Two inspirations that seem to be in contrast with each other – nostalgia and technology – were actually intertwined in most products and projects related to illumination, very much in the same way as it happened with most furniture pieces.

Overall, it seemed as if designers and brands wanted to provide technically experimental products with a well-known look. Could it be the result of a business thinking that ‘does not dare to dare’, due to the economic turmoil? Or merely a new sensitivity, that wishes to insert ‘memories of the future’ inside consumers’ minds, in order to push the acceptance of a technology (such as LEDs) that still encounters a lot of resistance?

It is difficult to say. But what is sure is that this year a lot of focus was put into illustrating the amazing developments of these tiny light emitting diodes, especially in terms of the quality of the light that they provide (which is now much warmer and more emotional than ever before). And that, in order to do so, most designs displayed a heritage-oriented approach.

“The new technologies require a completely different way of thinking,” says Konstantin Grcic. Being an electronic rather than an electric source and being located on minuscule printed circuits, LEDs can ideally be embedded into any type of item. Hence, not necessarily a traditional light, with a base, a source and a shade. As a matter of fact, at the Flos stand, where I met Grcic, other designers had proposed small illuminating tables. The German designer, though, prefers not to go that way.

“I personally do not think that just because something is possible and new that it is necessarily good,” he said. “Lamps, as objects, are too radically integrated in our life to do away with them. Prior to electricity, there were candles and the first lamps imitated them, and the model has basically been in use for thousands of years. For me the challenge is to provide lamps that, using new technologies, are still able to provide an atmosphere like the ones we are used to.”

Grcic’s OK lamp for Flos does exactly this. It is a circle, placed on a metal rod that is attached to the ceiling and the floor and slides up and down. It is, obviously, a remake of one of the most well-known lighting classics, the 1970s Parentesi by Achille Castiglioni for Flos. Nostalgia thus pleasantly couples with technology and rejects the miniaturisation that LEDs, nonetheless, would allow.

Isreali-born, Ron Gilad has always been playing with size reduction, he has not done away with tradition. His Goldman light for Flos is like a traditional bankers’ table lamp in brass, with a green horizontal shape. But it is much smaller than the original ones and it does away with the usual rope switch, replaced by an invisible dimmer.

Believe it or not, even candles made a comeback, albeit in a high-tech version. Carlotta de Bevilacqua, for instance, created a series of table lights called Empathy, for Artemide, which consists of a light emitting rod protected by a glass shell. The result is a very contemporary look and an almost magic user experience – the light crosses the whole rod and comes out at the end (in a very similar manner to a concept that Paul Cocksedge had developed years ago). But Empathy necessarily reminds us of candles, and the glass shade is mouth-blown by Venetian masters: nothing could be more traditional than this.

Heritage was also the focus of one of the most ex-perimental lighting designers, German maestro Ingo Maurer. This year, he teamed up with tech-wizard Moritz Waldemeyer (known for his laser outfits for celebrities’ concerts such as Rihanna and Bono) and created a system of LED candles that flicker as if gently blown by an invisible wind. They were artistically displayed at Spazio Krizia in front of gigantic reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.

To accompany My New Flame (this is the suggestive name of the product), Ingo Maurer also produced another Waldemeyer-designed lamp, One Thousand Flames. This consists of a series of reflectors, each one linked to LED to form a sort of shield. Thanks to the particular angle of the surfaces, all mathematically calculated, each LED reflects its light on each one of the six sides of the reflector and the final effect is that of the light of a fireplace.

“We have long ago replaced chimneys in our homes,” explains Waldemeyer. “We did it with state-of-the-art items such as radiators. I hope in this way to give back a glimpse of the old, much-missed cosiness.”
LEDs allowed Torbjørn Andersen and Espen Voll, formerly of Oslo-based successful Norway Says studio, to turn the archetypical bedside table lamp upside down.

Their Yoko lamp, that looks like a bubble and was one of the most acclaimed products at Euroluce, was realised using an advanced PMMA blow technique for the illuminating element, which is the base, contrary to what normally happens. The ‘shade’, which does not emit light, is made of glass. The two designers also explained their design process in a very emotion-driven video that accompanied the presentation at the show’s stand.

Last, but not least, Italian historical brand Fontana Arte underwent a major rebranding process thanks to young designer Giorgio Biscaro who put together a great team of under 40s creatives, such as French Ferréol Babin. Babin developed an eclipse-inspired wall lamp called Lunaire that emits a gentle, atmospheric light from its centre and its outer rings, which is controlled by lifting a platform up and down at its core.

Not all designers, of course, were inspired by tradition. For instance, Ferruccio Laviani used LEDs in a more miniaturised manner in his Tuareg floor lamp for Foscarini. Its great size (it measures up to two metres in height) makes it stand out in the environment like a totem or a sculpture but the lighting source is tiny and it is inserted in three tubular elements that look like branches of a tree and that can be turned on separately.

Noé Duchaufour Lawrance designed a chandelier, with shaded petals each containing an LED element. And Francisco Gomez Paz, with his Synapse (produced by Luceplan), created a modular solution that can be assembled as a dividing wall or as a lamp (with colour-changing LEDs).

Nonetheless, the great majority of ideas were all rather nostalgic, despite their technical complexity.
Trends, as we all know, come and go. So one should not read too much in this overall approach. But one thing is sure – the new light is very different from the one we knew before.

“Nothing will ever be the same,” concludes Grcic. “We can choose whether we want to miniaturise, to embed the sources into furniture or architectural structures, to make the emission warm or cold, to have a technical or a vintage look.

“Whatever the form, though, the challenge for designers today is to stop designing the object and aim at designing light itself.” And that is a major change that is here to last.

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