A return to form? Ray Molony previews Light + Building

Over a decade on from the arrival of the LED in architectural lighting, luminaire designers are returning to pure forms and simple lines which allow seamless integration into architectural environments. Here Ray Molony previews the key trends in design from this month’s Light + Building exhibition in Frankfurt.

 

The mass adoption of LEDs by the lighting industry over a decade ago promised a revolution in luminaire design. Freed from the tyranny of traditional light sources such as the chunky fluorescent and the hot-running, short-lived and inefficient halogen, we were told a new generation of exciting and innovative form factors awaited us. Gone would be traditional downlighters and linear fixtures to be replaced by lighting integrated into ceilings, walls and furniture.

And while yes, there have been some exciting and novel developments (I’m thinking of iGuzzini’s playful Trick, Cree’s neo-gothic Aeroblades and Coelux’s revolutionary artificial skylight), mostly we’ve just been putting LEDs into the same old tubes and boxes. In the same way that early motor cars looked like horse buggies, new-generation LED luminaires look like…well, the old stuff.

But beyond the award-winning ‘shapes’, actually a quieter revolution is happening. We really have been freed from the fluorescent: long linear runs of smooth, integrated light are now possible, and are now appearing in offices all over the world. Gap-toothed, multi-hued fluorescent versions still survive in tired shopping malls and airports to remind us just how far we have come.

Similarly, huge hoop pendants are appearing in office lobbies because previously, they were difficult to manufacture; with LEDs, they’re easy.

Progress of sorts then. But still, it doesn’t feel like a revolution. In reality, the revolution is happening under the bonnet. LEDs are a digital technology, not an analogue one, so they lend themselves perfectly to incorporation into the so-called Internet of Things.

Expect this to be a huge trend at the lighting industry’s global biennial gathering this month, the Light + Building exhibition in Frankfurt. Due to increased commoditisation and falling prices, light fittings simply won’t just illuminate any more. They’ll have on-board capabilities such as increased intelligence, sensors, build-in wireless connectivity and colour tuning. Expect buzzwords such as ‘IoT ready’ and ‘digital light’.

In terms of aesthetics, we’re seeing a return to simple forms, clean lines and pure materiality, all partly enabled by the well-behaved LED. The leading American and European brands are embracing understated forms which take their cues from contemporary architecture.

Quality, too, is increasing as the major players put clear blue water between themselves and low-cost Chinese suppliers.

Still, expectations aren’t high for the innovations that are set to be unveiled on the 2,600 stands at Light + Building. Industry hacks – bruised by a difficult market – are a little too jaded for that. But, whisper it lightly, that horse buggy might – just – be beginning to evolve.

 

  •  Meet the Lux team at Light + Building.  Our video crew will be filming in our special interview studio in the Messe and our journalists will be scouring the halls for innovation. Get updates on Twitter from @LuxReview. Meet the crew at O’Reilly’s Irish Bar, opposite the hauptbahnhof in Frankfurt city centre, at 9pm on Thursday 22 March. The Lux team will wearing their distinctive red rugby jerseys. The Light + Building exhibition starts on Sunday 25 March and runs through to Friday 23 March. Around 2,600 exhibitors will showcase their lighting products to over 210,000 visitors, almost half of whom come from outside Germany.

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