Looking Backward

It’s not unusual for a design company to distribute a mission statement with its work, but the new Swedish lighting manufacturer Wästberg has gone a loopy step further with its first collection, issuing an atavistic manifesto titled “Lighting for Neanderthal Man.” Its founder, Magnus Wästberg, explains: “Since the beginning of time, mankind has gathered around light. We made a fire but didn’t light up the whole surroundings. It was efficient, and it made us feel good. Not until recent times where electricity seemed limitless did we come up with the idea of ‘ambient light.’”

In other words, Wästberg harbors a deep dissatisfaction with today’s interior-lighting strategies, the majority of which he sees as either “dull and unnecessary seas of artificial light” or overstyled, inefficient fixtures. His anachronistic rhetoric, however, belies a decidedly modern quest for fire: flexible, directed-light solutions that distribute rich light evenly over a large surface, and that are cost-efficient and environmentally sound. “What is needed is a fixture with the essence of a task light but with a far broader usability,” he says.

Wästberg grew up in the lighting industry (his family owned the Swedish manufacturers Ledu, Boréns, and, later, Vidilux), so when it came time to launch his company, the 33-year-old sent a brief to some well-known designers and architects who also happened to be old friends: Ilse Crawford, James Irvine, Jean-Marie Massaud, and the Swedish design team Claesson Koivisto Rune. And to encourage a different perspective, Wästberg turned the design process around. “When developing a high-end task light, the designer is normally furnished with a specific light source, a lighting technique, a set of electrical components, and so on,” he says. Instead, Wästberg asked the designers to come up with a concept and then had his technical team create state-of-the-art lighting solutions to match.

The results are impressive. Crawford combined iron, wood, and porcelain for what Wästberg describes as a “sturdy friend.” Irvine’s dimmable lamp has three connecting points, each of which rotates 360 degrees. Inspired by a dentist’s light, Claesson Koivisto Rune used an aluminum reflector to bounce light outward. And Massaud’s long-necked contribution swivels on a bulbous base attached to its green platform by magnets. This first collection will be available in the United States later this summer, but one already can’t help but wonder about future collaborations. Is turning development backward the way forward for Wästberg? “Absolutely not,” he says assuredly. “Well, not more than one turn…two at the most.”

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