The Paul Beale Interview
Paul Beale founded Electrolight in Melbourne, Australia in 2004 and has seen the business grow into a successful, award winning team of lighting design enthusiasts. He applied his creativity to illumni’s questions, (i.e. he changed them), to provide entertaining and incisive insights across a number of personal and industry issues.
How did you get into lighting design?
Rather by accident, actually. After leaving school I worked as an electrician and worked hard to put myself through university where I read building services engineering. A small part of the course was about lighting design and the subject immediately appealed to me. I think this was because most building services tend to be hidden in cupboards or up in ceiling voids whereas the lighting is always visible. This appealed to me. I graduated and took a job at Arup working with some of their lighting gurus such as Bob Venning before transferring to Melbourne in 1999.
Then what happened?
I found that being a ‘pom’ in Melbourne was good – architects and other designers seemed genuinely interested in the way things were done overseas and wanted to hear my ideas. I was fortunate to get to work on some really great projects and with some excellent architects such as DCM; one such project was Webb Bridge, for which I won my first lighting design award in 2003.
Is lighting design in good shape in Australia?
I have seen a significant development in the profession in the 12 years I have been here but feel that there is still some way to go. The more progressive clients and project managers stipulate that a specialist lighting designer must be included on a project consultant team, but often we are overlooked. The benefits of having independent specialist advice include aesthetics, cost optimisation and sustainability and the value to a project almost always outweighs the cost in fees. That said, I think that lighting designers have a responsibility to promote their profession more.
How do you come up with your designs?
We are a very collaborative firm – our designers come from backgrounds including architecture, theatre, industrial design and engineering. We tend to workshop design ideas quite a lot and often our schemes will have had input from several of our designers. While one person will drive a design, it is typical to have many hands contributing to the creative process.
What is the work you are most proud of?
We have been really fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Australia’s best architects on some of the most interesting projects. It is easy to light a great building and make it look amazing (and near impossible to light a bad building beautifully!). Some standout projects for me have been MTC Theatre and Recital Hall (with ARM), State Theatre Centre of WA (with Kerry Hill Architects) and AAMI Park Stadium (with Cox).
What’s on the drawing board at the moment?
We are working with renowned Australian artist Robert Owen on a significant artistic commission to be installed in the newly refurbished Hamer Hall. We can’t say too much at this stage other than that there is a large-scale suspended sculpture accompanied by a special light on the floor below. We are very excited to be working with a true living legend on a project of such cultural significance.
We are also working on the Perth Waterfront project with ARM/TCL; a project which will change the face of Perth forever, bringing the Swan River to the edge of the CBD.
Tell us about Electrolight’s presence on social media…
We started to dabble with Twitter and Facebook a year ago and have found that there is some considerable interest in the work that we do. While we don’t have an enormous following (we’re no Charlie Sheen), we find that the content we generate often starts discussion and brings about good engagement with the community. Being a small firm I think this has helped raise our profile. We also write a blog fairly regularly.
Electrolight Twitter Page
Electrolight Facebook Page
We hear that you have had a busy year outside of normal business. What’s been happening?
Yes, we have been involved with some great community events this year. In February we organised a fundraiser on behalf of the lighting industry in aid of the flood victims; $10k was raised which was amazing. We have also organised 3 events for the Light in Winter festival at Fed Square: Fabulous Foyers and Facades: a guided tour around some of Melbourne’s most interestingly lit buildings, Ready Steady Light: a competition to create a light sculpture from a box of lights and an everyday household item like an ironing board and the Meaning of Light, a seminar where artists, designers, photographers were asked “what does light mean to you?”. Oh, and we also organised LightCycle, our biennial light fixture design competition as part of the State of Design Festival, this year for the third time.