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Lights made out of plastic materials

Lights made out of plastic materials

Verner Panton is known like no other for space-age design. He is known for his eagerness to experiment with at that time innovative plastics. His "VP Globe pendant" light was created in 1969.


The success story of plastics began already in the 18th century, when natural rubber was made from tree sap in Brazil. Elastomers as generic term for rubber are therefore the beginning of a development that took off rapidly in 1850: The American inventor Charles Goodyear (1800-1860) discovered the vulcanization of rubber and then patented the first hard rubber. He presented furniture and household goods made of rubber at the world exhibition in 1851 in London. He even created rubber clothing. The legendary tire factory, which was founded decades after his death, was named in his honor - Goodyear himself manufactured mainly gloves. Celluloid and shellac were also invented at the end of the 19th century. Neither records nor (cinema) films could have conquered and enriched the world without these discoveries. Both substances similar to rubber are made mainly from natural products. Shellac contains the excretions of a type of scale insect (kerria lacca) and celluloid is partially based on the plant substance camphor (which is also being used for medical purposes) and which was already used in ancient times for the production of essential oils. Celluloid is considered the first thermoplastic and was discovered during the search for an ivory replacement for billiard balls.


What looks like fragile glass works at the first glance is made from durable plastic. The movies, which were later made out of this fabric, are unfortunately easily inflammable, which means that the few archives, which store the previous treasures of moving images, must be guarded like high-security wings. The triumphant advance of plastics took place in the 20th century. A whole gallery of Nobel prizes for the inventors, who were honored for the development of synthesis techniques, could be established. The chemical industry loved those plastics. Today you can hardly do any food shopping without encountering practical and hygienic foils and plastic bottles, although other substances could be used as well.

Plastics as high-tech materials for lighting design Although the world had entered into the age of plastics, cars rolled on rubber tires, shellac discs rotated with 78 rpm on the turntable and people had turned to the radio as a new communication device - the lights that were manufactured until 1950 consisted mainly of metal and glass. While people took off in their heavy aircrafts with modern rubber tires, it took almost two decades before the products of the busy chemical industry were adopted by the lighting industry. The first lights by designers participating in the progress of the chemical technical development were equipped with transparent or milky white acrylic glass lampshades. The material, also known as Plexiglas, became famous in 1956 in the form of a distinctive cover for the Brown-radio and record system SK4 and was nicknamed Snow White's coffin. The thermoplastic artificial glass acrylic is not only much lighter than glass, but is also more impact-resistant and easier to shape. Soon, the first office lights were developed, whose fluorescent tubes were covered by extruded acrylic diffusers. This unbreakable technology is still being used where cost-effective and practical solutions are required. Plastic lamps can not only be found in the area of design, but also in many public places: staircases, underpasses, storage rooms and garages are often equipped with lamps, whose light and stable plastic screen pleasantly diffuses and softens blinding light.

The charm of artificial materials The 1960s evolved into one of the most innovative decades of lighting design. The increased use of plastic had, without a doubt, quite a bit to do with it. Many designers developed a nearly obsessive affinity of the often transparent and free-form plastics at that time. The reason for this was that the either flexible or rigid materials offer enormous potential for development. They range from paper-thin, flexible plates or skins like Simon Karkov's suspension lamp Norm 69 or Poul Christiansen's model No. 169 (both 1969) to clear or colored balls and cylinders or freely shaped objects with silky or smooth surfaces. Vico Magistretti's floor lamp Chimera (1966) and the psychedelic loaded designs of Verner Panton became famous. The experimental spiral lamp SP2 or the globe (both 1969) still show the potential of plastic lighting in a very impressive way and thereby set high standards.


This lamp proves how noble and valuable plastic can look if it is properly processed. The diamond-shaped pendant is made of polycarbonate.

Art, as diverse as the materials The oil crises of the 70s and the publications by the Club of Rome with regards to the sustainability debates most likely clouded the joy of the petroleum-based plastics slightly. Therefore, the frequency of serious lighting designs decreased significantly during the 1990s except for Ingo Maurer's Bulb Bulb. But the new carefree attitude before the turn of the Millennium created interesting or ironic tongue-in-cheek designs. The range includes colorful bubbles made out of fiber glass, flexible silicone caps, the weightless random of the Monkey Boys or the poetic lighting of a drinking cup by Paul Cocksedge (both 2002), whose name Styrene refers to the plastic polystryrol. Plastic lights come in as many variations as the number of different materials; they range from simple colored lampshades to funny garden lights in various colors and simple table lamps, which can be dropped without breaking. Plastic also unfolds its full effect as large, floating lamps that light up from the inside. No other material would be able to be so thin, stable, lightweight and unbreakable at the same time and to create such wonderful light reflections.

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