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An American in Frankfurt

An American in Frankfurt

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    Photos by Pietro Sutera, courtesy of Mess Frankfurt Exhibition GMBH

    Zumtobel's modular LED tile called Cielos can create walls and floors that change color and pattern, including the ability to produce video-driven patterns.

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    Stunning crystal chandeliers by Swarovski using LED light sources give new meaning to lighting sculpture.

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    To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the iconic Artichoke fixture has been issued in glass as a limited edition.

THE FIRST IMPRESSION LIGHT+BUILDING LEAVES YOU WITH IS THE FEELING OF BEING OVERWHELMED. WITH 10 HALLS OR buildings, some on two or three levels, and each covering acres of land, just grasping the idea of seeing it all is difficult. The most important lighting products are spread among hundreds of stands ranging from the large and spectacular to the smaller 10-foot by 10-foot booths most designers are accustomed to seeing at trade shows. Large or small, you need to be prepared to look carefully lest an important innovation goes unnoticed.

It helps to have been to Frankfurt before as one attempts to organize any kind of plan of attack for navigating through the show to ensure seeing the best and most important stands. Hall 1, which features decorative lighting, is an amazing world of beautiful things such as Murano glass, crystal chandeliers, and acrylic shapes -- a place without a troffer or downlight in sight. Halls 2 and 3 hold Europe's biggest and most influential architectural lighting companies, and Hall 4 has great variety and, as it turns out, a number of important booths deserving close inspection. The other six halls hold lighting and technologies, controls, electrical equipment, outdoor lighting, and a number of other related products. In two days I never made it past Hall 4. It takes a minimum of three full days to do the show justice.

COLOR. COLOR. EVERYWHERE, COLOR.

Colored and color-changing light-emitting dioides (LEDs) remain the dominant trend. Every booth showed some variation, from color projectors and color-changing strips to table lamps, pendant lights, and pole lights equipped to display a changing spectrum while providing a separate white light source for general lighting uses. There also were a few color-changing fluorescent lighting systems, which produce potentially useful levels of light.

It used to be that only a couple of companies produced color-changing surfaces such as walls and tiles. That has changed as LED surfaces seem widely popular. In addition to innovative LED companies, at least three large companies, best known for mainstream lighting, now offer walls and floors that change color and pattern, including the ability to produce video-driven patterns.

One of the nicer product innovations were wallbox controllers for color variation control and programming. Too many current systems require DMX programming and at best have clunky controllers. Aesthetically designed and functionally working like an iPod, color-changing controllers put a measure of fun and user accessibility into colored lighting, which is a welcome improvement.

WHITE LEDS BECOME USEFUL

The most important trend was LED lighting finally moving into general lighting. Three approaches stand out:

  • A white light "engine" for use in downlights, tracklights, and other directional lighting equipment.
  • A white light fixture in which the engine is the housing. Both round and linear forms were evident.
  • Edge-lighted micro-prism lenses, using a waveguide principle to evenly spread the light and to preserve a thin overall profile.

The fundamental difference between LEDs and other light sources is that they are hemispherical heat emitters, and so comparing LED efficacy to compact fluorescent lamps is not fair to the LED. The "engine" seems to be shaping up into lumen packages -- a 600-lumen package (12W) and an 1100-lumen package (24W) were shown. Considering that an ordinary lamp would still have to be fitted with a reflector, it appears that in watts per footcandle the LEDs actually may be equal or superior to compact fluorescent lamps. Even the biggest LED skeptic would have to agree that, cost notwithstanding, the white LED seems able to hold its own.

There were quite a few outdoor LED luminaires of all descriptions. LED pole lights are finally worth considering, although to achieve their amazing performance, LED pole luminaires currently are using 5500K lamps. The brightness of individual LEDs remains a problem, solved in one case by a luminaire employing color-changing LEDs that illuminate the body of the luminaire around the white light LEDs. (Although I never got that far, I would bet there were a half a million low-level LED pathway, marker, and landscape lights, too.)

BACK TO THE T5 WORLD

I am not sure there were any T8 lamp luminaires, but for principal commercial lighting, T5-based lighting systems were plentiful. To be honest, after a while, handsome rectangular, picture frame suspended luminaires became commonplace, and the challenge was to find pleasant new expressions. Fortunately, there are many great designs, from beautiful linear products to playful, even whimsical luminaires. One of my favorites was a T5 lighted box with what appeared to be a bed sheet (wrinkled, at that) for a diffuser. Among a number of luminaires designed for technical performance, another favorite product of mine was a linear structure having an asymmetric downlight as well as symmetric downlight and uplight components. The best of all was a T5 acrylic luminaire shaped like a wing that, by using microprism lenses, did not produce glare despite the lamp being wrapped in acrylic.

Surprisingly, there were a number of linear T5 expressions from decorative as well as the more technical companies. Low-level asymmetric luminaires -- recessed corner luminaires and surface corner luminaires -- were seen in several stands. Also suited to LED technology, these luminaires change our thinking about the role of lights in shaping and decorating a room.

Inevitably, there also are LED/T5 meritages. Like a fine blended wine, the two can work well together. One of the best is a smoothly detailed, almost sculptural fascia with LED reading lights, easily the most attractive hospital bedlight yet. Another uses LEDs as a night light, altering the T5 color by day. A common theme from several companies was the use of colored LEDs to change the body color of an otherwise conventional luminaire.