Interview: Aiko Telgen


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Almost completely hidden in a small, dark booth inside Zona Tortona’s Temporary Museum of New Design, German designer Aiko Telgen presented Ion Lamps, one of our favorite finds at this year’s Milan Design Week so far. The captivating Ion Two—the newest addition to Telgen’s line—looks like a bubble that has trapped a spirit like a luminescent ghost or a glowing genie.

The Ion Two is built around a central glass cylinder, which serves as the base for additional glowing glass rings. Every part of the lamp is filled with inert neon gas and, through a special process, the neon is turned into plasma so that the light looks more gentle and delicate than what shines through a regular neon tube. Plus, the plasma reacts to the presence of body heat, making the light more intense in the exact point where someone touches the glass. Plasma can also be manipulated by magnetic fields, so the different ionic charges illuminate when they come in contact with each other or become closer together. As a result, the user can create different intensities of light by adding, subtracting or moving the rings around.

We were able to speak to the designer to learn more about the Ion’s very interesting use of technology to turn science into something magical, and the process behind constructing the system.

How was the project born? How did you discover this technology?

The Ion Lamp Series (Ion One and Ion Two) is my graduation project which I did at the School of Art and Design Kassel in Germany. I began this exploration of light with the theme, “A Floating Light,” and started my research about everything around the topics of floating elements and the nature of light. When I visited a small neon sign factory in East Germany I got a first impression of the technology and realized the difference between fluorescent light (generated by UV light), which is widely known and used, and the pure light of plasma. The plasma process is usually hidden inside fluorescent tubes but has a very special appearance. When I saw this for the first time I instantly had the feeling that this could be a solution to my starting point. I then got deeper into the topics of plasma and neon technology and looked into the experimental research of several people like Nikola TeslaDan Flavin and James Turrell.

What is the process of making the lamp? Is it more artisanal or technological?

I would describe the process of making it as both artisanal and technological. The glass pieces are manufactured out of semi-finished glass tubes by a glass laboratory supplier. They are not blown into a wooden mold—this wouldn’t work because of the specific geometry of the glass rings. The finished glass pieces are then transported to a neon laboratory where they are put into an oven and vacuumed with a turbo pump. After this process you have to fill in the neon gas, taking care of the different volumes of the glass cavities, since each one needs a different pressure.

What’s the difference between regular neon gas and plasma?

One explanation which describes plasma very well is the comparison between water and ice. When water freezes and becomes ice you see a change of state to a state of matter. The same happens here with the neon gas, it changes the state from gas to a neon plasma, the fourth state of matter.

Do you think this is a suitable object for mass production?

I don’t think it’s possible—at least with this version—to make a mass production piece out of it, because of the quite complex glass work. With this version I would prefer to make a small series. But of course a third, more simple version with less complexity could be mass produced.



My new article from Cool Hunting

Established in 1961, Italian lighting specialist Fabbian has developed a cult following for its technical expertise, constant innovation and in-house manufacturing.

Their repertoire of remarkable collaborations (among them Karim Rashid and Marc Sadler) now includes one with young British designer Benjamin Hubert, who just showed their ironic “Roofing” lamp at Milan’s Salone del Mobile. The award-winning designer used rubbery silicone tiles in three different colorways to cover two different frames in a modular design loosely based on Moroccan tiles roofs. In spite of its lofty origins, the resulting shade looks like a place where cartoon birds would live.

Ironic and silly, the design shows the playful sensibility of this young designer, a position he’s refined enough to win international critical and media acclaim and to land him in international exhibits. Awards to date include Design of the Year (British Design awards 2010), Best Product (100% design/Blueprint awards 2009) and EDIDA International Young Designer of the year 2010.

Alessi at Milan Design Week

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The opening of Alessi’s new Milan space today was more than just a celebration of their new digs, but also an occasion to present some of the iconic Italian brand’s latest projects, including an innovative line of lamps and luminaries, produced by Foreverlamp and conceived by a team of three young designers.

The trio consists of Giovanni Alessi AnghiniGabriele Chiave and Frederic Gooris, who explained, “We work as a team, even though we still run our own design firms. We’ve known each other for years and Alberto Alessi decided to give us the chance to create something new.” The AlessiLux project breaks the boundaries between classic bulb and lamp, creating real enlightened and colorful objects. With high quality overall and the latest technology—both in terms of performance and environmentalism—will this team create something new for the future? “We cannot be precise by now, but we are working on ideas able to combine Alessi’s design excellence and mass market.”

Also in the new showroom, ECAL (the University of Art and Design of Lausanne) presented an interesting exhibition to showcase the desk and office objects designed by Bachelor students in industrial design that resulted from a workshop with Elric Petit. A pivoting opening and closing system characterizes the “Frana” pencil box, the “Spettro” flying saucer captures paper clips and “Ora” is a clock mobile that suspends time. Conceiving of the workspace as a friendly and welcoming environment, they came up with tools intended to provide some joy to their users—in true Alessi spirit.

See more images of all the designs in the gallery.