To light or to illuminate –
that is the question
by Thomas Edelmann | Apr 24, 2013
The London-based Cypriot designer Michael Anastassiades got his inspirations for the Flos "String Lights" from overhead lines and Mediterranean festive lights. Photo © Flos

“The old people knew only day and night, we only know twilight,” wrote Christian Friedrich Hebbel, born 200 years ago. Did they perhaps intuit the lighting technology of today? Anyone touring the halls of the Euroluce at the Milan trade fair grounds and studying the luminaires on show at the Fuori Saloni soon felt a bit dizzy. Twilight everywhere you looked. The only question is whether it was dawn or dusk that we sensed, the dawning of spring or the swansong of fall? Unlike many a furniture maker, manufacturers of decorative luminaires have gone all out and brought countless new products to the fair. And since they have largely left at home the traditional lamps and fluorescent tubes that deliver even light, it was mainly warm and cold light that was on display, flowing more or less atmospherically from the diodes.

Two types of technology alongside each other

Indirect light directed against a wall or ceiling plays a major role again, as does the melding of new technologies with old shapes. Foscarini, for example, had well-known luminaires such as “Caboche”, “Twiggy”, “Big Bang” and “Tress” on display – each in two versions. The one used conventional lamps, and next to it, the other, a new technological development boasting LEDs. In the case of “Caboche” by Patricia Urquiola and Eliana Gerotto, for instance, several circuit boards have been used such that the respective LEDs shine in different directions in order to achieve the lighting effect associated with the product hitherto. This is about as meaningful as developing hybrid automobiles, which with their two engines weigh so much more than conventional ones and yet seek through perfect harmonization to use the engines as sparingly as possible. The idea does not always work. It remains to be seen how it plays out in the case of luminaires. To be fair, Foscarini also has new LED luminaires on show, such as “Lightwing”, designed by Jean Marie Massaud. To allow variations in the light reflection, the lamp section includes an adjustable wing – the diodes shine onto it. The Italian heavyweights of Fontana Arte, Luceplan, Artemide and Danese all lined up to present a whole array of new products. Not all of them were convincing: Daniel Libeskind’s “Paragon” for Artemide is somehow intended as a geometrical toy for the desk top, and yet is overly reminiscent of a “Transformers” action figure.

Sarfatti treasures and the latest from Grcic

Flos has opted for a different approach when adapting familiar products to new circumstances. The company has called its LED-based re-edition of designs by the most renowned of Italian luminaire inventors “Re-Lighting Gino Sarfatti” – back in 1939 he founded Arteluce, designed countless luminaires and himself handled marketing and distribution until his company was sold to Flos in 1974. In the showroom on Corso Monforte Flos outlined how it intends to dip into this corporate treasure trove – with the “Edition No 1” of, as a first set, five famous Sarfatti designs. Not to forget that the Flos booth at the fair was truly overflowing with new products. They included the poetic creations of Michael Anastassiades, whose “String Lamps” float on thin black cords without it being clearly discernible which cord is live and which one is simply there to hold things in place. Ron Gilad has come up with an exciting re-interpretation of the traditional “Bankers Lamp” – in a slender LED version. One of the very elegant solutions that prompted a lot of talk was “OK”, the brainchild of Konstantin Grcic and his assistant Jan Heinzelmann. The luminaire references “Parentesi”, which Achille Castiglioni designed for Flos in 1972 and which itself was based on an idea by Castiglioni’s friend Pio Manzù, who initially wanted to span a swivel column with fluorescent tubes between the ceiling and the floor. Manzù died in 1969 before the project had been realized, and Castiglioni then reduced the object in a series of steps, affixed to a steel cable attached to the ceiling a counterweight, a 100-watt spotlight and a simple height adjuster made of bent tubular profile with a rubber connector.

From Parentesi to OK

Today, luminaires are no longer designed ‘around the lamp’, Grcic emphasizes on his Website, outlining the design process underlying “Parentesi” and “OK”, whereby the focus, he says, is now on designing the light source itself. The result: a round lighting element with 23W LEDs positioned as with a TV or a computer screen as a strip wrapping round the sides. As with “Parentesi”, “OK” can be set at any height and the flat round lighting element swivels 360°. However, unlike “Parentesi”, the 1,035 lumen generated are less spotlight and more illumination. “OK” successfully transports an historical design into the here and now. The ceiling mounting is Grcic’s homage to the Castiglioni original.

Seaweed and miniature crane

The Fuori presentations likewise offered a rich blend of different luminaire designs: Dirk Vander Kooij came to fame with furniture made from recycled plastic by a robot working with endless cords. Now, his 6kg “Satellite Lamp” has gone on show at Spazio Rossana Orlandi, alongside countless other luminaire projects. These included the latest designs from Tel Aviv’s Nir Meiri, who loves to utilize unusual materials for his luminaires. There are lampshades made of desert sand, oriented strand board (OSB) and old flower pots – and for his “Marine Light” series he has gone for seaweed: thanks to the material’s irregularities it creates a great contrast to the heavy base of the luminaire, which gleams from within. The seaweed dries on the luminaire’s frame and is then treated to preserve it.

In the collective Polish exhibition at “designjunction” in the Pelota Hall, designer Bashko Trybek (born in 1977) exhibited his Gdansk luminaire with an LED light set. Is this simply kitsch, ethnic or design? At any rate, the miniature crane brings to mind Solidarnosc and old Andrzej Wajda movies.

Luminescent crystals

There has also been a drive to find decorative solutions for OLEDs. Berlin-based Formfjord created “Xix” for Japanese manufacturer Kaneka: mysteriously glowing crystals that went on show in the Zona Tortona as a large installation whose colors kept on changing and was one of the rare highlights there. Last but not least, at the Salone Satellite Serbia’s Designedby presented its OLED luminaire “Obranch” – it boasts transparent OLED elements, whereby the fasteners and adjusters all seem a bit overly bulky. To quote from Hebbel’s diaries in conclusion: “To dispel ghosts you simply need to shed a little light on things.”

Design history continues to be written: Konstantin Grcic interpreted with "OK", the famous "Parentesi" by Achille Castiglioni and Pio Manzù with the light medium LED in a new and brisk way. Photo © Thomas Edelmann
Massive and decent, bodily and dematerialized: "Wireflow" by Arik Levy for Vibia reminds of traditional lamps. Photo © Arik Levy
New elegance for the Finance: For whom the traditional „banker’s lamp“ with green shade and brass body seems to clumsy, can choose now Ron Gilad’s “Goldman” with LED and soft-touch navigation. Photo © Thomas Edelmann
Daniel Libeskind’s „Paragon” for Artemide seems to be a geometric toy for the work space. Photo © Artemide
New designer and numerous novelties were presented by Fontana Arte: “Yupik” by From Us With Love based in Stockholm, the danish-italian couple GamFratesi showed the lamp family “Chesire”. Photo © Thomas Edelmann
The french company Blackbody is one of the first, who is committed completely to the OLED technology. Photo © Sabrina Spee, Stylepark
The LED-lamp „Silver Light“ by Liran Levi for Nemo/Cassina could be combinated in groups of three to eight elements. Photo © Sabrina Spee, Stylepark
asaran, Stylepark
There is just a formal relation between the „Bookworm“ by Ron Arad and the flexible LED-shelf "FormaLa" by Luta Bettonica for Cini & Nils. It serves for wall lightning. Foto © Sabrina Spee, Stylepark
French designer Ferréo Babin reminds with „Lunaire“ of the decorative tradition of Fontana Arte. Photo © Thomas Edelmann
Wall as lightning source: „The running magnet“ by Flos Architectural consists of LED-Light strips and flexible LEDs. Photo © Sabrina Spee, Stylepark
A asymmetrical diffusor consists the LED of „Lake“. By Paolo Lucidi and Luca Pevere for Foscarini. Photo © Sabrina Spee, Stylepark