Office lighting has to be well presented, too: At this year’s Light + Building, trade fair visitors dive into the universe of light and building control. Photo © Nektar Design, Adam Drobiec for Stylepark
Technology, play and magic
by Thomas Wagner
Mar 17, 2016

I. Light in the universe

Without light, no sight – as has been known at the latest ever since the Bible. A source that admittedly does not say anything more about the relatively unequal distribution of light in the universe. Whereby here on Earth one cannot deny a degree of refinement in Nature’s control of different light moods and atmospheres, even if the day/night pattern may in the long run seem too simple to the technically-minded. Perhaps this is why the new collection at Occhio has been called “The Universe” and the trade-fair booth at this year’s Light + Building in Frankfurt boasts huge planets and moons that resemble so many cosmic Chinese lanterns. The planets S, M, L, X and E are meant to convey the company’s future product strategy.

If one takes this as a pointer to the properties of natural light, indeed to light in general in nature, then we have already named one of the two spheres that are expected to interact in the future in the quest to place everything in the right light. While on the one hand, there is no emulating nature when it comes to light strength and variability, on the other it is art that precedes technology with its visions. Or does not the path that leads to all the light spirals and light nodes that have of late been twisting in turn in room originate back with László Moholy-Nagy and his “Light-Space Modulator” first shown in 1930 and the light-kinetic installations by the likes of the “Zero” or “MID” groups? Otherwise, what counts is to tell stories and create moods in order to arouse emotions – that mantra of marketing is to be heard everywhere in the lighting industry, too. “Open your dreams” and “Light stories”, for example, as banging a drum is part of the crafts here.

II. Light becomes confident

At present everybody is thinking about the future of light. Although the current boom in smart lighting systems we are currently seeing, usually in concert with smart controls for the entire house, is indebted not just to the triumph of cybernetics – which is increasingly being integrated into everyday life. By means of the latest technology nothing less is achieved that practical magic. And here magic is nothing but a different name for all the stories now being told that go beyond the object, that transcend the level of mere things.

A text written on the wall at the Artemide booth highlights what is involved: “Artemide”, or so we read there, “joins Daan Roosegaarde in reflecting on the future of light and starts with the interaction and the relationship that it enters into with people, the ambience and the social space. This enables a traditional luminaire to be transformed into an object that possesses self-awareness, a spontaneous behavior that can be surprising and makes it a potential ‘companion’ of stimuli for the user.”
One can justifiably doubt whether more than an algorithmically refined feedback loop lurks behind this self-experience or this kind of self-confidence. The conclusion points in the direction intended: “Light thus becomes the catalyst of perception and the active involvement of people. Interaction between people and technology becomes key in order to create new places and experiences through light.”

III. Intelligent and networked

Well, we don’t really want to completely believe all the talk of new experiences. What can be said, however, is, that the entire industry has now embraced LED technology. What now follows is diversification and inclusion of it across the board in all domains, be it the home, industry, retail, the office or (as only the Italians say) in the Caffè. Some isolated lamp or other is as good as nowhere to be found, at most in niches. What counts today are multiply networked solutions of light, space and programming, i.e., controls. Which is why there is hardly a trade-fair booth or manufacturer who does not proclaim what is ostensibly now needed and which the market seems to be demanding as a growth driver, namely intelligence and networking. Although here, too, there are glaring differences between the solutions.

All of this has consequences for design. Since the victory of LEDs has more or less liberated the light source from its body and light dots can now be placed next to light dots and combined to create free forms there are any number of light and luminaire lines to ogle. Which simply raises the question whether we are not once again witnessing engineers and designers letting their imaginations run riot. Which strengthens the impression that more and better design and less styling would often help. There’s a lot of kitsch alongside the clear and well-conceived solutions. Much of what seems technically feasible need not likewise be aesthetically compelling. This applies to a whole bundle of pendant luminaires shaped like trumpets or trombones (in fact, some resemble the valves on a cylinder head). But. No worries: The seven angels with the seven trumpets are not summoning us for the final judgment.

It would be a bit too simplistic to state that the integration of light into ceilings and walls is increasing to the same degree that luminaires and lamp heads are losing firm bodies and formal dominance. Rod structures that conjure up lines of light in rooms – in exemplary fashion in the “Infrastructure” created by Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen, who also dreamed up the Flos trade-fair booth – not only blend simply with the existing architecture but also give it a unique and striking look. Van Duysen is not the only one whose tubular structure and industrial aesthetic harks back to Modernism and the Bauhaus.

By contrast, the light networks that spread out in a space like little rod-shaped bacteria cultures in a petri dish under a microscope seem less coherent. Then there are those free-drawn lighting sculptures, such as Serge Cornelissen’s “Lash Object” for Molto Luce or dynamic light carpets made of individual tiny light globes, such as Toan Nguyen’s “Algorithm” for Vibia, launched back in 2015. There are even new cable systems such as the somewhat bulky “Hello” Stephan Hürlemann designed for Belux.

What is repeatedly to be seen is that reducing the size of lamps and optimizing controls does not per se culminate in original and convincing luminaires. However, welcome the integration of light into architecture may be, the customary typologies of “decorative light” have not changed much in the process. Two thick, round or edgy panes, and a moving arm in-between: and you have your small desk lamp – even if masterminded by Naoto Fukasawa and called “Demetra” or “Demetra Micro” for Artemide.

Seen as a whole, the situation in design is paradoxical in various ways: On the one hand, its importance is dwindling as light is emancipating itself from the object as the emitter and emerging as an element of room design. On the other, with a limited formal repertoire the standards for precise design of the small elements rise. While the distinction between technological and decorative light was always dubious, under the impact of architectural solutions and their optimized controls distinctions are being blurred even further. Especially as in the field of technological light, e.g., street lamps, things have looked up, in design terms, too.

IV. Looking to the future

Swiss premium brand Senses with its study “Holo” impressively shows that over and above this there are truly pioneering innovations and angles that go far beyond existing lighting solutions. “Holo” is a slender pendant luminaire featuring “Holotainment” technology. Alongside light and sound the luminaire includes a computer and a high-end projector. Controlled by gesture, “Holo” allows you to access multimedia content such that everything that would otherwise appear on screen now as a matter of course is projected onto the table top beneath the luminaire.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the immense opportunities that such a product offers. Luminaires are emerging as not less than the ultimate interface to the digital world; the dining table at home or the conference table in an office become the center of a networked universe. Whether you want to game, read emails, watch movies, sift through photos or discuss a presentation in a meeting – a movement of the hand suffices to place the corresponding image on a table-top. Weather and traffic information, news, recipes or control data for the facility technology or the illumination could soon be selected by touch at need and intuitively controlled. Light color, dimming and beam direction (upward, downward or both) can be smoothly chosen in any combination is almost a given with Senses and in 2018 “Holo” is expected to go on the market.
The product idea originated in Senses collaborating with Universal Home. Renowned brand makers such as Dornbracht, Gira, Poggenpohl, Miele, Vaillant, RWE and German Lenovo subsidiary Medion have likewise partnered in the cooperation. Who knows, perhaps we’ll soon be reading our mails in the wash basin while brushing our teeth?

V. And they all want to play with technology

We have already seen that using light to design a room and to design luminaires need not be a contradiction. It remains a challenge this way or that. And there are not only major steps involved, such as Senses seeks. Smaller but no less exciting steps can be discerned at Light + Building. For example, Nimbus follows its success with the cordless and magnetic “Roxxane Fly” luminaire by consistently prioritizing cordless light. It is used wherever needed – up to 100 hours independent of a power source. Possible thanks to the combination of energy-efficient LEDs with advanced battery technology. Light, as Dietrich F. Brennenstuhl puts it, is being unleashed. Whereby “Light unleashed” at Nimbus leads to an entire series of mobile luminaires, first and foremost the “Roxxane Leggera CL” – as a reading or table luminaire. And it can be easily recharged using a simply USB C port.

And while Louis Poulsen, in keeping with the Danish credo of clear, dazzle-free light, is as traditional and progressive as ever, has the “LP Grand” by Christian Flindt and the “Skyline” by Julie Richoz float blissfully over things, Øivind Slaatto and his “Patera” manage to create an elegant light sphere from a refined honeycomb structure.
Anyone wanting to not just enjoy such classic and yet novel luminaires or delight in playing with this or that App-controlled light color, will as ever find completely different lighting – from Ingo Mauer. The “Flatterby” sees the master once again have moths circle light without burning themselves. By contrast, Michel Sempels evokes the magic of the light bulb without any light color games or radar technology – with “Walking Bulb”: a silhouette made of stainless steel wire and reminiscent of the assistants of Gyro Gearloose. Seen in this light, beauty is not just another word for magic, but also for wit. But only if now and again a light flashed on in your brain – no power, controls and luminaire required, of course.

Between planets and moons: The Occhio booth is a cosmic staging. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
Unterneath a net of lighting: At the booth of Trilux, connections are no longer necessary. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
”Cosmo” is the name of the sculptural pendant luminaire at the booth of Next. Photo © Nektar Design, Adam Drobiec for Stylepark
Classic pendent lighting in the new version: “PH Artichoke Steel“ by Louis Poulsen. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Fine and delicate: Vibia presents its pendant luminaire “Flamingo 1515“. Photo © Nektar Design, Adam Drobiec for Stylepark
An innovation, that could change a lot: Senses demonstrates the possibilities with its “Holotainment” technology. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
From the series “What we do counts“: Ingo Maurer is still a grand master of staging. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
Need a little bit more bling? Customized luminaires by Brand van Egmond. Photo © Nektar Design, Adam Drobiec für Stylepark
Unleashed lighting: Nimbus continues its series of luminaires with rechargeable battery and launches its slim table luminaire “Roxxane Leggera CL“. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Luminaires at the booth of Filamentstyle. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
Scaffolding with a vortex of light: The Belgians know how to present industrial-styled lighting. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark