Isabel Hamm Licht
Designer Isabel Hamm holds a Master of Arts in Ceramics and Glass from the Royal College of Art in London. In 2004, she founded her own studio “Isabel Hamm Licht”, which is dedicated to the design of individual glass luminaires and chandeliers, or small series of luminaires. Over the years, Isabel Hamms‘s sculpture-like creations have gained worldwide recognition and, when applied, make for true statements within the given space. Rondo Fano, Kitzbühel and Cloud – designed in cooperation with Buschfeld – are just three examples of many.
What are you working on right now?
I’m just packing three new luminaires which need to be sent to Rome. Previous to that I was in Teheran, where I installed some of my pendant luminaires in the Swiss Embassy. In June, I was in Athens, also at the Swiss Embassy. And I had a big job to do in Moscow – a lighting installation comprising 24 spheres in a large stairwell. Your luminaires feature handcrafted glass elements.
What glass do you use?
Borosilicate glass. It is technical glass (so-called Jenaer Glas), also used in chemical laboratories. The advantage is that the glassblower can work with glass rods and tubes. That is to say, he does not need a glass furnace, etc., but just a flame to be able to work on the glass rods. Which keeps the basic costs relatively low, of course. Another significant factor is that boro-silicate glass is extremely robust, even though it is very thinwalled. That means that even large-scale chandeliers are not too heavy. Apart from the fact that it has no distinct colour of its own – it is very white. And the glass is highly resistant. For example, in the case of a very small luminaire featuring a hot halogen lamp, there is no problem with the voltage, as there is with blow-moul-ded glass.
Where are the glass elements made?
In Thüringen. That’s where my glass-blower lives. He spends half his time teaching at a Technical College for Glassmaking, and the rest of the time he works freelance. He is very fast and efficient – if I didn’t have him, I would have to close down my studio altogether!
How long does it take to create the glass elements for a Rondo Fano?
One to two weeks. It depends on the size and number of elements required. It takes around ten minutes to make one glass element.
Do you create design for your customers on an individual basis or do customers select from your portfolio?
Both apply. I cooperate with architects and interior designers who approach me with an idea and ask if I can develop something new based on a previous design, for example. In many cases, it is Monika Gogl, an Austrian architect, who I have been cooperating with from the start, who initiates an idea. She is currently building a new hotel and convention centre in Berlin with Arno Brandlhuber, and has developed some design ideas for luminaires for the project. I am working on realsiing them. In this case, we are looking to create ceramic luminaires.
How do you embark on new projects: do you drive over to your customer and take a look at the space in question yourself? It depends. I am usually given a floor plan, then I make a drawing of the luminaire and insert it into the plan. It takes a while to develop the product from the initial idea. The process involves toying with a variety of ideas and considering what will work and what not. Whereas some opt to create mock-ups to test their concepts, I tend to stick to drawings. That is usually sufficient. Given that I design and produce project-specific luminaires, I see my realised designs for the first time when they have been installed in the customer’s designated space – it would take far too long to carry out a trial mounting in my studio. I opt to take the risk – it usually all works out for the best. I have actually started presenting my work on Architronic. Customers tend to order what they see there. I have a specific number of luminaires in stock. Otherwise, I produce them on demand. Frequently it is a case of slight variations to existing designs. It is inspiring to always have to rethink one’s own designs and discover new interpretations!
It is inspiring to reinterpret one’s own designs!
How did you get to knowBuschfeld?
I have known Buschfeld for a long time, of course, but we came into direct contact with one another for the first time on the occasion of an event about light and lighting at Design Post Cologne. Buschfeld approached me at the time. And then we created the first Rondo Fano chandeliers in time for Light+Building 2014: we presented one large-scale chandelier incorporating two ring-shaped tracks and another one with just one ring-shaped track. It was a great success!
What is it like cooperating with Buschfeld?
Buschfeld track, be it ring-shaped or straight, forms the basis of the design. I add the glass elements, which are aligned to work with the track. We often refer to existing luminaires in the design process, adapting them to find the right solution for the Buschfeld luminaire. Buschfeld works similar to the way I do: we take a close look at the architecture of the space, dimensions, formats, etc. We don’t start from scratch with every new job, but build on what we know we do well and what makes sense. That is a special way of working, and it works well. It is great that we are both based in Cologne and can call by one another whenever we need each other’s input.
What developments have you observed in the way you work?
One good example is the Blossom luminaire, which comprises relatively complex glass handicraft. The first version featured a circular design. The next version was custom designed for a client in Berlin and turned out to be an elongated version. I was then approached by a customer from The Hague who actually wanted two of the-se luminaires – which would have been “It is inspiring to reinterpret one’s own designs!” rather expensive. This led me to re-in-vent Blossom, simplifying the design somewhat, to create Cloud. I found I was developing different versions of luminaires through a process of trial and error. Another aspect is that I always used to install the luminaires myself on site. That is a lot of work and the majority of customers are not prepared to pay for it – on the other hand, I am not always in a position to offer this service, especially if it means travelling half way across Europe to perform it. I therefore started to think about how to best pack the luminaires and have them sent to the customer so that he, or the lighting designer on site, could mount them themselves and apply the frequently extremely dainty glass ele-ments. That lasted a few years. In the meantime, I have developed a way of packing them and including mounting instructions.
And with regard to the design of the luminaires, what are you working on there?
The longer I work in the field of design, the more interested I have become in the technical aspects. The focus is no longer merely on form. For example, in the case of the three luminaires for Rome I was aiming to find a way of applying laser technology in order to create a structure that made sense – from the point of view of design as well as of the production techniques required.