Taking lighting design to new extremes,Beau McClellan and his team have worked on some remarkable projects around the globe. Speaking to Stacey Sheppard, he explains how he first got into lighting design, how it felt when his first commercial collection won four Red Dot Design Awards and how he is developing technology that will benefit architects and designers.
For Beau McClellan, his journey into lighting design was somewhat different to most others in the industry. Having come from a background in the arts – McClellan had developed an interest in lighting and its ability to provoke certain emotional reactions. “I had been intrigued by lighting for some time. It’s very similar to music in the way it can communicate a feeling or create an emotion,” he explains. “It is that element of communication that keeps me very interested in lighting.”
However, when he first started out, despite having the experience that enabled him to know how to make things aesthetically beautiful, McClellan lacked the technical knowledge required to be a successful lighting designer. He says: “I really needed to give myself a crash course. It was during this time that I decided to take a year out and go to every lighting fair and visit as many lighting companies, fabricators, factories and technology suppliers as I could.”
This was how McClellan first came in contact with Brumberg, a leading German lighting specialist. Impressed by the LEDs and fibre optics that Brumberg was working with and the amount of power that they generated, McClellan asked if he could buy up all their old bits and pieces. “I asked them to send me a container of junk so I could disappear and come up with something,” he says.“I worked with the pieces they gave me for about six months, added some tech I had found along the way and made my first ever LED chandelier. To my surprise it got a lot of press around the world, especially in Milan.”
Upon hearing of McClellan’s LED chandelier, Brumberg commissioned him to design his first collection. “I was involved with absolutely every aspect to do with these products even down to the logos and the packaging,” he explains. “Every aspect of that collection was done and designed by myself and my very small team. It was a real challenge, but one that I really enjoyed.”
McClellan’s hard work and determination paid off when his collection received critical acclaim, winning not one, but four Red Dot Design Awards. “It's always wonderful to receive awards, especially when it is four red dot awards for the same collection. It was really unexpected, and I was very happy to receive them.It's great to know that the first collection has been a success,” says McClellan.
One of the main benefits that McClellan has found from winning these awards has been the doors that it has opened up for him,allowing him far better access to new technologies. In the five short years since the company’s inception, McClellan has been widely recognised for the technical innovation that his products embody. He says that he and his team are always looking to do something different.
“We're all fanatical about what we do and we like to challenge each other constantly. We're all looking for new angles; how we can make something better and how we can bring something new. We're not working to fit in with a trend or fad but we are, hopefully, working to create things that will stand the test of time and, with a bit of luck, outlive us. In this way, I hope what we create is truly sustainable: that we've created a product that will still cross boundaries and that will still be here in fifty or sixty years’ time.”
Whilst McClellan’s designs are steeped in innovation, it is in his signature collection where his artistic inclination and flair is most visible. The studio has worked on spectacular large-scale projects across the globe, with notablecommissions in the Middle East, Asia and Europe.
But perhaps McClellan’s most notable piece of work to date is one called Reflective Flow, which is the largest interactive LED sculpture and chandelier in the world, designed for the Al Hitmi office development in Dohar, Qatar. Thework featured over 2,300 optical crystals and 165,000 LED lights to create a 46m long,20 tonne masterpiece.
Explaining how the commission came about McClellan says: “With Reflective Flow, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. We'd taken a huge risk financially and done our first large trade show in Light Middle East in Dubai. We'd built a huge chandelier showing our new reflective coating.”
Luckily, during that fair, the project manager for that particular project in Qatar approached McClellan. A few weeks later, he received a letter inviting himout to Qatar to discuss the commission. “We came up with the outline idea and it was a huge challenge for us,” he says.“We'd never done something on this scale before and we had about six weeks to come up with the design. The last week was really when inspiration hit. I presented it to the client, he was very happy and we went ahead with Reflective Flow.”
However, the commission did not come without its problems. McClellan explains: “It was a two-year project and every day there was a new challenge. One of the key challenges was staying true to my initial design and form as there were many restrictions put on to the design, especially structural considerations. It was much heavier than we first anticipated. There was 20 tons of steel and glass hung above people's heads, so obviously we had to be very careful!”
Making the top frame, which is a huge extrusion,also provided its own set of complications for the team as it was made from a very high tensile aluminum. “It had to be both light and strong and also have a bit of flex. Another challenge was finding a company that could actually do this extrusion for us,” says McClellan.
“Also, we needed to design something that could be broken down into many small parts then be reassembled in a modular fashion. We had to think about maintenance too and how easy it would be to change an LED with the least amount of hassle.”
Thanks to the large projects that McClellan has been involved in, the studio has now been able to develop a new modular chandelier that allows architects and designers to benefit from the technology they have developed. The innovative jack plug and play system, which is launching at Clerkenwell Design Week later this month, avoids the issue of excessive wiring and greatly simplifies the system.
That is not the only exciting development on the horizon for McClellan though. Summer sees the inauguration of Conrad Hilton in Portugal, which will feature three of his new Fluid chandeliers. He is also about to hand over a large signature installation that has been completed for a client in Dubai. And these are just the projects he is able to talk about.
But despite his growing success McClellan remains grounded. “I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that we all feel very privileged to be in the position that we're in today and we don't take that for granted.”