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Neil Poulton

Issue 67 Jun / Jul 2012

The Artemide stand at this year’s Light + Building had much in common with a modern gallery space, its contents a curated collection of statement pieces that balanced the technical and practical aspects of lighting with a bold, playful aesthetic appeal.

Amongst this year’s launches were several pieces by Scottish designer Neil Poulton.
Winner of numerous international design awards, Poulton has gained plaudits both within the lighting community and, thanks to his striking designs for desktop digital storage manufacturer LaCie, with media creatives the world over.

“I try to do things that have a presence, that are beautiful in themselves whether they are actually in use or not,” explains Poulton of his design approach. “Things that actually serve some sort of purpose; that, when you use them, make you feel great; that you want to own; to have in your house; things that brighten up your day.” It’s a credo that sits perfectly within the Artemide philosophy of creating ‘objects born from man’s experience to satisfy man’s needs’.

Poulton first began collaborating with Artemide in 1996 and their continued partnership is indicative of a shared approach to good design. As with other designers in Artemide’s extended family, Poulton works directly with Ernesto Gimondi, the company’s octogenarian founder.
“Ernesto is an ex-aeronautics engineer so he’s very interested in technology, in new things, in almost a ‘form follows function’ approach to design, so he needs complementary people that have a different take, but who still work within that wider Artemide ethos.”

From his Paris studio, Poulton works in continual development, periodically coming together with Ernesto and the Artemide team to take concepts forward. It was through this process of experimental evolution that new desk lamp Ipparco came into being.

The piece comprises a ring-shaped head with a diffuse inner surface illuminated by LED. The ring is attached to a vertical mounting pole by a powerful built-in magnet, allowing it to be repositioned in any way the user wants.

“The idea was to create a fun lamp that you grabbed hold of; that you took in your hand and could stick anywhere you wanted: to the top of the pole, on the side or even to your metal cupboard or fridge door,” Poulton says.

The piece has a strong graphical identity with white surfaces used to indicate the light source and black for all structural elements. It is a recurring theme seen throughout this year’s collection – perhaps most strikingly in another new piece, the Scopas, a pendant constructed from an incomplete sphere of LED plates.

Scopas was originally conceived as a large scale, one-off work for an airport project. The structural and financial challenges involved meant this version didn’t reach the construction phase, but Poulton and his team continued with the concept, scaling it down to a more universally accessible size.

The piece is constructed from modules comprising six lenses - five arranged flower-like around a central lens piece. Twelve of these modules would create a complete sphere, but by selectively removing six, Poulton has created an intriguing balance between the imagined whole and the void within it. “The thing that makes it interesting is the way you perceive space through the object,” he says. “It’s a sort of game between positive and negative space.”

The lenses have a slightly conical shape so that they extend beyond the black support structure. When viewed from behind this produces a halo effect adding to the sense of volume. “As you walk around it, its appearance changes: it takes on a different volume, a different dimension, a different weight,” Poulton explains. Indeed, although the initial intension was to provide the pendant in kit form to allow the end user the ability to customise the structure, the final piece had so many different aspects that this ultimately seemed unnecessary.

The use of LEDs in Ipparco and Scopas - as well as Poulton’s other 2012 launches, the Sinewave and Talo – show how the Italian manufacturer has embraced the latest wave in lighting technology. As LEDs have matured in recent years, their ability to deliver impressive light quality and quantity from a very small source has created an explosion of opportunities for product designers. For Artemide, this has meant exploring the new shapes that solid state technology has made possible but, Poulton notes, many manufacturers have instead chosen to go down the path of minimalism and miniaturisation, creating ultra flat pendants and fixtures that blend apologetically into the background.

“There’s an enormous liberty that we have with LED in terms of the kind of forms you can create – both the sculptural and technical use of it,” he says. “That’s one of the things that’s always been comfortable with Artemide. The way that we try and do things that are discrete but, if you look at them, are actually very beautiful. They take on a sculptural aspect when they’re not in use, and that’s something I think is very important.”


(c) Nicolas Foucher

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