A Bright Idea

Liat Poysner talks about the design of her Gondwana wall sconce.

In 1996 Liat Poysner was studying industrial design at Hadassah College Jerusalem, in Israel. To support herself she began working as a quality-assurance inspector at Suron, a machining plant that produces exact reproductions of drawings through a sophisticated photochemical metal-etching process. At the time the plant fabricated precise and intricate metal components for a wide range of industries, from electronics and telecommunications to optics, computers, aviation, and bioengineering. Poysner became enamored with the seemingly endless creative possibilities that the technology afforded. When she finished her studies, the manager of the company offered her the opportunity to develop a product. She quickly immersed herself in the study of lighting, bulbs, and electricity, and how they interact with materials. Five years later the result of that work is a collection of lighting fixtures that combines photochemical etching technology, stainless-steel sheets, and light.

Poysner talked to Metropolis about the development of her latest collection of 12 lighting fixtures, which made its North American debut at this year’s Lightfair and is being distributed in the United States by Baldinger Architectural Lighting.

I made a conscious decision not to display the lighting element whenever possible. The result is an illuminating light source that’s subtle, atmospheric, and inviting. Keeping the bulb hidden adds an element of surprise and allows the metal, the screen design, and the light to converse with one another.

I wanted all the connections to be dry so that there would be no screws, welding, or soldering. I worked with the metal using an origami technique. It was a challenge to translate my ideas from a technology that is basically two-dimensional to create a three-dimensional lighting fixture. The finished design is photochemically etched onto stainless-steel plates with thicknesses of 0.5 mm or less. The seemingly flimsy metal sheet is then shaped by hand into a stable and durable three-dimensional product.

The collection is called Gondwana, which is the name of one of the first continents. I named it that because it is one of the first models that I designed, and I felt that I had discovered something new. Most of the names of my fixtures come from nature and geology, like Vega, Mica, Olivine, and Manta.

In its basic form, stainless steel is cold, industrial, even alienating. In its interaction with light, it heats up in a luminous glow, giving it life and vibrant personality. This chemistry between light and metal bridges the gap between the starkness of the naked, raw steel and the warm, sensual qualities of the finished lamp.

One challenge was to persuade the production staff at the factory to accept my ideas. There were certain restrictions and limitations to the photochemical technology that the factory would customarily follow. In developing the lighting fixtures I tried to push technology, despite the known limitations. For the design of this screen, for example, one factory technician said that the pattern was much too small. But I believed we could do it, and when we tried it, it actually worked.

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