Northern Lights
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

Nordic LAttitudes, a new exhibition at California’s Santa Monica Public Library, celebrates the unique values of Scandinavian design. Here, installation curator and designer Haekwan Park discusses the importance of light in Nordic culture and its influence on lighting design.

Haekwan ParkPark: Nordic winters are long and dark. As the winter solstice draws near, days become progressively shorter, and there is far more darkness than light. With less and less of the precious sunlight available, most people experience a marked sense of light deprivation. Light of any type becomes a cherished commodity.

    One can easily see the importance of light in the Nordic culture, particularly in the way Nordic traditions incorporate candles. For example, Swedish girls wear them on their heads to signify the coming of the winter season, while the Danes light candles every night in just about every household to soothe and to meditate. As human beings, we tend to elevate, refine and beautify that which we most value and cherish.

    The Nordic culture has continued to celebrate light with the discovery of electric light. Since the early days of electrification, Nordic designers have worked to tame the intensity of the light and render it in such a way that it reminds us, on some level, of the healing properties of natural light, as well as the meditative quality of candlelight. A common characteristic of Nordic designs is the indirect quality of the light, which renders fixtures as softly glowing objects that both sculpt and reflect light.

    The PH 5, designed by Poul Henningsen in 1926, is a masterpiece of sculpted and reflected light, providing multiple tiers of light distribution from a single source. This lamp has been so successful that virtually every other Danish household owns this fixture. It has also earned international acclaim. The PH 5 was important enough to be selected

as the subject of a Danish postage stamp, underscoring the cultural significance of light and design.

    Henningsen’s PH 5, as well as the iconic fixtures produced by Verner Panton, Arne Jacobsen and the designers of the Le Klint Collection, are all featured in the new Nordic LAttitudes exhibition at the Santa Monica Public Library. The event showcases the best in Nordic furniture and lighting design and also highlights the Nordic inspiration for the award-winning library facilities, which were designed by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners. Nordic LAttitudes runs from Feb. 1 through March 18.

Poul Henningsen's PH5 light fixture Poul Henningsen's PH Artichoke light fixture
The PH 5 (left) and the PH Artichoke by Danish designer Poul Henningsen are among the featured light fixtures in the Nordic LAttitudes exhibition in Santa Monica, CA.

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