The Lighting Tree: Stuart Alexander

The UK lighting design community is rich in talent. The Lighting Tree is looking forward to introducing you to many of those people who make UK lighting design such a thrilling environment to work in.

Stuart Alexander is an Associate with Michael Grubb Studio in Bournemouth.

1. What was the fascination with lighting that drew you to into this career?

Studying architecture at Central St. Martins I started playing with video, projectors and new media software. It led me to think of architectural space as dynamic, 4D in an immaterial way; in a way that is more focused on the atmosphere of the architecture.

These thoughts are something that stay with me. Working as a lighting designer, the way light can transform spaces is really powerful and something that is wonderful to be working with. There is so much to explore, so many new thoughts, ideas and progress to enjoy. 

2. There are lots of aspects to creating good lighting design; is there any one aspect of the process that means more to you than anything else?

I do think a lot about how to visualise or process what light will do in my imagination. I can shut my eyes and feel how light can affect or influence a space. But this is purely based on learned experiences, testing lights and the occupational hazard of noticing and reflecting on pretty much every lit environment I experience in my day to day life.

Ideas are something that take time to brew too. Way too many decisions in meetings don’t equate to new and wonderful things. One thing that has been very rewarding recently is collaborating with the IoT department at Arup and building an open source light, sound, video controller for Lush. So many questions need to be raised on the control front and it’s exciting when your ideas get made into something new, progressive and forward thinking. 

So to answer that question in one word, the aspect I like is ‘development’: brewing up ideas over time, watching the fermentation process and enjoying whatever you made, however you made it . . . Homebrew / Lightbrew.

3. I guess we should also ask, for balance, is there anything in the process that you’d prefer to avoid and pass onto someone else in the studio?

I’ve grown up with computers and technology, so hand writing or sketching without the aid of computational devices is one I’d pass on, but when I get that content into software then the magic can happen. This is something I’m currently questioning in both ways – how to introduce non-digital methods, but also how to get the most from a computer and the things it can do. Everything you can touch with your hands is a tool, it’s got the same merit if you use high end 3D rendering or use watercolour – just get the ideas to transfer from your mind to another person in the best and most thought-provoking way you can.

4. What or who are your influences when it comes to light creation?

‘Who’ always draws the similar conclusions that exist in our industry. So I’m glad ‘what’ is included here! I have a wide range of influences, and I love lists so I’ll give you a short list of some of the things that inspire me!

– I avidly collect images of things that inspire or interest me, everything from totem poles to 90’s Japanese games background graphics. I’m a magpie for a lot of these things; I’m interested in a lot more than ‘lights’.

– Natural phenomena using light – natural and man-made. Light hitting the sea and being on the coastline or Rayleigh scattering for example.

– I have a growing collection of architectural lighting books from 70’s-90’s. Basically pre-internet – it is really amazing to see how people thought and used lights from different eras. There is too much pinterestification of design now and finding old approaches can really inspire new ideas. Trends are cyclical, it’s important to be ahead of the curve and see things with a fresh set of eyes!

– I’m really inspired by ‘Amateur Aesthetic’ at the moment; how everyday people create things and how it is remembered, getting beyond the slick and overly polished imagery. Endless perfect images. Juergen Teller for example within photography.

This John Peel quote fits perfect here: “Somebody was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don’t have any surface noise. I said, ‘Listen, mate, *life* has surface noise.”

5. Tell us something about the Stuart Alexander that exists outside of lighting.

Having a phase where walking for days on end on the same coast path is the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life. It’s great to get off the omnipresent screens in our lives and see some of the most mad things that this wonderful Earth has designed. I’m doing the South West Coast Path (England) and recently got to Land’s End from our office door in Bournemouth.

I find it like a form of meditation, you can really let your mind wander and really process what’s happening in life, as well as see a continuing path in slow motion. Like reading a book each hill is a page and the whole things locks together into a story. Walking through every type of weather system, watching the days and nights turn like a clock as you walk along one path, there is so much to be enjoyed in slow motion! Learning that the best bits are furthest from the car park is a good way to look at other bits of your life too! 

Thank you, Stuart.

Tree and Light: thanks to Darren Bockman for the image.
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