In search of the perfect light

PH. You do not need more information other than these renowned initials to recognize the celebrated trademark of Danish architect and lighting designer Poul Henningsen (1894-1967), a man who played a crucial role in the evolution of lighting design.

Poul Henningsen was a prominent figure of his time – not just in the world of design, but he also achieved great influence through his authorship. He was known as a progressive thinker, not shy of expressing his opinions. He was particularly vocal about his beliefs on the necessity to combine art and technique in order to improve design. This symbiosis is manifested in his lamp design where aesthetics and function are always equally represented.

Floor lamp 3/2 An elegant, colourful floor lamp designed in 1931. The distinct curvature of the frame gives the lamp a soft expression and has given it the name “Syvtallet”, since it resembles the shape of the number 7. The lamp has beautiful yellow glass shades and a browned brass base

His light-experiments in collaboration with lighting manufacturer Louis Poulsen led to the construction of the iconic PH lamp, which demonstrates a paradigm shift in the evolution of modern lighting. PH was one of the first to apply a scientific understanding of light in his designs. From the very beginning of his profession, he strived to create a unique, technical construction that could present the perfect glare-free light.

In 1925-26 he realized that for him to control the direction of the light, he needed to incorporate the concept of the logarithmic spiral to the curvature of his lampshades. During this time he was assigned to provide lighting for the newly constructed Forum Exhibition Hall in Copenhagen. This resulted in his classic three-shade construction where each shade is made to equally distribute the amount of light reflected.

The iconic table lamp was designed in 1927. The lamp was constructed with a larger top shade, which followed the 4:2:1 ratio, in order to accommodate a light more suitable for table lamps. Top shade is 40 cm in diameter and manufactured in the classic green color. Middle and bottom shade in opaline glass. The base is nickel plated.

The three-shade design is not simply an example of great lighting. The logarithmic composition of the three shades is also bound to the principles of The Golden Ratio. When Poul Henningsen applied these principles to his design he achieved an organic, balanced and visually pleasing composition. The PH lamp is therefore one of the greatest examples of how technical excellence should not compromise the aesthetic appearance.
Henningsen had now accomplished the glare-free light. His eminent design became an instant success resulting in an extensive system of three-shade lamps. The system extended in different sizes, colors and materials and finally the pendulum lamp was accompanied by table lamps, floor lamps and wall-mounted lamps – so that the glare-free light could be appreciated everywhere.

This rare chandelier was designed in 1932 and is an example of one of Poul Henningsen’s unique designs. The chandelier has a pentagon shaped, painted, wooden frame. This extraordinary wooden frame is accompanied by five lights, with his characteristic, red-lacquered cobber shades. The present chandelier was designed as a wedding gift for his colleague Axel Madsen.

Poul Henningsen ultimately changed our perception of light and almost 100 years after the lamp’s first introduction at Forum, the PH lamp still stands as one of the greatest designs of all time.

Poul Henningsen in his office, c. 1930