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.


Re-lighting Gino Sarfatti Edition N°1 by Flos

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Gino Sarfatti is possibly the most important lighting designer in the history of Italian design. Between founding the beloved Arteluce in 1939 and selling it to Flos in 1973, the self-taught designer had over 600 lamps and “light fittings” under his name. 2012 would have been Sarfatti’s 100th birthday, and to mark this occasion Flos joined up with curators Marco Romanelli and Sandra Severi Sarfatti to create the first-ever Italian retrospective at the Triennale di Milano.

In celebration of his experimental take on lighting, professionals and the general public alike were invited to re-envision his masterpieces, which are now on display next to the rare historic pieces. Flos accepted this challenge and chose to only reengineer the inside components, leaving Sarfatti’s original shapes to shine. This falls particularly in line with Sarfatti’s progressive approach to lighting, as a designer always ready to adopt new solutions like the first halogen lights.

The upshot of this deeply technical operation is “Re-lighting Gino Sarfatti,” a first edition of five timeless lamps, to be followed in the future by additional collections. Each lamp of the new line is based on LEDs and the handsome marriage of contemporary, energy-saving light sources with retro form.

The original “Modello 607,” a table lamp based on halogen lighting, is now turned into a mass of 42 tiny LEDs, screened off by a diffusor. The shape and functional details are identical to the 1971 design, even in the central dimmer at the base.

The most intense technical intervention is probably that of the “Modello 1095.” This floor lamp is a simple tube that was meant to carry a 12V halogen lamp on top. But as it is, there’s no space for heat-sinks, making it necessary to use LEDs to maintain the same intensity and quality of lighting. Flos technicians found the solution in a patented water cooling system, which makes water flow up and down all along the rod while the lamp is in use.

“Modello 1063” was designed in 1954 and was essentially a vertical fluorescent tube. The original base hosted an electromagnetic ballast. Today this volume is used to hide the dimming system and other electronic devices. In this case too, the neon light has been replaced with a LED module with variable light temperature.

The most iconic piece of the collection is probably “Modello 548,” a classic table lamp with reflected and diffused light, and a characteristic colored cup-shaped diffuser. The main innovation is this case is in old push button switch, which has been turned into an optical dimming sensor.

“Modello 2129” was designed by Sarfatti in 1969 and is an incredibly elegant arc-shaped droplight that can rotate 360 degrees. The only wire is hosted by a transparent tube and, thanks to a counterweight, the reflector can freely be moved up and down. As for the other lamps, the original incandescent light bulb has been replaced with a wide LED surface.

Currently on view through 14 May 2013 at the Flos Professional Space in Milan, the Gino Sarfatti Edition N°1 collection will be on sale later this year in selected design and furniture shops worldwide.

Wonderoled by Blackbody

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Blackbody is an OLED home lighting brand launched in 2010 by the Italian-French company Astron Fiamm. Located in Toulon, France, the company develops and produces OLED-based lighting solutions with the help of established and emerging designers, and for Milan Design Week is presenting a selection of new products as part of the “Wonderoled” exhibition at La Triennale, conceived by Aldo Cibic and Tommaso Corà.

We were struck by the flexibility and incredible range of possibilities that OLED can open to the future of design: the technology lasts 20,000 hours, is 100% recyclable, doesn’t contain any polluting components, is heat-free, glare-free, 2 mm thick and can produce any color of the visible light spectrum. In a way, OLED is both concrete and malleable light, to be shaped and used as a real material that can lead to totally new innovation.

Wonderoled by Blackbody starts with “I.Rain” by Thierry Gaugain, a long-time collaborator of Philippe Stark, who opened his studio in 2011. I.Rain is a modular lighting system wherein each component hangs from the wall shaping clouds from which light falls down like rain.

“Teka” by Aldo Cibic reinterprets the classic cabinet, turning the piece of furniture into a lamp thanks to the addition of a series of light circles. The traditional look of the container is in gentle contrast with its content, creating an object that looks like a new classic.

Nature serves as the inspiration for other two projects by Cibic, “The Wish Tree” and “Blossoms”. “The Wish Tree”, designed in collaboration with Tommaso Corà, is a hanging chandelier, but at the same time a sculptural and minimalistic object. The Cibic design is “Blossoms”, a metallic tree whose branches terminate in imaginary OLED buds.

17-22 April 2012
Triennale di Milano
Viale Emilio Alemagna 6
20121 Milano, Italy


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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.