If the book could be boiled even further to a single statement, it might be Brandston’s trademark question, “What is it you wish to see?” As an artist and lover of life, he challenges people to re-examine every decision they make in a fresh context, focus on every moment being lived, and turn each day from a series of things to be done into a provocative question. As one of the lighting industry’s iconoclasts, he challenges today’s designers of lighting–and he considers almost everyone a designer–to transcend the rules and conventions of lighting to viscerally connect with the project. Put yourself in the role of the customer, he says. The worker. The traveler. You are here, going there. What is it you wish to see? In this way, he reminds us of the artistic nature of lighting and to think about light as an artist, how to use it to achieve a desired emotional response in the users of light.

Howard Brandston at an IESNY-sponsored book signing at Bottlerocket Wines on June 19, 2008 in New York City.

Howard Brandston at an IESNY-sponsored book signing at Bottlerocket Wines on June 19, 2008 in New York City.

The book is divided into four sections: Learning to See, Taking Responsibility, Creativity and Communication. In the first section, Brandston acknowledges light as governed by science but raises up lighting as an art form that must be understood relative to context, culture, demographics and scale. In the second section, he describes how to harness one’s creativity and internalize and externalize it through communication. In the third section, he talks about how to transcend rules and conventions to be truly creative. And the last section is about the process of lighting design. The book ends with appendices about lighting terms, ethics and design, and wit and wisdom. The short, easy to digest chapters are spiced with short commentaries by luminaires such as Oliver Sacks, Peter Boyce and Dan Ciampa, as well as insight into his thinking during some of his more prominent projects such as the relighting of the Statue of Liberty.There are valuable takeaways for veteran lighting designers as well as those approaching lighting for the first time.

You can get LEARNING TO SEE here.

2008 – 138 Pages
Full color
ISBN: 978-0-87995-225-9
Price: $65.00
Member Price: $50.00

About the Author: Howard M. Brandston, LC, FIESNA, Hon. CIBSE, FIALD, MPLDA, MSL&L, is an award-winning lighting consultant, professor and artist. He has more than 50 years’ experience in lighting design, engineering and electronics, designing illumination for more than 2,500 projects, including the relighting of the Statue of Liberty. In 1999, he was awarded the AIA Institute Honors Award for his contributions to architecture, and he is the only lighting designer to have been inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame.


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