Mr. Brandston has been a teacher or guest lecturer on the topic of architectural lighting since 1959, with many noteworthy accomplishments including founding the Lighting Research Center, establishing and endowing the Education Grant in 1981 through the IESNA, and helping to create the Chair in Lighting at Cooper Union in New York City. His contributions to the field of lighting as both a designer and an educator are invaluable.
A|L: There are only seven established lighting design degree programs in the United States, according to the IALD Education Trust. Should the profession have achieved more in this area by now?
HB: These are programs in architectural lighting, not theater lighting. I am not sure that I agree with undergraduate degree programs in architectural lighting. I ponder if these programs should only grant Masters Degrees after a basic liberal arts, interior design, or an architectural degree has been attained. I say all of this despite the fact that I did not follow this route. But times have changed and it is this change that I attribute that opinion to. You need a broad spectrum of exposure to the world to really serve a client properly.
A|L: What can a degree program be expected to teach a lighting design student and what can it not be expected to teach? Who/what should teach the latter?
HB: A degree program should prepare students to be entering professionals. It should imbue in them the philosophical underpinnings of the responsibility they will undertake after graduation. Of course they should understand the principles of design and research in their subject, have their hands in, around, and through light and lighting. After graduation and upon becoming an apprentice in some firm, they leave the world of therapy and enter the world of reality. 'In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.' (Yogi Berra) Their employers are responsible for bringing them into the world gracefully.
A|L: What should the industry (lighting designers, design firms, the IALD, manufacturers) be expected to do to promote lighting educations? Are they?
HB: Some individuals and some firms have been remarkably generous. Look at the list of education support programs and competitions that exist today and the lists of those who contribute to them. Those involved deserve great acclaim. But it is not enough. More folks from every aspect of lighting need to have a continuing involvement. We need many more programs. I will know that the lighting industry education efforts have succeeded when I don't have to explain to people what a lighting designer is when they ask me what I do for a living.
AL: You are an advocate of the mentor/student relationship. Obviously there are not as many 'greats' as there are students who need to learn, so how does one find and choose the right mentor?
HB: Each student is responsible for his or her own education-it is not the burden of the educator. Each of us has many mentors during our lifetime. Each student must find who it is they would like to have as a primary mentor and then do whatever is necessary to get that position. They should be on a mission from the day they select their profession to determine who that mentor should be. When I was a student I had many mentors, but it was clear to me that Stanley McCandless was the god of lighting. I knew if I got the opportunity to work for him when I finished school I would get the best education available in the world. Of course there were other great people around, but he was my choice. I succeeded and the rest is history. If you don't seek your mentor early on and plan, you will have to take whatever position is afforded you.