Howard Brandston, lighting design pioneer, dies aged 87

March 1, 2023

(USA) – Howard Brandston, founding member of the IALD and pioneer of the lighting design profession, has passed away at the age of 87.

Born in Canada, Brandston moved to the United States at the age of 9, growing up in New York. From an early age, Brandston had a passion for theatre and art that was encouraged by one of his early mentors – his art teacher at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, Leon Freund.

Speaking to arc in 2008, he said: “Leon had been involved in the government-sponsored WPA projects of the Depression. He called us his ‘Art Squad’; in art studio, he would say to the class ‘You have a blank piece of paper in front of you: it represents an opportunity to create a work of art. Let’s see what you can do.’”

Brandston’s interest in the arts eventually led to him studying Theatrical Illumination at Brooklyn College. Following his studies, Brandston worked as an assistant to lighting luminary Stanley McCandless, whom he credited as being a major influence and inspiration on both his work and his design philosophy.

Following the overriding ethos of “Rules are a substitute for thinking, and I wasn’t going to stop thinking,” Brandston branched out from theatre lighting into architectural lighting design, initially alongside McCandless, before taking a job with architectural lighting designer Seymour Evans, whom Brandston described as “a character beyond belief”.

From here, Branston established his own lighting practice, Howard Brandston Lighting Design Inc – now known as Brandston Partnership Inc (BPI) – in 1965. Through this, one of Brandston’s first major projects was the Canada Pavilion at Montreal Expo in 1967; this in turn led to an opportunity to work on the American Pavilion at Expo 1970 in Osaka, Japan.

In the following 50 years, BPI has completed more than 5,000 projects around the world and has expanded from its New York headquarters to offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Singapore and Seoul.

Notable projects from Brandston’s illustrious portfolio include the restoration of the Statue of Liberty; the Detroit City lighting masterplan; the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur (formerly the tallest building in the world); the American Museum of Natural History, New York; and the Marina Bay Financial Centre in Singapore.

Alongside his stellar work with BPI, Brandston was also passionate about teaching – he led a design studio at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and was actively involved in the Lighting Research Institute, The Lighting Research Center at RPI, and the Lighting Research and Education Fund. In 1981, he also founded the Annual Workshop for Teachers of Lighting and endowed the annual Brandston Student Lighting Competition as part of the awards programmes of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).

Brandston was also one of the founding members of the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), establishing the association in 1969. Speaking to online lighting platform Lytei, he recalled its formation: “We were setting the standard; we were all looking for excellence; we all had the same goal, even if we didn’t have the same methods; we were all heading in the same direction, even if it was by a different path.”

Across his career, Brandston received many lighting awards, including the Lifetime Achievement award with the IESNA and IALD; Fellow status with the IALD; Honorary Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE); Honor Award for Contributions to Architecture from the American Institute of Architects (AIA); and he has been inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame.

Longtime business partner Robert Prouse, who retired from BPI in 2018, announced the news of Brandston’s passing on LinkedIn. He said: “It is my sad duty to tell you that Howard Brandston passed away peacefully this afternoon, after a few days in hospice care. For those that didn’t know him, he was a towering figure in architectural lighting design. He was a founding member of the IALD, Past President of the IESNA, and recipient of many awards.”

Speaking of Brandston’s legacy, IALD President Mônica Luz Lobo, said: “Words can’t express the contribution he made to our profession. To refer to Howard as an icon in the lighting design profession only begins to touch upon his impact and importance. He is warmly remembered and revered, and the IALD community worldwide owes him immense thanks for his talent, care, and contribution over a lifetime of fantastic achievement.”

Considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of modern architectural lighting design, Brandston leaves behind a rich legacy and will be long remembered for his invaluable contributions to the lighting design profession.

“Light is everywhere. Light is everything. Light is life. It is art, it is science, it is whatever you wish to make it.” – Howard Brandston, 1935 – 2023

Watch a six-part interview series with Brandston, filmed by Lytei in 2020, here.