Work force: Susan Brady and her New York design team place corporate interiors in their best light


For New York LD Susan Brady, architectural lighting design is a creatively fulfilling yet serious business. Business, in fact, is a focus for her three-year-old firm, Susan Brady Lighting Design: Roughly 65% of its projects are corporate interiors. The lengthy roster of clients is rich with heavy-hitters including Chase, Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, Paine Webber, Prudential Securities, and US Trust. Commissions landed this year alone include the lighting of new offices for J.P. Morgan, Swiss Re America, and the law firm Wilkie Farr & Gallagher, each project covering more than 250,000 sq. ft. (22,500 sq. m) of space.

"In their offices, most businesses try to project a certain image while providing efficient, attractive workspaces," says Brady, IALD. "I think our firm is good at blending the aesthetic and technical issues involved in corporate assignments. We try to be sympathetic to the architecture, but also work to clearly define how spaces will be used by employees. We have become specialists in designing trading floors, for example, where the need is for glare-free lighting in computer-intensive spaces. After you have worked for a certain client you begin to pick up on its requirements, and there's a shorthand communication that takes place when they ask you back to design another space."

Brady, who collaborates with her staff of four designers, initially established a track record of completing projects in the corporate sector while working for two top architectural lighting firms as well as a major architecture firm. While pursuing a BFA degree from Parsons School of Design in New York, Brady originally planned on a career as an architect or interior designer. "I switched over to lighting more or less by accident," she says. "We were required to take a lighting course at Parsons, so I took a class taught by Diana Juul Mesh, who at the time was working for [the architectural lighting design firm] Fisher Marantz Renfro Stone (FMRS). She showed slides of their work and it piqued my interest. I realized lighting design wasn't the dry subject I had thought, that it could be very creative. I started dabbling in it, and decided I wanted to learn enough about lighting so that I could go on to become an architect with a refined sensibility about illumination. I was definitely bit by the bug, and soon I was focusing more and more on lighting."

Brady was hired by FMRS just out of college, and stayed there five years. "I didn't specialize in a certain type of project at the firm, but moved around within different areas," she recalls. "They have a very broad practice, and I liked working on many different project types. That became one of my goals when setting up my own practice--reaching for that degree of multiple specialties.

"When I started out, I thought I would probably work as a lighting designer for a year, then move on to work for an architect," she recalls. "Evaluating the situation after the first year, I felt that I didn't know enough about lighting yet to move on to something else, plus I was really enjoying myself. I liked the fact that I could work on so many different projects, as opposed to an architect, who devotes a lot more time to any single given assignment. I made a commitment after a year to stay in lighting, since I realized that I could have an impact on the architecture as a lighting consultant."

Among the major projects Brady worked on during her FMRS apprenticeship were the Anchorage Performing Arts Center and the Bank of China. "I was very fortunate to be able to work with all of the principal partners during the five years I worked at the firm," Brady says. "Each partner brought something different to a project, and it was a great on-the-job learning experience."

A lighting assignment for Salomon Brothers while at FMRS "got me into trading floor and other types of office projects," Brady says. The architecture firm she worked with on the Salomon Brothers assignment, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), offered Brady a job as an in-house lighting consultant. "I struggled with whether I should leave a lighting design firm to join an architecture practice, but this move represented my original career plan," she says. "I took the spot at SOM, but was strictly designing lighting for them. I was there for only a year when the recession hit, and new office construction was cut back across the board in the industry."

Next Brady joined the architectural lighting design firm Horton*Lees, where she "took advantage of the trading floor office projects I had done, and really built up a portfolio of those types of projects," she notes. Brady stayed at the firm, which at the time had a staff of five designers, for three years before leaving to form her own practice in 1994.

"At Horton*Lees I was managing a lot of marketing and business development duties, as well as designing and running my projects," Brady says. "I was doing soup-to-nuts for the firm, and felt it was time to move on and establish my own firm."

Working by herself at the outset, Brady rented two desks in a Soho co-op space, and quickly developed a clientele culled from former clients who contacted her, plus their referrals. "I was up and running immediately, and started out by hiring additional freelance designers," she recalls. "After the first six months, the freelancers began to work almost full-time. Then I hired Kim Loren [now the firm's associate], who was finishing her master's degree. Slowly, as time went on, I replaced freelance part-time people with full-time staffers."

The first projects completed under the Susan Brady Lighting Design banner were in collaboration with architect SOM, her former employer, for Goldman Sachs, and Emergency 911. "I've worked with SOM wherever I've been," Brady says. "They're a great client. They do beautiful work, and I continue to enjoy working with them."

Last year, SBLD relocated from Soho to a larger space on West 38th Street in the garment district. Besides associate Kim Loren, Brady's full-time staffers are designer Pat McGillicuddy, designer Gabriel Mitchell, and designer Attila Uysal. "I like having a very broad mix of people in the office," Brady says. "Kim has a background in environmental design and a masters in lighting from Parsons. Pat comes from a theatre background. Attila has an industrial design and architecture background. And Gabriel was trained in interior design. My staff brings together a range of both education and work experiences, so we can bring a real mix of concepts and skills to every project."

One showcase for SBLD's corporate lighting is the Chase Trading Facility, completed with SOM. "The custom-designed ceiling and lighting system evokes a futuristic and high-tech image for the new investment banking group at Chase," Brady says. "With the architect we redefined the existing building geometry by creating three large vaults. The custom Creative Light Source Lighting fixtures use biaxial compact fluorescent lamps."

Imparting a warmer, more traditional front-of-house corporate look is a midtown Manhattan enclave for the Cowen investment banking headquarters. Designed with Gensler, the space used to entertain clients is formal yet inviting, with the lighting highlighting rich materials. Alabaster Boyd Lighting pendants, Marvin Alexander sconces, and Lucifer Lighting low-voltage downlights create an almost residential ambience, says Brady.

Creating a clean look with a modern interpretation of traditional elements was the assignment for the law offices of Chadbourne & Parke, designed with Swa nke Hayden Connell Architects. Decorative lighting elements include custom torchieres plus pendants (both fabricated by Michael's Lighting) and Belfer uplights integrated along the wood-panelled walls. Ambient uplight is provided by fluorescent fixtures combined with Reggiani low-voltage halogen downlights for sparkle.

A recent standout project that illustrates the firm's expanding portfolio of work beyond office lighting design is an Iwerks theatre housed in the base of the Empire State Building. Collaborating with Richard Truemner of Brennan Beer Gorman Monk/Interiors, Brady worked with the parameters of a tight budget to design lighting for the 4,500-sq.-ft. (405-sq.-m) themed facility, called Transporter: Movies You Ride. "Most of the budget went into the black box theatre, because of the expensive technology involved," Brady says. "For the queuing spaces that lead up to the actual theatre, we had a very limited lighting budget. The space was in the basement, and we used it to our advantage. We created varied looks with very basic fluorescent strips, colored gels, inexpensive track lights with color gels, a few framing projectors with gobos, and some colored jelly jar fixtures. In some places we worked with the exposed ductwork and just tucked bare lamps up between the ducts, using the building's infrastructure like an industrial set or soundstage."

The Brady team is completing the exterior illumination at Commerce Place in Baltimore for Alex Brown. Part of the Brighten Baltimore program, the assignment will brighten the headquarters for the investment banking firm, and will comprise elements such as decorative lighting for the facade and building entry, illumination at the top of the building, and tenant identification signage. Brady reports that exterior illumination now represents about 30% of her firm's current assignments.

Again working with SOM, Brady has embarked on a job for the new Kennedy International Arrivals Terminal. "It's going to be a spectacular building when it opens in 2001," Brady says. "Finally, New York is going to have a wonderful arrival point for air travelers." Other work on the boards includes lighting for two hospitals, an entertainment complex called Q-City, and floodlighting a Wall Street office building.

"We're at the point where I'm very happy with the firm's roster of assignments," Brady says. "If we keep going in the same direction, working on a broad variety of project types with adequate budgets for lighting design, we'll be right on track with the goals set by myself and my team."

Corporate projects (Manhattan unless noted) Alex, Brown & Sons (Baltimore) Birmann office buildings (Santiago, Chile; and Sao Paulo, Brazil) BMG/Bertelsman Brooks Fiber Chadbourne & Parke Chase trading facility Coltec Industries Commerce Place (Baltimore) Cowen & Co. (New York and Boston) Ernst & Young Federal Reserve Bank Goldman Sachs HOK Architects International Finance Corp. (Washington, DC) KPMG/Peat Marwick (Boston) Mayer, Brown & Platt National Commercial Bank (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia) Paine Webber Prudential Securities Fitness Center Salomon Brothers Swanke Hayden Connell Sherwood Securities (Jersey City, NJ) Towers Perrin Triarc Companies US Trust (Garden City, NY)

Retail/Showrooms Book Corner (Baltimore) Hudson News IBA Ivan Hull P. Kaufmann

Other Emergency 911 Center (Brooklyn, NY) Federal Courthouse (White Plains, NY) Fire Department Headquarters JFK International Arrivals Terminal (Queens, NY) JFK Admirals' Club LaGuardia Airport Garage (Queens, NY) Sacred Heart School St. Boniface Church (Brooklyn, NY) Transporter Theatre Veteran Memorial Medical Center (Meriden, CT)