Lighting Designer Julle Oksanen Talks About Poetry and Practicality
April 4, 2012 - 4:04pm
Lighting fixture designer Julle Oksanen previews his Lightfair 2008 seminar by sharing his lyrical-but-practical approach to lighting.

Residential Lighting: How do you use poetry as a creative tool?

Julle Oksanen: When I was young, I played violin and sang opera. After 30 years in lighting, I have matured as a designer and have found that poetry is absolutely fantastic. There is a [symbiotic] connection between poetry and light and life. Poetry is true magic, and I use it in every case.

RL: How does it work?

JO: Poetry is reflected in the structure of my designs. I compose light in sections, just like a poem. When I design lighting for the outdoors, for example, I write an illumination-level composition [through which] I can easily speak my feelings.

RL: Can you give an example?

JO: I [was hired to create a lighting design for] Shanghai, China’s Z-58 Park [a green space in the middle of the city]. I visited the park, and suddenly it got in my brain that [some] Chinese people are forgetting their nature; they are fogetting their great history. The Chinese poor used to read by putting fireflies into bottles. So, I made a design based on fireflies—300 LED “fireflies.”

It was a poetic way to treat the lighting. The firefly is a lover. The male is blinking his light for the female. The lights are blinking like fireflies, and there are voices of frogs and grasshoppers. I think it’s very poetic.

At the same time, the Chinese have to save energy. The structure of this whole design uses less energy than one coffee maker.

RL: Would you say, then, that your designs are practical, as well as poetic?

JO: I am very pragmatic. I hate theories nobody can use. It is just not enough to say, “use poetry.” The only thing relevant is the result. To get the result, I found that I love the law of pragmatic truth. Leonardo da Vinci had his book on mathematics and physics. We still use the same physics laws, even though we know they are not exactly right, because they work in reality. When a theory works in reality, then it is the truth.

I use Hopkinson’s diagrams, a computer tool, to create contrasts to evaluate the white and black and gray areas [of a design]. A subject can be illuminated with different colors, but Hopkinson’s diagrams work perfectly. They have helped me to be strong enough to introduce poetry in lighting design concepts because they enable me to show my competence in the whole structure of the design and [in] the final result.

RL: Do you have any new lighting products?

JO: I have a luminaire called Brando, which will be available from iGuzzini next year. It has the shoulders of Marlon Brando and the charisma of Humphrey Bogart. Oliver Walter, an architect, worked with me on it. When we saw the first sample, it was beautifully elegant. I started to cry. It is a silent guider of the night.

Julle Oksanen is a lighting designer and professor at Finland-based Light & Space Academy, The Traveling University. He has designed lighting for projects all over the world and has won more than 20 competitions. He is author of some 30 books and co-founder and former Editor of the Finnish lighting magazine Valo.

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