The Glenn Shrum and Brian McIntyre Interview

flux-Studio
Glenn Shrum (left) and Brian McIntyre (right) of Flux Studio. 

Glenn Shrum founded U.S based FLUX Studio in 2006 and has recently partnered with Brian McIntyre (formerly of George Sexton Associates) to move the studio forward into a new working model adapted to pressures and possibilities of our modern way of life. Sarah Adams talks to Glenn and Brian about their ideas, their passions for museum lighting, light art, and lighting education, and their plans for the future.

You two have recently joined forces as Co-Principals of Flux Studio. How did you come to know each other, and what was behind the decision to ‘get together’, as it were?

Brian: We were coworkers early in our design careers and have remained colleagues and friends for the past 18 years. We both value meaningful work and share an appetite for design via light. Several years ago we started discussing the idea of getting the band back together and what form that would take. As a start, we established that we preferred to spend our time on significant projects where progressive ideas are critical to success. Glenn founded Flux Studio in 2006 as a means to pursue a trans-disciplinary approach to design and to compliment his strong academic career. He spent several years developing the Studio and wanted to expand the office by taking full advantage of 21st century technologies and approaches. After observing the industry evolve over 17 years from one seat, I was keen to rethink the profession, reconsider the design service, question systems and refine working methods. Fundamentally, we both agreed that we could do better work and wanted to explore that main goal together. The discussion and development continues and is at the root of the Studio ethos.

Glenn: From when we worked together in the mid 90’s and were both new to the lighting design profession, we have shared a commitment to the importance of light as a component of the built environment and a dedication finding the unique opportunity for the integration of light on a wide range of projects. In general, my background in art and Brian’s engineering training leads to a strong critical dialogue. From the early days of collaboration, I recognized the synergy that resulted from our diverse perspectives and I’m extremely pleased we have joined forces.

Brian, how would you describe Glenn?

Brian: Thoughtful, confident and very conscientious. All the characteristics I look for in a work spouse.

Glenn, how would you describe Brian?

Glenn: Insightful, deliberate and hardworking. I’ve also found him to have a unique balance of expertise and humility. These qualities are especially important in a collaborative field like architectural lighting design.

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National Aquarium Blacktip Reef Exhibit. Baltiomore Maryland USA.
Photo Credit – Flux Studio.

National Aquarium Blacktip Reef 4_Location Baltimore Maryland USA_Photo Credit_Flux Studio

National Aquarium Blacktip Reef Exhibit. Baltiomore Maryland USA.
Photo Credit – Cambridge Seven Associates, Kwesi Budu-Arthur.

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National Aquarium Blacktip Reef Exhibit. Baltiomore Maryland USA.
Photo Credit – Cambridge Seven Associates, Kwesi Budu-Arthur.

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National Aquarium Blacktip Reef Exhibit. Baltiomore Maryland USA.
Photo Credit – Cambridge Seven Associates, Kwesi Budu-Arthur.

You have mentioned that Flux Studio is something of a new model in terms of the way of working – a studio that meets the requirements of our crazy 21st century lives. Tell us a bit about what you envisage?

Glenn: We want to create a studio that does the highest quality work and is a great place to work by having the right team contribute via efficient means. Since joining forces, we’ve been questioning the structure of a lighting design firm by looking closely at where and when work happens. In recent years, many design firms have been struggling to accommodate flexible work schedules and varied time commitments as a mechanism to keep their team engaged and satisfied, so we have decided to make this the model of our studio operations. By implementing technology that allows our team to work and collaborate from almost anywhere, we have positioned members of our team in key markets of New York, Washington DC and Baltimore. Recognizing the importance of full-scale lighting mock-ups to our process, we decided to maintain a research facility a short walk from the train station in Baltimore. This location also serves as the base of our business operations. We feel our distributed and flexible approach will allow us to provide the best service to our clients and to maintain a high performing, talented team for years to come.

Brian, you have something of a technical architectural and engineering based background. How did you transition into lighting?

Brian: My educational background is specific to lighting design with more emphasis on lighting engineering. I guess my transition occurred at university. Initially, I was very passionate about architecture and pursued that education but over time I was uneasy with the scope of architecture not allowing for a more complete understanding of the engineering behind the design. Lighting design allowed me to stay close to architecture and explore details in greater depth.

Tell us a bit about your process? From where do you draw your inspiration?

Brian: I believe my external process is comprehensive and collaborative starting with listening and observing then analyzing and understanding the complexities of every project. There is order and logic. However, I find good design not to be linear and inspiration happens at unpredictable times and places. A good project will evolve in an original way, often outwardly regular and internally circuitous.

Baltimore Museum of Art_Exterior rendering by Flux Studio_ Locaiton Baltimore Maryland USA

Baltimore Museum of Art. Baltimore Maryland USA.Rendering by Flux Studio.

Brian, your CV reads like a who’s who of museum design, with a stellar client list from your work while at George Sexton Associates, including the Milwaukee Art Museum with Santiago Calatrava, The Museum of Modern Art with Taniguchi and Associates, the Neue Galerie with Selldorf Architects, the Denver Art Museum with Daniel Libeskind, the Anchorage Museum with David Chipperfield Architects, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston with Foster and Partners and many, many more. Are you planning to continue to focus on this area now that you have the autonomy of being a Principal and co-owner of a business?

Brian: I was incredibly fortunate to work on those projects and to collaborate with all the designers involved. One of the project types that Glenn and I would like to pursue further is museum. We’re being considered for some projects of similar significance so we hope to have an opportunity to expand the Flux Studio museum lighting design portfolio in the near future.

Delving a bit more into museum design, it is clear that there are a number of challenges facing modern museums. The EU funded project titled ‘The Learning Museum’ that aims to create a permanent network of museums and cultural heritage organisations, conducted a survey and produced a report about these challenges. The key findings seem to indicate that the rise of technology and particularly the use social media was key, as well as digital and interactive display to improve civic engagement. What is your experience of this? What trends have you seen emerging in museums and how can lighting play a role in them?

Brian: The educational component or the delivery of information within the museum experience is not new but has and will continue to advance with technology. People learn and absorb information in different ways whether visual, audible or digitally interactive and the integration of these approaches within the museum environment is closely considered by each institution.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, the use of iPads was predominant in the galleries. The MFA in Boston used an interactive table in a gallery that put strict limitations on the infrared spectrum. The interactive displays at Anchorage Museum were so engaging with such high resolution 3D images that the many visitors never bothered to look at the actual objects.

As educational technology is becoming more accessible, I believe the use of electric light will become less static and more dynamic ultimately providing more information about the object visually. I’ve been fortunate enough to see amazing art objects or entire galleries illuminated multiple ways during a focus but the public will experience only one. With the advancement of smart lighting technologies and controls, subtle dynamic possibilities will be easily accessible as well.

Over the last few years we have seen some healthy debate on the issue of use of LEDs in Museum and Art Gallery settings. Where do you stand on this one?

Brian: Art museums are either considering the change to LEDs, have already started the change or cannot afford the change. Increasingly, Glenn and I are asked by museums to help with their decision making process and outline the considerations. Every institution prioritizes these considerations differently and comes to their own conclusion.

I have no issue considering LEDs for an art museum. That said I have issue with the majority of available products on the market. Scale and distribution control come to mind immediately.

Glenn, you also trained as an architect, and then went on to do a Masters in Fine Arts with an emphasis on Light Art. What was behind the decision to take this path?

Glenn: Early in my architectural education I realized that occupant perception of light and space were the primary focus of my work. After completing my undergraduate study in architecture I had every intention of working in the field for a couple years before returning to a masters in architecture program. 10 years later, and with a lot of fulfilling professional work behind me, I decided the time had come to return to academia. When considering various masters programs, I decided the self-directed format and strong social / critical focus of a studio-based fine arts masters program provided was the best fit for me. This format allowed me to define my own curriculum, so I focused my attention on better understanding how people perceive light and spatial conditions through full-scale installation work. In the end, my path has been come full circle and light and space remain the principal area of inquiry.

How Few_One Beam of Light Photography competition finalist

‘How Few?’. One Beam of Light Photography Competition Finalist. 

Glenn – Light Art is a real passion for you – both talking about it and creating it. Can you tell us about a couple of your absolute favourite light art pieces?

Glenn: For me, light art is a great resource for inspiration and scholarship. Many lighting designers look to light artists for new techniques and aesthetic solutions, but I have found the ideas behind the work to be especially inspiring. When you consider the relatively short time light has been a medium for art, the range of approaches is quite vast, and not all light art relates to my personal interest. In our work, regardless of the setting, we’re interested in investigating the medium of light and its relationship to our perception of space, as opposed to say, the creation of lighting objects or narrative storytelling.

If I had to pick a favourite light art location it would have to be the Villa Panza outside of Milan. Dan Flavin and Robert Irwin’s pieces located there represent the pinnacle of their work. James Turrell’s first Skyspace is there as well.

Glenn, you have recently been appointed Assistant Professor of Lighting Design for the Masters programme at Parsons, The New School for Design in New York. How on earth do you manage to do that alongside running your own studio?

Glenn: My secret weapon is overlapping areas of concern. Prior to beginning my Masters study I made a decision that I wanted all of my professional work to be related to light. On any given day I’ll have a conversation with a student about how important understanding lighting marketplace issues are in delivering quality lighting design results and I’ll discuss the impact of darkness on our spatial perception with an architect collaborator. The next day, this conversation could be switched. I strongly believe teaching makes me a better designer and an active professional practice makes me a better teacher.

Farm-in-Baltimore-County_2_Location Baltimore County Maryland USA_Photo credit_Maxwell MACKENZIE

Farm-in-Baltimore-County_1_Location Baltimore County Maryland USA_Photo credit_Maxwell MACKENZIE

Farm. Baltimore County Maryland. Photo Credit – Maxine Maxwell. 

Lets talk education then – clearly another great passion of yours. Can you share your thoughts about the current state of lighting design education, and where and how do you see this developing? How critical do you think education is to the future development of lighting design as a profession?

Glenn: I’m optimistic about lighting design education and I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of the long history of lighting design education at Parsons. In addition to Parsons, several lighting design education programs located around the world are helping to move the field forward by graduating inspired young designers who have the skills and understanding to be contribute to the lighting design community in a range of roles. Meeting these core educational goals of lighting design education amidst the rapid changes in lighting technology, expanding scope of lighting design practice (including daylighting design, controls integration, and globalization) is quite a challenge but lighting design education needs to continue to evolve if we are to advance the profession. Institutions, educators and students needs to continually question how can lighting design move beyond aesthetic considerations to engage the human, social and environmental factors of the lighted environment?

Briarcliff Residence -2_Location Annapolis Maryland USA_Photo credit_Flux Studio

Briarcliff Residence -1_Location Annapolis Maryland USA_Photo credit_Flux Studio

Briarcliff Residence -3_Location Annapolis Maryland USA_Photo credit_Flux Studio

Briarcliff Residence. Annapolis, Maryland. Photo Credit – Flux Studio.

You have taught a number of students over the years – can you share any insights into the qualities needed to be successful at lighting design?

Glenn: Without question, the most important quality shared by everyone I know who is successful at lighting design is dedication to better understanding the unique characteristics of light. Working with a medium that has no mass and becomes visible only though interaction with material requires a very specific kind of fortitude. There aren’t many other disciplines where the smallest detail dimension can have such a major impact on how the resultant light effects are perceived. To be truly successful in lighting design one must embrace the distinct opportunities that converge when light engages the human eye-brain system and find ways to demonstrate this potential in their work.

You are a man with many facets to your lighting career and you also have a history of working with Associations such as PLDA and IALD so in your experience, if you could create the ideal professional body for Lighting Design, what would it look like?

Glenn: If I could create the ideal professional body for lighting design it’s primary mission would be to coordinate the activity of local, regional and international groups in support of the lighting design profession. In my time working with various lighting associations two facts became very clear to me. Lighting designers around the world have many more points in common than points of difference. I also learned that, governments, business communities, and cultures around the world have very significant points of difference that are best understood by those who live there. My ideal professional body for lighting design would support local and regional activity by coordinating similar efforts around the globe.

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Henderson-Hopkins School Entrance, Baltimore Maryland USA.
Photo Credit – Karl Connolly.

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Henderson-Hopkins School Early Childhood Center Reading Room, Baltimore Maryland USA. Photo Credit – Karl Connolly.

In closing, what is on the cards for Flux Studio going forwards?

Glenn & Brian: We continue to receive excellent feedback from our clients and we are focused on getting the word out. In addition to our current projects which include… our first major art museum project that opens later this year, as well as galleries, schools, exhibitions, and light art projects, we are pursuing new work of increasing scale. In the meantime, we’re focused on refining our processes and growing our design team. We’re excited that the recently completed Henderson-Hopkins School project has been receiving international press including the coverage on the front page of the New York Times. This recognition is especially important because of our comprehensive role on the project included electric and daylighting design for all areas of the large facility. Additionally, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to integrate our investigative light art approaches into longer-term displays. It all seems very promising.

http://www.fluxstudio.net