PH’s lampshadesystem

Poul Henningsen (1894-1967)
from 1925 and still in development Se tidslinje
Design Museum Denmark, Copenhagen Se kort

By Charlotte Jul, skribent, editor and curator, 2006

Master of lamp-making

“Lighting that does not allow large objects to cast a shadow, gives the room a dismal and dull expression” (Light Years Ahead: The Story of the PH Lamp) 
Imagine being so wrapped up in your profession! Poul Henningsen, or “PH” as he was commonly known, was something of a light nerd and a gifted inventor. Throughout his life, he developed lampshades to improve the quality of light in the room. 

Shade solution 

Poul Henningsen discovered that frosted-surface shades reflected light without any glare. And that the curve of the shade controlled the direction of light. So-called PH lamps became world-famous because of these practical features and their sculptural design. The powerful multi-layered design of PH Artichoke, created for Copenhagen’s waterfront Langelinie Pavilion in 1958, can still be seen in the restaurant today. 

The Norm 69 lamp puzzle designed by architect Simon Karkov in 1969 and put into production by Normann Copenhagen in 2002, makes several references to the PH Artichoke, although Norm 69 has its own unique puzzle design with no glue or tools needed for assembly. 

Everything interconnected 

Everything was interconnected for PH. His improved lamp designs became a major hit that would turn out to have a positive impact on production and health and safety at work, but not least on people’s quality of life. PH was not just a designer. He was an ardent social critic, founding the Critical Revue(Kritisk Revy) magazine in 1926 in addition to writing books, revue songs and discussion pieces for other media. 

Design to improve Life 

PH expressed his social engagement in his design work. He wanted his inventions to make a difference; beauty and elegance were not enough. PH’s designs are fusions of invention, design and workmanship. His opinion that design should make a difference is reflected even today, for example in the world’s most important design and innovation prizes awarded by Danish Index:2005 - “Design to improve Life”. According to Index, design is one of the media capable of solving specific problems in the third world such as polluted drinking water. “Lifestraw”, a straw that filters water when it is sucked up, was awarded one of the prizes. This just shows that contemporary design - in the true spirit of PH - is capable of improving the lives of many people. 

PH lamp, sketch sheet, 1925. Det Kongelige Bibliotek.
P.H. Lampe

Did you know?

Source: Jørstian, Tina; Nielsen, Poul Erik Munk: Tænd! PH lampens historie. Louis Poulsen, 1994, s.15-16.

PH feared the evolution of the electric street lighting and wrote in Ekstra Bladet in 1925: "The ordinary unpleasant electric bulb does not cut it at all anymore. Now it's whistling and glowing air in pipes that fills the facades and the streets with a sharp and stinging, thin and colored light. If this evolution continues to go unhindered by the intervention of the aphorists, then the advertising will be challenged with enormous expense for new inventions, and the night glasses manufacturers will become rich. "
PH wanted the problem solved with a lighting law that set rules for brightness, lamp height and lighting angle. The law never saw the light of day, but a sensible street lighting remained one of PH's many irritations.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Design and Arts, 2006

Poul Henningsen allegedly began to design lamps because his mother, Agnes Henningsen, was unhappy about the electric lighting, as it was not very flattering for her as a mature lady.
However, from that starting point, light became a lifelong fascination. In relation to older gas lamps, oil lamps and candles, electric lighting was cold and hard, and despite the fact that the light was far more effective, it was also dazzling. PH decided to develop a system where he could control the light in the room and worked experimentally with shades made from metal and glass that he designed in logarithmic curves. 

He thereby set himself apart from his contemporaries at the Bauhaus in Germany. At the Bauhaus, they were also fascinated by incandescent lighting; however, no one had thought of controlling the light – on the contrary, the German lamps were purely sculptural experiments that often dazzled just as much as any lightbulb. PH, at his own expense, presented his lamps at the Danish Pavilion at the World Fair in Paris in 1925 and it was here they were ‘discovered’ internationally, to such a degree that they for many became the face of modern design. The shades can be combined in many different ways to suit your needs. Today, the leading manufacturer is Louis Poulsen, who still produces the lamps with custom designs. Remarkably enough, the lamp as also become the symbol of Danishness and good taste, something which PH would have undoubtedly have rejected: he was a cultural radical and Society critic, not a nationalist. As a consequence of PH’s pioneering work, Denmark remained at the forefront of lighting for many years, and Danish designers still design light fittings for large international businesses.


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