Switch on the magic

Lots of things are happening on the lighting front – here’s a brief summary of the state of the art

These days we don’t switch on a light merely in order to see. We do it at least as much to create a visual impact, to lend a room a specific character. Perhaps to give it a warm ambience to which both our mind and senses respond.Theatre people have always known about the magic effects that lighting can conjure forth. Stage designers and lighting technicians know how to bathe a room in afternoon light or how to make it seem as small as a wardrobe, or as large as a ballroom. Professional interior designers can learn a thing or two from the theatre – especially now that the scope for experimentation has grown immensely compared to what it used to be.

Classical light bulbs and fluorescent tubes do not make it easy to hide the light source, dim the light or vary its character. Technical innovations in the lighting sector have now extended the options for placing lamps and light loops as well as giving them wide scope for varying their appearance. Extensive research and development activities are going on at the world’s technical leaders in lighting, namely Philips and Osram. This is where the basic framework for designing individual fittings takes shape. For many years, the lighting industry has tried to get architects and interior designers to use light as naturally as – and in competition with – creating colour schemes and using furnishings.And they are on the verge of succeeding.

Major efforts gave been made in recent years to optimize energy use (low-energy lamps and T5 fluorescent tubes have reduced the energy consumption per fitting). However, the debate on climate change makes even higher demands on saving energy in the lighting sector, creating additional challenges for the industry as a whole in the future.

But what is happening right now? Developments are moving ahead on several fronts.

There is talk of integrated light, which means illuminated niches, holes, slits or pillars that light up instead of being lit up. Ingo Maurer’s ceiling-slit fitting “Schlitz Up” recalls artist Lucio Fontana’s carved-up oil paintings.Then we have “Dulcinea”, designed by Mimmo Paladino – a 2-metre high figure resembling a man in a caftan, and “Cadmo vetro”, designed by Karim Rashid for Artemide in steel and mouth-blown glass. It simultaneously illustrates another trend, namely dual fittings equipped with both halogen and low-energy lamps. Sometimes halogen is combined with fluorescent tubes in one and the same product. Elsewhere we see halogen and LEDs (light-emitting diodes) as in Fabbian’s “Riccio”, designed by DesignZagato. When energy efficiency needs to be optimized, users opt for modern fluorescent tubes, energy lamps, small discharge lamps of the metal-halogen type and not least the LEDs that have become increasingly common in both private and public environments.They allow compact dimensions, are energy-saving, have a long operating life and emit almost no heat while still producing a lot of light. As the light source keeps cool, they can also be produced in heat-sensitive materials, be woven into textiles or combined with different types of plastics.

There are also several design trends: towards more sculptural forms but also ever more compact dimensions – all variants based on recent technical innovations.The pared-down ones are found most commonly in offices. Here we see a series of examples that combine maximum flexibility with a minimum of material and a fastidious expression of form.The themes for other fittings (desk lamps and ceiling pendants) vary from playfulness (“Leti” designed by Matteo Ragni), to surprise (Flos “Skygarden” designed by Marcel Wanders), sometimes making a more spectacular impact (“Hungry” designed by Ali Siahvoshi, manufactured by Fabbian) or a more humorous one (“Nebula” designed by Joris Laarman, manufactured by Flos, and “Cluster Lamp” designed by Joel Degermark for Moooi).

So just now things are cool, cool and stimulating on the lamp front!