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The Danish designer Poul Henningsen, known simply as PH, is often said to have been the world’s first lighting architect. He approached the art of lighting from a scientific viewpoint and worked to create glare-free direct light and soft shadows using incandescent bulbs.
PH (1894-1967) grew up in the glow of petroleum lights before electric lighting became widely available. He began training as an architect but never graduated and left to study at the Technical College of Copenhagen. As electricity became more commonplace during the 1920s, he came to dislike the harsh glare from bulbs and began a quest to create something that would have the same soft qualities of the petroleum lamp familiar from his childhood.
His most widely known light is probably the Artichoke, which was used in many of the parliamentary scenes in the Danish political TV drama Borgen, but another of his designs has also featured heavily both in Borgen and the Danish crime drama series The Killing.
The PH 3/2 table light is a member of his three-shade family (the first number refers simply to the number of shades), which now includes 18 designs. It was designed for the Paris Exposition in 1925 in co-operation with the Danish lighting company Louis Poulsen, which still manufactures and sells them today. All were based around the logarithmic spiral, which evenly diffuses the light by putting the light source at the centre and creating a spiral around it. Each shade reduces the light equally due to its distance from the bulb.
There were several options of shade; the first were metal with a painted underside in white, gold or silver, depending on whether the desired effect was warm or cold. Glass shades were introduced later and created an even softer light around the whole room.
To mark what would have been PH’s 120th birthday on September 9 this year, Louis Poulsen is launching a limited edition of one of the first models in the PH System. The PH 3½-3 pendant light dates from 1929 and the special edition is true to PH’s original drawings.
By the time of his death in 1967, PH had designed more than 100 lamps.