“That’s not just a nice cosy spot, it’s quite a town,
you need quite a few Watts to see everything well there.” Kurt Weill / Bertolt Brecht “Berlin im Licht”, 1928
The sentence quoted comes from a song which Kurt Weill composed together with partner Bertolt Brecht for the “Berlin im Licht” (Berlin in the Light) promotional week in 1928, which saw the German capital shining in electrical splendour. Berlin presented itself to the whole world as a progressive and radiant city of a thousand lights – the “Electropolis”.
The song and event perfectly display what light is frequently associated with: progress, modernity and innovation.
The triumphal procession of electrical light did not just make an innovative contribution to designing public spaces – the work environment also changed immensely, for instance through the possibility of night work and of working in artificial light.
You are bound to have heard that Eskimos apparently have a large number of words for snow. It should be a similar case for light – after all, light is not identical in all cases by a long shot, as it can occur in the most diverse colours and forms and fulfil the widest range of functions.
We use lamps and luminaires to create a certain atmosphere, whether at home, in museums or in window displays. The focus is usually on functionality when artificial light is used, for instance for road traffic, on a football field or in operating theatres.
Choosing the right lighting for the office is also essential. Light at workplaces should be functional and practical, so that employees have the required perspective at all times. Poor or inadequate lighting or even lighting that is too bright leads to fatigue, eye problems and headaches – all of which are very unwelcome in people’s everyday working lives.
The aesthetic component cannot be forgotten either, as light is one of the most important design elements in a room. When implemented with skill, the right lighting can draw attention to an office, create a pleasant atmosphere, promote concentration and increase employee well-being.
Last but not least, one of the requirements of modern lighting technology is of course economic efficiency and sustainability – with the demand therefore on the development of an overall concept which meets the interests of users and operators equally.
Having different types of lighting is an important factor in an office. Areas for concentrated work require a mixture of daylight and artificial light. Glare-free, direct light works well for permanent workplaces. On the other hand softer, indirect light is better suited to communication zones or project areas.
Really intelligent offices even manage to adjust the light design to the natural daily cycle: Cooler light tones with high blue content are considered to be motivational and are therefore well suited for the start to the day. Warmer light should preferably be used towards evening – leaving employees to float towards home time pleasantly and in rhythm with their internal clock.
Aesthetics, efficiency and functionality are lofty requirements for a simple bulb. A bulb? Just a moment – there was something else too. You have almost certainly guessed what this refers to – LED technology. LED is short for “light-emitting diode” and it is one of the most significant innovations in lighting technology. Compared with conventional bulbs, light diodes consume a lot less energy, have an extremely long lifetime and are practically maintenance-free. The semi-conductor components which produce light through voltage were originally used primarily for orientation lighting or displays. LED technology has now become so sophisticated that it can be used for virtually any light applications.
The German Nimbus Group is an LED pioneer which recognised the innovative potential of the tiny but effective light source at an early stage, and has been intensively grappling with the new technology since 2000. The quantum leap succeeded: Intensive research and development work resulted in the LED becoming so powerful and reliable that it was ready for the market. Nimbus has implemented more than 8,000 LED projects since 2006. The spectrum ranges from furnishing apartments and medical practices to lighting architecture for entire office buildings and company headquarters, such as Unilever’s head office in Hamburg.
Like any good innovation, LED technology does not replace the existing technology already in place, but enhances the entire spectrum of lighting architecture. This relates not only to the technical electronic aspect, but also primarily the design. While a lamp’s design was previously dictated by the light bulb, LEDs result in a dematerialisation of the form: The traditional lamp shade and the screw jack both disappear, since both are no longer required. The luminaire is no longer built “around” the bulb, as the focus is now on the design of the light source itself.
Italian manufacturer Artemide is one of the companies which celebrates these new design possibilities.
The new “Florensis” luminaire from designer Ross Lovegrove conveys organic forms over to the world of light. The calyx which crowns the lamp has both an aesthetic as well as a technical function, as the struts conduct away the heat from the LEDs.
Light has not depended solely on the ceiling for a long time. The intelligent luminaires of today can even communicate with each other. Waldmann shows how this works with the so-called “Pulse Talk” system. The luminaires communicate with each other using a radio module, reporting the presence of people and adapting the lighting accordingly, thereby making “islands of light” in the middle of an otherwise dark office a thing of the past.
Austrian manufacturer Zumtobel has also developed concepts that are equally innovative: With “swarmControl” every free-standing luminaire has a certain sensor which reacts to presence and communicates with the surrounding luminaires. This way a kind of “light cloud” follows the user through the room. With “senseControl” luminaires can also be controlled individually via sensors. The luminaire comes on automatically once someone is present at the workplace. In parallel with this, the sensor also measures the present daylight and adjusts the brightness accordingly.
Anyone who is concerned that the bulb has become an item for posterity as a result of all these innovations can be reassured: a bulb was buried deep underground in a virtually unbreakable time capsule in 2012 as part of the ground-breaking ceremony for the new Design Museum in the UK. The iconic object is in good company. Among other things, the capsule also includes an iPhone, a good bottle of wine and a USB stick with music by John Coltrane.