At the Light + Building in Frankfurt/M technical and decorative light is no longer separated. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Mega-mood machines
by Thomas Edelmann
Mar 22, 2016

In the history of artificial light, two separate spheres have emerged. On the one side there is decorative light that tends to be found primarily in home environments. On the other, there is technical light such as is used in offices and stores. This division relates not least to the fact that for decorative light you mainly need a well-designed interaction of lampshade, cable and a socket, while for technical light you require far more complex structures, mounts and controls. In an age of digital light flow the distinction becomes somewhat relative. Essentially, the technical components are becoming more important for decorative light too, as LEDs and OLEDs rely on semi-conductors and their controls make use of electronic ballasts. This means that what was to date far less complex private illumination is now morphing into a networked environment and is fast becoming part of the Internet of Things. Instead of occasionally worrying about replacing a bulb, home users from now on will need to concern themselves with the components of their systems, with regular software updates and hardware adjustments. The more sophisticated the consumer’s wishes and expectations, the more light becomes part of the architecture, blends with the ceiling, walls and floor. This was also in evidence at the Light + Building in Frankfurt, for example at the Flos and Delta Light booths. With its style world entitled “ingenious & significant” (and boasting luminaires by Vibia, Artemide and Nemo for example), the trade fair used its trend shoe to address this theme – the show was curated by style researchers bora.herke.palmisano.

Both sides have long since been deliberately shifting the lines dividing the decorative from the technical. For example, Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni chose for their “Toio” standard lamp (Flos, 1962) US 300W stage spotlights for the indirect light of their standard lamp. Anyone who isn’t a purist can operate the object with its technical appearance more thriftily today simply by using a dimmer. The “Anglepoise” working lamp that English automotive engineer George Carwardine invented for his personal use in 1930 – with its adjustable spring mechanism – went into mass production and became the standard for British workshop and desktop lamps, often with strangely yellow or green dipped lacquer. A British design postage stamp emphasizes the Anglepoise’s classic status. In fact it started popping up at flea markets in polished aluminum, stripped of all lacquer. Now the makers have used their trade-fair booth to present the “Giant” indoor and outdoor version, available in new colors, too. For example in a decorative pink. Welcome home, George Carwadine! Erco has gone down a slightly different path with its latest luminaire called “Lucy”. As early as the 1990s, there was a workstation luminaire of the same name, designed by Franco Clivio and illuminating the offices of countless MPs in Berlin. Today’s Lucy, or so Erco says, is a “lighting tool”, a slender towering mast. It is to be had optionally with a base plate or can be inserted into the tabletop. The top of the mast features an LED module with a treble light emitter. The module is positioned such that all you see is a ribbed black plastic anti-dazzle unit. Formally, many may find this needs getting used to, but it’s logical and clear. Stable floor-mounted wall washers with a plastic casing are also among the novelties that Erco has brought together under the sign of “digital light”. The “Site” wall washer is so stable a heavy truck can run over it without doing any harm. In recent years the company has completed a turn away from analog technical light and fully embraced the LED age. The core competence has shifted away from manufacturing metal casings and shades to constructing optical lighting systems made of plastic. If one ignores the light-emitting diode at the center of things, then a metal-working company has morphed into a plastic-processing manufacturer. All that has remained set in stone: the unique attention to quality and Otl Aicher’s motto that Erco “makes light not lights”. With good reason: The Erco booth at the Light + Building is one of the few where you don’t get dazzled.

Renting light

At the high-tech end of the scale, such complex rules now reign that companies such as Zumtobel or Trilux are already offering leasing models for light. They are intended to enable commercial, industrial and retail users to square up more swiftly to the latest requirements while committing less capital. Users not owners is the slogan – already an old chestnut in the property, computer programming and auto markets. Electrical light is no longer on or off, bright or dark. The one or other LED still protests when used with a conventional dimmer. “Pulse-width modulation” is expected to provide a solution. But it is not the intensity but the color that plays the key role in a comparatively new buzzword in the industry: “human-centric light” is often at the center of things at the fair since it has long since cropped up as a requirement in tenders and therefore an increasing number of manufacturers are including it in their latest luminaires in the form of light scenarios that can be controlled externally or programmed internally. As long ago as 2008 Philips in Hamburg started equipping school rooms with “dynamic light”. Early in the morning, when pupils would be better off still asleep at home, the higher blue proportion in the light during the first period served to “activate” the kids. In the course of the day the artificial light then gets a greater proportion of calming red. Both help “significantly improve learning outcomes”, or so researchers reported who studied the lighting prototype in a Hamburg elementary school and its impact on pupils. In 2009, the Hamburg Senate approved 4 million euros to outfit more schools with the system. Since then, the system injects more cold or warm light waves as the day progresses. And what functions in the context of schools can be transposed onto other fields, where round-the-clock productivity is required. Today, this biodynamic lighting technology is to be found in the latest work station luminaire by Tobias Grau, the “XT-S One”. The frame of the standard lamp prompted Grau to reutilize the cut-off material for his “XT-S Wall” and “XT-S Plate” wall luminaires. The principle of avoiding waste thus gave rise to an entire family of luminaires.

The Luctra luminaires, designed by Günter Horntrich and a brand of office article maker Durable, likewise feature “biologically effective lighting”. Swedish company Fagerhult even asks the rhetorical question: “Can blue light make us better people?” and with a study conducted in 2015 itself gives the answer, saying that it can influence “our self-control”. Yes, Adrian Lobe was right when he recently stated in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung kürzlich that tech corporations are “driven by the idea of using techno-social ‘engineering’ to ‘design’ human behavior’.” Our image of humans, so he concluded, “is becoming ever more machine-like”.

At the Trilux booth, for example, multimedia is used to evoke the future: “We are ready for everything” the corporation says. The lighting technologists enthuse about “heat mapping”, with the retail industry, for instance, “tracking paths with light”. Hard to imagine this is all good, data privacy observed, as, after all, it is only about “understanding customer behavior” and “optimizing offerings”.

Technological modules

Technology will soon be offering new opportunities to get a handle on light and its users, to boost them and their behavior, their productivity and willingness to buy. Some of these seem repugnant, others quite astonishing: Take the LG Display booth in the Technology Hall 6.2. The entire booth was dedicated to the subject of OLEDs. Whereby the organic LEDs will not overtake LEDs in many a segment that quickly, as LG’s Michael Chung emphasizes. OLEDs have come a long way in terms of service life and light yield. Nevertheless, its light tends to be used in autos only for rear lights and indicators – and not for headlights, whose directed light is ideally supplied by an LED panel. The trade-fair booth was designed to emulate a showroom. The systemic advantages of OLEDs in different sizes and shapes were all described, as was how flexibly or transparently OLEDs built into shelves with invisible power sources can gleam upwards and downwards. Allusions were made to a luxury boutique as well as to home and office usages. A few halls on Sebastian Herkner had already included the current modules into Buschfeld’s existing system as an “o-light”. Using magnetic fasteners the modules can be moved at will, providing diffuse light with no blue component. And a few booths on, at Fluvia, the hostess was forever having to gaily admonish people to please not touch “Loop”, wall-mounted OLED elements that playfully invite you to fiddle with them. Technology and decoration are fast merging.

In Hall 5.0 you could see that conversely technology can indeed perhaps should have something to do with precision, clarity and beauty. There manufacturers of street lamps presented their wares. Despite a few Nordic and Spanish companies, purists were in most instances able to detect flies in the ointment. Often the booth lights themselves were awry. The street lamps, mounted low such that they could be inspected closely, tended to dazzle. Either it was impossible to imagine these products on beautiful plazas or in pleasant surrounds or the presentation was marred by bright stickers. Meaning: Somehow something was always wrong. Although not at the booth of North Italy’s Ewo. Their latest products, masterminded by their consultant designer Jörg Boner, exudes material solidity, had convincingly coherent shapes and boasted precise finishing – street lamps that you can not only enjoy lighting your way at night but also during the day, given their sleek appearance. The Kram Weisshaar trade-fair booth translated into products with visible corporate virtues in an open and equally precise setting. It presented the LED lenses for the Ewo products as so many scientific exhibits and thus lent them a degree of poetry. However, on then finding out that the “Scen” module, likewise designed by Kram Weisshaar, switches on parking space lights as soon as the user approaches and stores precisely such tracking data to memory, then the corporate culture gleams a little less brightly. The business furnishings by Switzerland’s Büro Norm had perhaps less to do directly with light, but certainly made for a coherent booth image.

How out of date one invariably felt the moment one stepped out of the Light + Building. To be greeted by fluorescent tubes in the Frankfurt subway cars and stops or the yellow gleam of sodium street lamps. Is today better, or tomorrow?

Light is a part the architecture: At the fair, luminaires merge into ceilings, floor and walls. Flos showed its new collection of outdoor luminaires “Bon Jour” by Philippe Starck. Photo © Thomas Edelmann for Stylepark
The traditional company Bega, based in Menden, presented powerful LED spotlights for vapour lamps. Photo © Thomas Edelmann for Stylepark
Osram continues his series of the system “Lightifiy”, a control system for light, used via smartphone app. Photo © Thomas Edelmann for Stylepark
Domino effect: Buschfeld set in scene the free movable OLED modules “o-light” by Sebastian Herkner. Photo © Thomas Edelmann for Stylepark
Sculptural design for office luminaires: Erco presented thin „Lucy“. Photo © Thomas Edelmann for Stylepark
Biodynamic lighting in the office: Tobias Grau presented the standing luminaire “XT-S”, which changes its color temperature depending on the natural daylight. Photo © Sara Bertsche, Stylepark
Trilux loves “Tracking“: The manufacturer wants to optimize the offer for the consumer by analyzing his walk through the shop. Photo © Thomas Edelmann for Stylepark
LG Display presented the “Flexible Application“, a lighting panel, which can be rolled up to a diameter of three centimeters. Photo © Thomas Edelmann for Stylepark
Elegant teak wood for parks: The luminaire „Vestiti“ by Matteo Thun was the figurehead at the booth of Simes. Photo © Sara Bertsche, Stylepark
Powerful slices: The Dutch manufacturer Rubitech Luctron showed its “Beta Highbay Lowbay“, a street lighting which can be used 20 meters above, with 23.500 lumens. Photo © Thomas Edelmann for Stylepark
Maritime flair at the booth of Lux Lumen which produces custom-made lighting systems like “Square Eye“ and “Star Eye Maxi“. Photo © Thomas Edelmann for Stylepark