Jill Entwistle looks at the many ways luminaires can be used to emphasise shadow and light


Modularity, flexibility and versatility are the requirements du jour of contemporary luminaires, reflecting changing times in a post-Covid world

ALTHOUGH THERE is inevitably a bit of a time lapse between launch and judgement, design awards generally point out the trends and show the way things are going. The lighting winners in the iF Product Design Awards are no exception, though there is perhaps a shade more emphasis on what things do than what they look like. The latest crop shows a continuing preoccupation with multiple-use luminaires, particularly those which also act as acoustic devices and, increasingly in virus-ridden times, those that have a hygiene function (using UV as a virus protection).

There is a fair amount of the derivative, or the gussying up of an existing idea with an extra function (the mood music which matches the mood lighting, say). Some of this year’s 67 lighting winners also hail from the more arcane areas of illumination, such as photography or, another sign of the times, specialised fittings to light the user’s face for video conferencing and Zoom sessions. Many are aimed at the residential market, often portable with rechargeable LEDs, another market which is proliferating. That roster includes one that repels mosquitoes (possibly while attracting moths?) and ones that double as flashlights.

But if there is a motif that unites many of the more mainstream fittings, it is the drive for modularity, flexibility and versatility. With multi-tasking and precision-engineered optics, luminaires work a lot harder nowadays than they used to.


Also shortlisted for an FX Award, Top Fancy Shape allows a full light installation to be created from a single light source. Designed for spaces where it is impossible to conceal fittings, or where a graphic element is needed, the system of cylindrical downlights can be configured in an almost infinite number of ways.

The cable can be moved along the ceiling using small pistons which create vertices in the shape of the cable. The layout of these points can be freely designed. Available in three different base sizes (depending on the number of units per base), it can also be combined with pendant lights from the company's Fancy Shape collection. 

Maximum output is 655lm and three colour temperatures are available (2700K, 3000K and 4000K), all CRI 90.


Mercury Orbit Pendant is a modular linear LED pendant system. It can be connected in multiple ways and can be rotated through 360 degrees. It can also be switched between direct and indirect light to create either ambient or task lighting (both dimmable). The height can be adjusted according to need by pressing a pin on each string.

If you want to go the whole hog, Lorbits has also come up with a modular table/floor lamp set on the same design principle. With various corner and tube units, it can be assembled to create general and task lighting as needed.


One trend that promises to be majorly disruptive in lighting – as in other areas of manufacturing and construction – is the 3D printed lamp. Clearly aimed at the consumer market and currently only available in Signify's (formerly Philips) home turf of the Netherlands (Belgium, Denmark and Sweden are next), the Philips ‘My Creation’ line allows users to design their own luminaires. Using an online pick and mix of shapes, textures, colours and electrical paraphernalia, the luminaire can then be 3D printed in one of the company’s local hubs.


Soliscape is essentially a flexible lighting and acoustic system based on a toolbox of different components. These include various lighting modules, acoustic panels, a sensor module and a voice control module.

Designed in collaboration with UN Studio, the basis of the system is a slender 19mm x 23mm profile which allows a range of configurations. All modules are plugged in from above, allowing a cleaner appearance from below. Linear elements can be combined with curved or 90 degree corners.

The spot modules comes in two sizes and various colour combinations, with the hybrid optics producing a precise beam. The LEDs have a colour rendering of CRI 90, or come in a CRI 95 version with Delta Light’s Natural Light Technology (NLT), a spectrum that closely matches that of the sun, designed to be sympathetic to the human circadian system.

There are also various types of linear profiles, both with up and downlighting. The Soli-Form profile is a combination of Delta Light’s Melanopic Light Technology (MLT) with high-efficiency louvre optics. The reflector is designed to precisely exploit each individual LED module for maximum efficiency while ensuring a high level of visual comfort, as every LED dot is shielded from direct view. Its slender measurements of 28mm x 28mm blend with the slim dimensions of the main structure.

Apart from task lighting and focused accent lighting, Soli-Line offers linear solutions for general lighting. Installed in line with the profile or connecting two opposite profiles, these straight lines are finished with a sandblasted optic to diff use the light around the room, with both direct and indirect options.

These lighting elements can be combined with Soli-Shhh sound-absorbing panels. These can be added or removed, positioned flat or tilted, providing noise reduction to office spaces and meeting rooms in a visually attractive way. The panels can be used as an add-on to the Soliscape toolbox or as a separate element, be it with or without additional spot modules mounted around the circle.

The Soli-Sense module captures relevant data from its surroundings and interacts with the other modules of the system or – by extension – with a complete Building Management System. Its functions include presence detection, adapting light intensity based on incoming daylight, and adjusting the HVAC system according to the temperature, humidity and air quality in the space.


Combining acoustic, modular and intelligent lighting motifs, Light Shed is as much flexible architectural element as luminaire. Suspended or recessed, configured in lines or blocks, the system can accommodate sound-absorbing panels (the db60 version) and integrate intelligent tools (with sensors for automatic adjustment and features such as smartphone control).

It can be square (sides 120/60/30cm), rectangular (14x120/160/240 or 300cm), or linear, and has several installation options. It comes in a range of colours including white, grey, green and blue.

Its microprismatic screen produces a glare-free but highly efficient light output (up to 164lm/W). It generally also boasts good green credentials. Made from recycled (up to 85%) and 100% recyclable materials, it has PEP Ecopassport-Type III EPD environmental certification.


Still on sound-absorbing luminaires, Delta Light's Zoover is designed as a statement light fitting. Its shallow dome – a thermoformed PET felt shell – has multiple appearances according to the viewpoint. It can be used for general lighting, providing a soft diff used light inside its dome, or it can also conceal four spotlights for accent lighting. Available in two sizes (1200mm and 1400mm) and two colours for the shade (dark or light grey), it also has an optional open upper part for a softer, indirect light to the ceiling.


While minitiaturisation of LEDs has enabled complex designs focused on light effects, a counter trend looking to emphasise the luminaires themselves is now emerging


THERE IS a sort of ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ theme with the following two projects and products. As has been observed many times, the miniaturisation that LEDs have enabled has resulted in an overall trend to emphasise the light effect, not the luminaire. Hiding the light fitting under a bushel – or behind the coving – as it were. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and there is still a thriving regard – and aesthetic need – for the highly visible luminaire. They are design statements, focal points, vacuum fillers and graphic devices. Their presence and absence both create a particular atmosphere. Ultimately, whether the luminaire is overt or discreet, it’s the lighting effect that still counts.

Image Credit: YUNPU CAI
Image Credit: YUNPU CAI


A completely black interior – walls, floor and ceiling – with virtually all indirect lighting is a bold concept. A spa environment is, after all, meant to de-stress not distress. But what could potentially be an intimidating, and distinctly unrelaxing, Stygian gloom is mitigated by subtle interventions: strategic low-level navigational lighting, an illuminated multimedia art wall (Chasing Cloud by artist Yang Yong Liang), and rippling light that reflects from the art wall into a tank of black water. According to the Wuxing, or Five Elements, black represents water, and when water meets black, it becomes the colour of Chinese ink, which stands for inclusion.

Image Credit: YUNPU CAI
Image Credit: YUNPU CAI

‘Because the whole design concept is black, we didn’t want people to feel unsafe, especially when they come in from outside,’ says Vera Chu who, with Chia Huang Liao, was responsible for the lighting. ‘So when the lift opens, the curved shape of the entrance with the task light at floor level guides the guests inside. And then the light from the digital art film at the end invites them into the interior.’

Image Credit: YUNPU CAI
Image Credit: YUNPU CAI

That idea was inspired by an ancient Chinese fable, says Chu: the ‘Tale of the Fountain of the Peach Blossom Spring’. ‘The fisherman beheld a hill, with a small opening from which issued a glimmer of light,’ Chu recounts.

Image Credit: YUNPU CAI
Image Credit: YUNPU CAI

Using light-absorbing black was conceived as an antidote to the bustling brightness of urban life. ‘In the modern city, a kaleidoscope of lights represents the progress of civilisation, but it signifies disturbance and noise,’ says Chu. The cave-like interior with its unique lighting suggests refuge and sensory respite.

‘The indirect light reflects the textures and give a sense of scale for the ceiling height,’ says Chu. ‘We have combined functional, task and ambient light together and added some playful touches.’

Client: Green SPA Management and Consultancy


The lighting world lost one of its more lustrous design talents when Ingo Maurer died in 2019. However, the company he founded back in 1966 is firmly grounded in his often eccentric and experimental take on lighting design. A determination to plough his own idiosyncratic creative furrow resulted in some whimsical and ingenious designs, and also inevitably raised a few eyebrows.

There is the same sort of Marmite feel to the company’s lighting solution for seven underground substations that form part of the city rail tunnel in Karlsruhe.


This is an environment that, for safety reaons alone, requires a direct and largely uniform lighting approach. It also traditionally features highly visible and utilitarian fittings, designed with performance, easy accessibility and maintenance being held firmly in mind.

The scheme, set against a clinically white interior, certainly delivers visibility in spades, with a complicated-looking steel cable construction that carries linear LED tubes. Inspired by the overhead wires of an electric railway system, it also has a slight whiff of Maurer’s classic 1980s YaYaHo.


Ropes, clamps, isolators and stays are guided over a steel cable construction in a condensed, overhead system. In an arrangement of three ropes lying next to each other and two ropes lying above each other, the light constructions seem – depending on the angle from which passengers view it – ‘like subtly arranged notes of a symphony’, says Sebastian Utermöhlen, responsible for macro projects at Ingo Maurer.

‘Subconsciously, the visitor has always been aware of the complex network of overhead lines,’ he continues. ‘For the construction of the underground substations, we wanted to keep this stylistic element in the shape of a web of light.’

Ingo Maurer has always been about delighting with light and this scheme is no exception. Punctuating the cable system is a series of RGB (red, green, blue) spotlights which create a special effect – as well as producing bright white light pools on the station floors, when a passenger walks through the beam cast by the spotlight, they split the white light into its consituent parts and cast colourful shadows around them. ‘In this way, passing passengers become participants in the lighting design,’ says Utermöhlen.

Architect: Allman Sattler Wappner Architekten


Nulla Extradark by Davide Groppi
Davide Groppi is achingly minimalist verging on obsessive. One suspects he will only be truly content when, by some alchemy, he has made light fittings disappear altogether. With a powerful LED and a special lens, he got close with his 2010 Nulla downlight. However, he has managed to take the barely there look a step further with Nulla Extradark, which conceals the aperture to an even greater extent.


The fitting finish is matt black, and the visible hole needed in the ceiling comes in two diameters: 18mm (4.5W) and 25mm (9W). Such miniscule openings would suggest a maintenance nightmare, but the magnetic fixing of Nulla Extradark allows the main body to be extracted for quick and easy maintenance, according to the company.

Funivia by Artemide
Designed by Carlotta de Bevilaqua, CEO and president of Artemide, Funivia is a cable system that is boggling in its potential permutations. It can be fixed separately to the floor or ceiling, and can run freely without needing to be cut, and therefore interrupted. According to taste or need, it can form a network of regular horizontal or vertical – as well as angled – lines throughout the space.

Based on a single power point, its only limit is the power installed on its length. What Artemide describes as ‘interferences’ can also be generated between two systems that touch each other, criss-crossing in a connection element that enables two cables to pass through.

The system offers a series of luminaire options including spots, pendants and linear fittings. These lighting elements are connected to the cable via a bridge element, an electricity connection that mechanically fixes the appliance and powers it. All fittings can also be individually addressable through the Artemide app.

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