Amanpreet Birgisson's concept for her luminaire design project was to create a fixture that could be configured in multiple patterns to create a visually dynamic surface for both interior and exterior spaces.
Amanpreet Birgisson's concept for her luminaire design project was to create a fixture that could be configured in multiple patterns to create a visually dynamic surface for both interior and exterior spaces.
The actual luminaire on display.
Visa Lighting The actual luminaire on display.

For the past four years, graduate-level interior design students at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington D.C., have been introduced to the basics of lighting design by Andrea Hartranft, senior associate at Alexandria, Va.–based C.M. Kling & Associates. “The goal is to teach them to think about lighting as an integral component to architecture, to provide them with a vocabulary and an understanding of the physics and technology associated with lighting design, and to increase their appreciation of the psychological and physiological effects of lighting on the occupants of a space,” Hartranft says. That would be enough for most, but during the fall 2007 semester, one student—Amanpreet Birgisson—came away with a bonus: seeing her design put into production.

Each semester, students in Hartranft's class are presented with a luminaire design project that asks them to “design a pendant or sconce that is functional and buildable.” Starting with a sketch she had produced for a color theory class, Birgisson conceived her project, “Modular Tile Luminaire System,” as a wall-mounted fixture that can be rotated, arrayed, and interconnected in various combinations to create a visually dynamic surface. A two-dimensional geometric pattern is transformed into a three-dimensional grid that “provides overlapping convexes and concaves for soft shadows and reflections,” Birgisson explains. An LED module concealed in a cavity between the surfaces creates a sophisticated play of light and shadow that multiplies as the modules are repeated.

Michael Arndt, industrial designer for Milwaukee-based Visa Lighting and jury member at the project review, was so impressed with Birgisson's design that he suggested that the company put it into production. “It was obvious from her presentation that Amanpreet had spent a lot of time researching and developing the concept into a viable product,” says Jimalee Dakin, vice president of sales and marketing at Visa. “She had a complete package that included concept sketches, a detailed 3D computer model, and she had specified a practical LED light source.” As a result, Visa was able to develop it into what is now the Wave product line, introduced in May at Lightfair.

The production fixture differs only slightly from Birgisson's original concept. While the form and proportion remain unchanged, the original 9-inch dimension was modified to a 11-inch tile and a smaller 5.5-inch version, which is useful as a steplight. Birgisson's white-glazed industrial porcelain material also was replaced with die-cast aluminium, a more practical option for both mass production and ease of application since it is not as heavy and prone to chipping.

The choice of the light source—LEDs—also made it a good prospect for production. “Using LEDs fit in well with my general design inclinations,” Birgisson explains. “Its low heat generation was attractive; the small size of the diode was perfect to keep the [profile of the] tile protrusion slim; the longevity of the LED was essential; and the low energy consumption was a bonus.” The Wave also takes advantage of LEDs' wide range of color possibilities by including static and variable color options in addition to white light for the integral LED module.

Recognizing the value of a manufacturer's input for her students' luminaire design project, Hartranft's decision to invite Visa Lighting to the project review proved quite beneficial to both the student and the lighting company. Birgisson's work was given the exposure it needed to be transformed into an actual luminaire, and Visa Lighting gained a promising new fixture to add to its lineup of existing product offerings. What did Birgisson learn from this experience? “To always act upon [your] ideas and work towards their articulation,” she says. “And, more importantly, to always filter creativity through a tempering lens of utility.” A valuable lesson indeed, both in and out of the classroom.

Studio/Course Interior Lighting Design
Semester Fall 2007
School Corcoran College of Art and Design, Washington, D.C.
Faculty Member/Adviser Andrea Hartranft
Student Amanpreet Birgisson
Manufacturer Visa Lighting
Rendering Amanpreet Birgisson
Photo Visa Lighting