21. May 2015

Design born of a global ethic

Text: Joachim Ritter

Is it possible to design a product that will work, also culturally speaking, anywhere around the globe? That is the idea behind globalised markets at any rate. And yet the task of finding a solution appears to be as monumental as planet earth itself.

Many global brands were initially designed for local markets: Coca Cola, McDonalds and even cars, to name but a few. To design a luminaire which would appeal to the global market and be intrinsically linked with a company from the start, is indeed a considerable challenge. A few months ago Swarovski approached designer Ulrike R. Birnbaum and asked her to step up to the challenge. What they wanted was a design Swarovski could apply to their global product range, and one that would underscore their quality and reputation. Sparkling crystal was to be used in a different and innovative way, and the visual theme one that spans the world. Global problems are anything but few and far between. The prime goals generally take the form of attempts to maintain the beauty of our planet and of our life on it, which only goes to show how ambivalent the way we live is to life on earth. Ulrike Birnbaum: “It is a challenge to design a fixture that reflects an element that you can find in places all over the globe. The lighting fixtures I have designed in the past are not only artistically pleasing, many of them are often inspired by an ethnic approach. In this case I was fascinated by the idea of designing a luminaire that would achieve a level of cultural consensus whatever people’s background is. I do not mean this in a political sense, but as a way of re-interpreting people’s dreams and creating something that relates to daily life wherever people stem from”. Birnbaum regarded this approach as a way of demonstrating the beauty of life as a source of hope. It was clear to her that the only valid approach to the project was to opt for a design language that was delicate and graceful and would express the beauty and clarity of our planet. She was inspired by German astronaut Alexander Gerst, who took a number of amazing photos of the earth from outer space. And that was the answer: a theme with global appeal and a design approach solution all in one. When viewed from space, our globe – the place in the universe where mankind lives – is a whole, one entity with no subdivisions, one planet, one unit that is related to us all. The forces of nature are as much a part of the global world we live in as human interventions. Our world is not about local nature. “My target was to translate the fascinating richness of our world, ist vulnerability and fortitude. I wanted to create a design language that was easy to read, open for ideas, dreams, discoveries and imagination. To reflect and express what our globe holds for us: the diversity in culture on all the various continents, the fragility of nature and life, the virtue of the elements, such as the clarity of water, ice, air. And the warmth of light embraced by all living creatures on earth”. Another target that became apparent when she was working on the design of the luminaire was how the luminaire could impact ist immediate surroundings. The lit sphere made of glass and crystal was not only there to radiate light, but to project the shape of continents and oceans onto the surrounding walls, have all the colours of the spectrum interplay with the space, and above all to embrace the viewer in an immersive environment, with the crystals sparkling and creating thousands of reflections of the colours, shapes, objects and persons present. The result of all these thoughts led to a minimalist design. The light source in the centre of the luminaire represents the core, the origin of the world. The sphere made of Murano glass is more an invisible projection screen than a simulation of the globe itself, similar to the atmosphere that shields the earth. Imagine pure thin air shimmering over the horizon and in the ocean when the light appears at dawn. It is the pure white sparkle of thousands of crystals that forms the continents and encourages us to marvel and dream, that mirrors and blurs reality, that inspires us and awakens the longing in us to explore – and that makes us aware of how beautiful, rich and fragile the blue planet is. The philosophy Ulrike Birnbaum has incorporated into the design of this luminaire is as grand as the earth we live on, even though when viewed from outer space our planet is no more than a small sphere.

www.architecture.swarovski.com

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