x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Beau McClellan's creative, connective lighting designs

The dynamic creator of the mesmerising Nomad chandelier, currently installed in Dubai, is also behind the world's largest chandelier in Doha.

The Nomad chandelier's LED light sources can be individually controlled to create countless colour combinations. Its modular system also makes it customisable. Photo by Vasco Celio
The Nomad chandelier's LED light sources can be individually controlled to create countless colour combinations. Its modular system also makes it customisable. Photo by Vasco Celio

Beau McClellan, all boyish enthusiasm and out-of-control curls, is waxing lyrical about Dubai. "It's galactic," he says. "It's a mishmash and it's crazy and no real thought's gone into it, but it works. Because it's Dubai."

The emirate holds special significance for the Scottish-born, Portugal-based lighting designer because it was here, in 2007, that he earned one of the most important commissions of his career. A fortuitous encounter at Dubai's Light Middle East exhibition led to the creation of McClellan's 38.5m-long Reflective Flow, the world's largest chandelier, which takes pride of place in Doha's Al Hitmi office development.

McClellan is back in Dubai to take part in the inaugural Festival of Interior Design and to see one of his latest creations, Nomad, take up residence in Dubai's B5 The Art of Living showroom. I meet him in the B5 showroom shortly after installation has been completed. He bustles in, apologises for the fact that he is wearing shorts and launches into conversation, talking 10 to the dozen. He is, by his own admission, a live wire.

Having travelled the world, the aptly named Nomad - more light sculpture than light fitting - can now be seen winking evocatively at drivers as they speed past on Sheikh Zayed Road. An elegant five-metre-long wave of more than 200 individual glass components, Nomad is utterly mesmerising. Using a touch screen, iPod or iPhone, each of the LED light sources can be individually controlled to create countless colour effects and variations. The light is diffused through frosted hand-ground optical crystal to create unexpectedly warm pastel tones.

The chandelier is also groundbreaking for McClellan because it is built on a modular system, which means that architects and interior designers can use the modules to create their own individualised designs. "Nomad is very much a Signature piece - it's a piece of art. However, for the first time, I am allowing other architects to use the technology and everything that's behind there, in that they can take these modules and use five or six of them in a drop, or whatever they decide they want to do," McClellan explains. "I wanted to take this very complicated technology and make it very simple."

While McClellan is best known for his large corporate lighting sculptures and his Signature pieces, bespoke chandeliers designed for high-end residential clients, he has also launched a collection of branded lighting products at a more accessible price point - bringing a little bit of the McClellan magic to the masses, so to speak. These are also now available at the B5 showroom.

"The reason I started to design these smaller products is it's a bigger audience. The exciting thing is that I took almost four years out of doing serious Signature work to develop the branded range, which features everything from table lights to pendant light and wall lamps. We're distributing almost worldwide now, with very selective showrooms, shops and dealers."

McClellan's aim is to create stylish pieces that can stand the test of time, and he cites classics such as the Arco lamp by Achille Castiglioni and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni as sources of inspiration. "That lamp was designed in 1962 and it is still selling as much today - and it still works in today's architecture. Only time will tell but at least I'm trying to create classic pieces like that.

"There are a lot of things that disappoint me in the design world. It's quite faddish. Everybody talks about sustainability and ecological impact but the designs are becoming really faddish. What's in fashion now will be out of fashion in six months time. For me, that's not sustainability. I don't care what recycled materials you are using. If something doesn't stay in style for a number of years, it's not sustainable. What I'm trying to do is build iconic pieces that don't follow any trends or fads."

For McClellan it's not about the press or the plaudits - and there have been plenty of both. And it's certainly not about the financial gain. "My thing is not money; it never has been," he says. "As long as I have enough for my family, I don't need the big flash toys."

He is driven, it seems, by a higher cause: the desire to generate simple emotional connections. "If I can get people underneath my chandeliers and get them to escape fleetingly to a separate reality, if I can whisk people away with a piece of sculpture, then my work is working," he says. "Design is a conversation. It's a language that cuts across all barriers. There shouldn't be any politics there."

McClellan recalls a man who used to come each day and watch as Reflective Flow was being installed. "We were fitting this huge, multimillion pound light sculpture in Qatar. We had a lockdown all around us so people couldn't come in, but there was this one man, who might have been Indian or Pakistani, who managed to sneak through all of the security and he used to come and eat his sandwich where we were working. The whole way through, he would just come and sit there and have his sandwich.

"Eventually, he came to speak to me and he said, 'I am very sad today.' I asked why and he said, 'Because I don't have any more work.' So I suggested that we could try and find him something. And he said, 'No, no, I have work, I just don't have any more work in this building and I'm sad because I won't be able to sit and look at your sculpture anymore.' This is somebody who's probably never been to art college and doesn't really know anything about design. That's when it works. That's when the communication works."