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Stricter energy requirements also have designers thinking of new ways to light the surfaces where people work with task lighting, allowing less overhead lighting to be used. Flos and Humanscale have focused especially on innovative LED designs in recent years, both releasing models that combine user controllability with energy efficiency. As it did in the earliest years of the 20th century, lighting is emerging from a period of technical advancement into an era of design innovation.
"Everything is focused on good energy savings, good light emission, etcetera," says Piero Gandini, CEO of Flos. "Not necessarily in a big integration. It starts moving now, we start to consider LEDs not just as the best source, but as an electronic semiconductor device that means it's intelligent; through a chip it has intelligent interaction with the environment."
Advancing LED technology is inspiring some companies to break into the lighting market for the first time. Earlier this year, designer Todd Bracher has partnered with 3M to debut the company's first lighting application, a "virtual LED" that uses 98 percent reflective 3M film to bounce light from a single LED to a series of modules, creating the effect of multiple diodes.
Many designers see Organic LEDs (OLEDs) as the next horizon. The paper-thin light sheets are currently used in electronic screens and use an electroluminescent film made of organic compound that emits light in response to electric current. Their place in the design world is similar to that of LEDs eight years ago; the technology seems promising for building applications, and industrial designers are inspired.
Lumiotec, a Japan-based OLED manufacturer, introduced a hanging luminaire earlier this year, and Philippe Starck's Light Photon OLED table lamp for FLOS will be available in 2014. Architectural lighting designers like Iski imagine new building-integrated applications as well. "It would possible for the OLED to become the whole surface, whether a ceiling plane or a wall," he says.
Now that smaller, younger designers can also get their hands on improving LED technology, the world of office lighting is sure to see some changes. Brooklyn-based industrial designer Karl Zahn sees an opportunity to bridge the gap between traditional light fixtures and the future of LED technology. Zahn's new designs, which he refers to as sink lights, use technology as an aesthetic element, embracing the fact that LEDs have a flaw: they need to be cooled with a heat sink.
"I wanted to experiment with making a pretty heat sink, and not the way an engineer would think it was pretty," Zahn says. The sink lights' cast brass and glass pendants can be used alone in traditional applications, or installed in groups for more unique arrangements. The line should be ready to show at ICFF in 2013. Zahn articulates the sentiments of a generation that sees new lighting technology as an opportunity for both environmental and aesthetic revolution. "It's turning out to be a unique field because it's changing, and I'm having fun playing with the technology," he says. "It's magic. I get to play with magic all the time."
Shuji Nakamura of Japan's Nichia Corporation demonstrated the fist high-brightness blue LED in 1994.
Ching W. Tang and Steven Van Slyke reported creating the first diode device at Eastman Kodak in 1987.
In the past year, new OLED lighting products are hitting the market, as well as larger applications like Mitsubishi's installation of a 6-meter OLED globe in Tokyo's Science Museum.
Earlier this year, Japan-based Lumiotec entered into a licensing agreement to manufacture and market OLED lighting products with UniversalPHOLED technology and materials manufactured by Universal Display. The agreement marks the first mass production of OLED lighting panels.