Prices start at $565 www.zumtobel.com
En route to a meeting in Budapest two years ago, New York architect Hani Rashid pulled over to the side of the road to stare into the window of an antiques store. He was in town planning the construction of two office towers, which, when they’re finished in 2010, will appear to melt toward each other. He had also just received his first lighting commission, an open-ended request from the German manufacturer Zumtobel. Transfixing him at the Budapest shop were dozens of vintage crystal-laden chandeliers.
“I was taken by their robustness, by their kaleidoscopic quality that fills a room,” Rashid recalls. “I told myself, I have to design something for the 21st century that plays off this tradition, all the power and punch of the history of chandeliers.”
Sure, plenty of other ’00-era designers have toyed with ceiling fixtures’ ancestry, whether it’s Philippe Starck in black Baccarat crystal, Jason Miller with antlers, or Ingo Maurer with chandelier-shaped LEDs. Rashid, however, swore off such literalism: “I wanted to develop an enigmatic object, not some postmodern gimmick,” he says.
The resulting Zumtobel light, which was launched this year at the Milan Furniture Fair, has a cryptically historical name: LQ, short for Louis Quatorze, the Sun King. But in its chrome-plastic spikes and LEDs, you’ll seek in vain for any form copied from the past. The curves instead come from intersecting pairs of inverted conic sections.
“We were looking for maximum reflectivity, the kind of highly engineered optimized surfaces you see in car headlights,” the designer explains. “We were trying to mimic the optical effects of crystal, but in a solid material.”
Rashid’s firm, Asymptote, worked up dozens of 3-D–printout prototypes for LQ before finalizing the twists. “The forms became even more complex as Zumtobel made the molds and we fine-tuned the hinges, joints, and connection points for the units to nest together,” Rashid says. The light hits stores in February, available as single plastic units ($565) and quartets ($1,690). Rashid is also developing a limited edition in an as-yet-undecided alloy, which will cost in the five figures.
The architect is now prototyping even pricier clusters of hundreds of interlocked LQs, to be displayed at Design Miami in December and next February at Phillips de Pury & Company in New York. Versions will likely be deployed as lighting schemes for Asymptote’s next buildings as well, including an Abu Dhabi apartment tower and a Carlos Miele flagship store in Paris.
“There’s almost no limit to the size of the chandelier application in large open spaces, as long as its harness is properly reinforced,” Rashid says. “It’s infinitely tile-able in a 3-D sense. Whenever I’m stuck in a meeting listening to some tedious discussion, I doodle new configurations of my chandelier as a kind of therapy.” — Eve M. Kahn