Milan Design Week it´s almost reaching its end, and while I am still trying to digest all the trends and inspiration accumulated during these four hectic days, I wanted to share with you some of the highlights that I could already spot at this year´s Euroluce edition:
This year Euroluce fair has been distinguished by LED. Almost every single manufacturer, from the smallest brand to the big players, has been portraying, in one way or another, their strength in the use of this technology. Of course, there will be always be a place for more traditional lighting methods, but the average consumer and the inspiration seekers are noticing the rise of LED as a common standard and not only in higher end or functional propositions.
The fact of LED becoming almost ubiquitous hasn't meant however that manufacturers have been exploring new paradigms or archetypes of lighting. Most propositions around LED seem to be retrofitted, with the same look and feel and functionality as traditional propositions, with only an emphasis on better performance and energy saving. The most adventurous luminaires use and abuse the minimalistic approach to highlight the small size of LED; ribbons, stripes and lines are absolutely everywhere. The equation LED = minimal has become too obvious and I somehow miss a more structured, deep approach into the subject that maximizes the potential of LED beyond the "tiny, sleek and shiny" - if not only for the sake of distinguishing one brand from another.
That LEDs are somehow not yet at their full blossom can also be appreciated in the fact that almost no one exploited their "intelligent" side. Besides Philips’ propositions (LivingColors and other interactive fixtures present at their stand) and some anecdotal examples (Artemide had a nice example of dimming), digital lighting showed its nature only in color-changing. No reactive lighting systems, no sensing luminaires - there is still a big gap in the market. UI designers have a great opportunity here to explore how to bring new value to LED lighting by empowering the interaction between the luminaire, the user and the context. I am really looking forward to see more developments in this at next year´s fair.
Same can be said for Outdoor lighting. It is true that in this year´s edition Outdoor was more present (still a minority though) but visitors left with the feeling LED hasn't brought anything that new to the table in terms of concepts. Urban luminaires are brighter, more eco-friendly and shine slightly more bluish, but forms and shapes are the same. The paradigm of a "box on a pole" is still very present, which means quite a big opportunity of exploring other ways of outdoor lighting.
A technology that hasn´t quite yet arisen is OLED technology. Perhaps performance and light output are not developed yet to a competitive level, perhaps price is still preventing manufacturers from embracing its potential. It might also be that there hasn't been enough exploration pointing to a meaningful use of OLED. For any of those reasons, it was difficult to spot propositions exploiting so-called "flat lighting" at Euroluce. I could only see it at the Luceplan stand, used as a screen and as beautiful badges, and in an ambiguous luminaire from a minor manufacturer. However, the Verbatim installation at Tortona, quite popular, left visitors curious about OLED technology. I´ll be blogging about it in more detail.
The effects of the economic crisis can still be perceived at Euroluce. Manufacturers are taking no risks, and that can be seen in the product introductions. I couldn´t see many new propositions, as many of the brands populated their stands with products that were already introduced last year. In a similar fashion, big brands with design backgrounds are trying to pull their sales by reintroducing their designs classics. The Cassina stand devoted half of its space to their vast collection of masterpieces signed by the likes of Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, and similar could be seen at many other stands. This makes sense in times of economic uncertainty, when reintroducing pieces assures no investments in production tooling and the design background ensures value. In general, not much exploration of materials, technologies and archetypes could be seen either.
Perhaps to compensate the lack of exploration, manufacturers became creative with their propositions and put a lot of decorative luminaires at the fair. Paraphrasing David Breary´s post, "decorative" should not be understood as non-functional, but as a purposeful fixture in which look and feel has been carefully thought to detail. Attention to materials, finishings, light effects... all of that created quite a handful of striking luminaires that created an emotional response in visitors. In my next post I´ll be treating in more detail trends and uses of materials, forms and light effects seen at Euroluce.
Embedded lighting solutions
Last year´s edition of Euroluce left me very excited about new possibilities in embedded lighting solutions. Propositions like Flos´ "Soft Architecture" range showed an even philosophical approach on the relationship between light and architecture, light and space, in a very delicate and delightful way. In my opinion, this year’s embedded lighting propositions didn’t reference that relationship or match the sensitivity of their predecessors. I wonder why this has happened, when LED lighting allows, in theory, for further explorations on that area, and if there are actually manufacturers continuing with this approach outside Euroluce.