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Designer Beau McClellan creates art with light, best exemplified in his work The Tree, a lighting sculpture in Shanghai’s Nadaman restaurant. Shalini Seth explores the key themes in his work – LED, hand-ground crystal and plenty of wow!

In the daytime when it is often not lit, all a chandelier can do is wait to be turned on. But when it comes to creations by Beau McClellan, the Scotsman based in Portugal, who works in places as varied as Russia, Dubai, Shanghai and Qatar, a chandelier becomes a lighting sculpture. At night it glows with tens of thousands of LEDs, reflecting his green credentials, while in the daytime his work is designed to interact with the available natural light to reflect, interact or glow.

One of his latest creations is the Tree at Nadaman Shanghai, a restaurant chain established about 170 years ago by Mansuke Nadaya (Nadaman) in Osaka, which first branched into Singapore in 1971 at the Shangri La Hotel. In Shanghai, it is located in the Pudong Shangri La’s Tower 2.

Unlike his usual repertoire of hanging sculptures, this one appears rooted. “We’ve used 3,500 stylised stainless steel chopsticks for the tree, which is meant to bring to mind the Japanese willow tree,” says McClellan. The pendulous, lance-shaped branches drooping to the ground are perfectly captured on the glowing tree.

The Tree will be the design centrepiece at the Nadaman. “I was doing sculpture before I was doing lighting. I was working with the interior designer of the project, and it was her idea to introduce a tree,” says McClellan.

McClellan’s inspiration harks back to his childhood, when as a young boy in Scotland he would look at the sun shining down on skated-upon ice that gave the effect of “scratches of light.” Whether it is the tree or his most ambitious project which he is working on currently, Reflective Flow, his training as a sculptor comes in good stead. “I hail from a very traditional background.

I am a blacksmith and a sculptor, so I use that. I use hand-made crystal to nice effect. In a chandelier, the hand-made crystal gave us pastel shades of colours in LEDs that were especially made for us,” he says.

McClellan won four Red Dot Design Awards in 2007 for his Beau for Brumberg range, which was designed for German lighting manufacturer, Brumberg. McClellan was also named as the runner-up for the Light of the Year Award in 2008, and was a nominee for the Design Preis in the same year.

His fascination with LEDs continues in much of his work. “The world of LEDs is constantly developing. The next development is long strips of paper cut to different shapes. They are being used for small TV screens as well. It is incredible. I have been very lucky, as I get sent a lot of technology before it is ready for the market. We are allowed to play and have some fun with it,” he adds.

When we spoke to him, McClellan was concerned with the practicality of putting together his latest sculpture, Reflective Flow, housed in a commercial building in Qatar.

It’s his most ambitious sculpture to date and has been designed over a two-year period for a seven-storey-high, linearly-arranged office block anchored by a 15-storey commercial building in Qatar. After its installation, it would be the world’s largest interactive LED light sculpture.

Clad with dark tinted glass, polished and textured natural stone tiles, it is placed in the building’s skylight atrium consisting of 2,300 individually hand-ground optical crystals, each shrouded on both sides by pieces of concave glass covered with a reflective coating. It uses more than 80,000 LEDs and is controlled by a state-of-the-art system built specifically for this project.

Each of the 2,300 modules can be controlled individually, allowing the maximum amount of colour and display variation – so that the light sculpture can constantly and organically transform and evolve in colour, shape and light.

For a private client, McClellan has created Cardume. “The chandelier had to be designed to work through the day reflecting all natural light. We used a special mirror coating for the glass, which becomes transparent or semi-transparent depending on how much light is introduced. The light comes from 1,500 LEDs magnified by hand-ground optical crystal to produce rich pastel colours,” he says.

User-friendliness is a part of McClellan’s signature. For Reflective Flow, the glass coating on the sculpture was in development for three years. It has all the qualities of a mirror, reflecting exactly all that surrounds it, including light and movement. The coating is anti-static to help repel dust, which reduces the ever-present problem of cleaning a light installation of this size.

“Many of my clients want something that money can’t buy. And with lighting I can help deliver that to them,” says the artist who harnesses LEDs to create what he calls “paintings with light.” And art does not come with buttons. “Someone who pays half a million dollars for a chandelier does not want to figure out a billion switches,” he explains.

Technologically speaking, it’s very exciting. Totally interactive, each LED pixel can be individually controlled, with all the data coming to the sculpture through a system of fibre optics. A low-resolution video control system has been developed specifically for the project, so it remains an interactive art installation.

McClellan’s work brings together craftsmanship, innovation and cutting-edge LED technology.
 

“At Nadaman, above the Tree we have created skylight-like structures which are actually LED panels that work with outside light to capture the same colour as the outside. In the daytime they are set close to natural light. When the sun is going down, the lights are set to a golden red colour. At night, the ambience is different. There are different triggers. We have DMX controls which were used in stage or theatre lighting, but they are now for household use too. In a bigger project, you use video control,” says McClellan.

Apart from working with private clients to create exclusive products for more than a decade and designing Beau for Brumberg, Beau McClellan Design has formed an alliance with two Canadian companies – Ambiances Lighting and Visual Design headed by principal designer Martin Gagnon, who is armed with more than 15 years of experience, together with LED technology specialists, LSI Saco Technologies.

This partnership, operating under the banner of D3, has enabled the three companies to combine lighting design expertise and advanced technical knowhow to create major lighting projects.

The dazzling nature of his work has made sure that McClellan is noticed in every location where he branches out. “We have entered most of our markets with one big show. We are in the high-end market – the model has been the same in Dubai, Russia or Shanghai.

We do one big piece, and that is the best way to get into the market. It’s a big wow, huge and beautiful, and you aren’t damaging the environment. In Russia, we came via the Millionaire Show.”

In Dubai it was Reflections, a 5X6.5m piece, an asymmetrical chandelier made from crystal tubes reflecting a myriad shades dressed up in LED, consisting of 280 hand-ground crystal tubes, suspended with 15km of cable that immediately caught the city’s fancy.

McClellan wants to use the same spectacular model to enter the Indian market. “The model we have has worked worldwide, so I imagine we will try that in India as well,” he says
 

Does he visualise any difference in the way Indians are likely to think from, let’s say, the nouveau riche Russians or the growing Chinese millionaires?

“I have Indian clients in Dubai. They are a large family and there are differences in the markets. Dubai attracts large projects. Abu Dhabi and Qatar are more reserved. My Indian clients have the biggest yachts and a private jet, yet they will call me up and tell me: ‘We really have to get the price down’.Then I say: ‘You are on private jet right now, on your way to enjoy your new yacht, and you are talking about prices’.”

In terms of design, the world of Beau McClellan is one small place. He says: “The three Indian brothers have different tastes. The older one is more classical and India-oriented, the other is more modern and prefers contemporary design. I think the world is now learning about design.”

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