Part A. Lamps & Ergonomics

Montage Through History


Taking a step back from our more contemporary ideas of desk & table lamps for a moment, I found it interesting that small scale lighting has been used by humans dating all the way back into prehistory. Perhaps the oldest example comes from around 70,000 years ago and entailed the use of hollow rocks or shells filled with moss or biomaterial and then ignited (DuVall 1988). Imagining the experience of our ancient ancestors in making, carrying and setting down these ingenious devices in a vast unknown world has a certain magic about it.

Fast forward a bit, the need for light in the dark never abated as the Argand oil lamp came to life in 1780 offering a brighter oil lamp than ever before. At 6 to 8 candelas and surrounded in a glass sleeve it gained widespread popularity and spread to the middle classes (McCullough 2005).

Old mate James Peale admiring is Argand Lamp (Wikipedia 2020)

Fast forward a little further and the first electric light bulb blinks into existence around 1875, though it doesn’t become fully commercialised until the 1920s, bringing us in to the midst of modernity (DuVall 1988). Hot on the heels of the industrial revolution, modernity presided over an immense growth in the design and manufacture of a veritable cornucopia of new products, from cars, to vacuum cleaners, to refrigerators and more. The engines of mass production churned out products faster and cheaper than ever making them more affordable for the general masses and so the great race of consumerism began.

Thanks to new and improved materials, manufacturing methods, and that effervescent sense of progress sweeping the world, designers set about creating a new breed of products that blended aesthetics with functionality in the hopes of attracting customers. The humble lamp was no exception (Sparke 2013).

Historical re-enactment (by Author)

As modernity found its groove, the humble lamp went from a largely utilitarian object grounded in traditional styles and forms to a medium of expression, forming a compositional element within homes and workplaces that reflected newly found aspirations. Basically, it went from something that performed an essential function to something that performed an essential function and made us feel things at the same time (Sparke 2013). Pretty cool.

The artisans weren’t so impressed however as their craft became undermined by cheap products flooding the market. What good is a thing if it has no soul they decried, and so was born the arts and crafts movement (Design Museum 2020).

With the stage set we find ourselves in a post-modern contemporary landscape, where lamps of all shapes, sizes, materials and meanings can be found. Many are still produced on mass, though there are also still plenty produced by skilled designers and craftsman. And in amongst all of that, somewhere along the line, the essential function of the humble lamp got a revamp as well.





Ergonomics is another one of those things that has been around for a while. Scientists speculate that the most primitive stone tools created by early humans were shaped according to the task and the grip of the hand.

Philips head screwdriver circa 500,000BC (Gizmodo 2018)

In a modern sense, ergonomics is defined as the study of people’s efficiency in the workplace and is based around the use of physiological and psychological principles in designing the products, systems and processes used in our everyday lives. In essentially about protecting health and wellbeing, and maximising efficiency and productivity (Dohrmann Consulting 2020).

In terms of lamps, ergonomics seeks to:

  • Efficiently address the tension between room/ambient lighting and task lighting
  • Ensure tasks are optimally lit in terms of brightness and contrast
  • Ensure the potential adverse effects associated with lighting are minimised, ie. Glare, significant disparities in brightness and contrast within an environment

In so doing the benefits include:

  • Achieve optimal visibility within the environment and more specifically the task area
  • Minimise eye strain
  • Minimise energy consumption

A simple table lamp for example would be used to provide ambient lighting to an area. The purpose of this lighting could include navigation within the space, performing simple tasks, and providing ambience. Addressed systematically, the position, directionality and brightness of the light source would need to be considered relative to the scenario, as would the colour temperature of the light and its energy efficiency. A table lamp located in a loungeroom for example might be located on a side table near a seating area, radiating in all directions at a low-medium brightness (500 lumens/5-8W LED) with a warm colour temperature (2200K – 3000K), and diffuser to avoid direct glare. In this scenario the light would provide adequate ambient lighting for navigation and interaction with simple objects, while providing a soothing ambient effect within the area.

A more complex scenario would be a dedicated task light for reading & writing located beside a computer screen. In this instance there are three sources of light, the ambient room light, the screen, and the desk lamp. Here the positioning of the light sources relative to both user and task area need to be considered to avoid glare from all potential sources. Brightness also needs to be considered to avoid eye strain when the user focuses between the room, the screen and the task area. Finally, a cool colour temperature is ideal for the desk area to improve mental focus (Tetlow 2007, Lightology 2020).

Showing configuration to avoid glare – angles of incidence (by Author)
brightness ratio
Showing brightness ratios to avoid eye strain – 1:3 (by Author)

So we can see when it comes to task lighting it is important to be able to control the brightness, colour temperature as well as the position and direction of the light source. Some good examples of task lamps that do this well include:

  • the Anglepoise lamp (Design Museum 2020)
    • Originally designed and produced in 1932 by George Carwardine
    • Has a fully adjustable lamp head that retains its position after adjustment
    • Can be fitted with a variety of light bulbs
Anglepoise lamp flexing in white space (Anglepoise 2020)
  • the Element Disc lamp (Humanscale 2020)
    • A contemporary desk lamp designed and produced by HumanScale
    • Also has a fully adjustable light source that retains its position after adjustment
    • Long lasting & energy efficient LED bulb
    • Brightness adjustment to suit a variety of ambient/task conditions
Element Disc lamp calculating its next move (Humanscale 2020)



Short-runs & Materials


The beauty of short-run desk and table lamps is that they are less beholden to the pressures of mass production, meaning they don’t necessarily have to be made with the most technically feasible or cost efficient materials and processes. Because of this, short-run lamps can be more readily made with a greater diversity of materials and finishes and so the measure of success seems to be based more in the freedom and vision of the designer/maker. The making of a short-run lamp can be done with tools or machinery or entirely by hand, there is no pressure to conform the design to the requirements of an industrialised production line.

William Wallace on his way to the workshop (by Author)

Looking across a wide variety of examples, we can see many materials incorporated across a range of designs. The most commonly observed materials include glass, steel, aluminium, ceramics, stone, concrete, timber and fabric. Here are a few examples:

Tolomeo by Michele De Lucchi & Giancarlo Fassina (DWR 2020)
FIRST LIGHT - Anna Blattert + Daniel Gafner
First Light by Anna Blattert + Daniel Gafner (Post Fossil 2020)
Living Pixels by Kay Chan Wan Ki, Shai Chai Chen Siu Wa & Catherine Suen Ka Hei (Retail Design Blog 2020)
Onyx by Michael Anastassiades (Michael Anastassiades 2020)
Lambart Hand Craft
Lamp by Lambart Hand Craft (Etsy 2020)

Commonly used materials carry a wide range of characteristics that are important to consider in the design and creation of short-run lamps:

Heat Resistance
Water Resistance
Can be tinted and reflective
Not Flexible
Can be coated and reflective
Not Flexible
Can be coated
Not Flexible
Can be coated, moulded, satin, glossy, matte
Not Flexible
Variety of patterns and colours
Not Flexible
Variety of tints, additives, and finishes
Not Flexible
Variety of grains and colours
Not Flexible
(except laminates)
(with coating)
Can be tinted and formed
Slightly Flexible
Epoxy Resin
Can be tinted and formed
Not Flexible
Variety of materials and colours
Very Flexible
Not Waterproof




Part B. Design Focus


This furniture design course presents a strategic opportunity in my studies. As a final year architecture student the lion share of my focus and passion for the year will be directed towards architecture studio as I develop (and eventually complete) my capstone project. The direction for my final studio is grounded in narrative and world building, and to that end I need to conceptualise and refine a unique architectural response. Synthesising furniture design and architecture studio allows me to create a physical object that both functions as a lamp, and tests ideas around aesthetics, materiality and meaning as they relate to my studio.

The artefact I plan to design and make will represent a key story element of my studio narrative – a glowing relic that the character within the narrative uses to access portals to other times and places. The world setting is the distant future in a time when the human population has shrunk to a small high-tech pocket of civilisation determined to retrieve essences from the past so it can expand and rebuild.

The aesthetic style is intended to be a synthesis between Neo-Futurism (architecture) and something I’ve dubbed, for absence of a better term, Cyber Fusion (popular culture).


Neo Futurism


Neo Futurism finds its roots in mid-century Googie modernism. Spurred on by the atomic era, space age and a determination to break from the past, designers and architects responded with imaginative interpretations of an idealised high-tech future. (Digital School 2020)

Union 76 Gas Station by Gin Wong 1965 (LA Conservancy 2020)

A contemporised reboot, Neo Futurism is often characterised by its sleek materials, seamless minimalistic forms, and playful curves that push the limits of construction. Beyond the aesthetic, Neo-Futurism also seeks to incorporate contemporary thinking around ethics, sustainability and phenomenology (Design Buildings Wiki 2020). Tracing its contemporary lineage through High Tech architecture and essentially giving birth to Parametricism, Neo Futurism is an Avant Garde movement that incorporates modernism, minimalism and deconstructivism (Schumacher 2020). Notable architects include Zaha Hadid, Santiago Calatrava, Norman Foster and Peter Cook. Neo Future architecture has also been popularised in film and tv shows including Oblivion, Tron Legacy (Joseph Kosinski), and Westworld.

Nanjing International Youth Cultural Centre by Zaha Hadid 2015 (Wikipedia 2020)
World Trade Centre Hub by Santiago Calatrava 2016 (Howarth 2016)
Oblivion (Pinterest 2020)
Joseph Kosinski on the set of Tron Legacy (Petrunia 2014)
Westworld (Moraleda 2020)


Cyber Fusion


A kind of amalgam of queues drawn from contemporary popular culture, the ‘general idea’ of Cyber Fusion relates to the elevation of the role and presence of advanced technology within a fictional world, whereby the technology has become homogenised with biology and the physical world operating seamlessly and in tandem. At its core, the concept finds meaning in Arthur C Clarke’s famous quote “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

Taking its roots from the classic Cyberpunk genre, Cyber Fusion appears to fit best as a progression of the Post-Cyberpunk derivative. Where Cyberpunk frames the world as a computer dominated dystopia with a lawless hacker subculture, Post-Cyberpunk provides a reactionary response, depicting a world that is more optimistic and realistic where society and technology are more harmonious and protagonists are “anchored in their society, rather than adrift in it” (TVTropes 2020).

By contrast Cyber Fusion wholly aligns with Post-Cyberpunk with one major exception – the knowledge and understanding of the technology is now held only by a few and it’s experience by the characters can be encapsulated as a sense of awe or wonderment.

Extending beyond the standard tropes of talking computers or synthetic humans, Cyber Fusion bridges the gap between reality and imagination by merging futurism and fantasy on an experiential level. In this context advanced technology borders on the transcendental as the ‘cyber realm’ presents as an accessible, intuitive and omnipresent dimension adjacent to our own – recognisable but indecipherable at the same time.

Expressions of Cyber Fusion can be found in digital art, art installations, film and other visual media including virtual and augmented reality. Examples below demonstrate a vibrant, engaging and minimalistic aesthetic using light as the primary medium providing an almost arcane quality.

altered carbon
Cyber augmentations (Hyper RPG 2020)
Augmented Reality tattoo (Eyejackapp 2020)
Scene from Blade Runner 2049 (Epstein 2017)
Digital Art by @juanjiant (Juanjiant 2020)
A forest where gods live
A Forest where Gods Live (teamLab 2020)




This combination of Neo Futurism and Cyber Fusion in my mind opens up some interesting possibilities. Neo Futurism is based around an ideal future and Cyber Fusion around this sense of wonderment while both share a grounding in realism. Pretty cool.

The opportunity to create an artefact that attempts to synthesise these concepts is exciting and will ultimately inform my architectural response in studio. Perhaps put together in the right way it can form something imaginative and inspiring enough to provide the beholder with a little spark of who knows what. I’m keen to find out.

Having done some research now on ergonomics, lamps and furniture design in general I’m planning to draw on some of those influences to help inform the design. I really liked the fact that humans used to carry around these rocks and shells with fire in them as a light source, this fortuitously coincides with this idea of a ‘relic’ that the character within the narrative carries around. Also, old mate James Peale’s argand lamp with the glass sleeve protecting the light source sounds like a potential opportunity as well.

In terms of ergonomics, as it will be ‘handheld’ the size, weight and form will need to be considered. It won’t really be suitable as a task light but can work (I think) as an ambient table lamp. To that end the brightness and temperature will also need consideration as well as the colour/tint of any potential cover.

Conceptually the light source will represent the arcane heart of this technological artefact and that will have to come across in conjunction with the exterior ‘futuristic’ form. I think the base will need to be something weighty, solid and preferably of the earth, perhaps ceramic? While the upper section will need to be light and transparent possibly tinted.. perhaps epoxy resin? The interface between the two combined with the overall detailing will be critical. It needs to be sleek, minimalistic yet curvaceous and expressive… the focus of many iterations to come.





Anglepoise. (2020). 90 Mini Mini. Retrieved from Anglepoise:

Design Museum. (2014, May 19). Anglepoise. Retrieved from Design Museum:

Design Museum. (2015, January 8). The Arts and Crafts Movement. Retrieved from Design Museum:

Digital School. (2020). Neo-Furturism Overview for students in Architecture Training. Retrieved from Digital School:

Dohrmann Consulting. (2020). What is Ergonomics? Retrieved from Dohrmann Consulting:

DuVall, N. (1988). Domestic Technology: A Chronology of Developments. GK Hall.

DWR. (2020). Tolomeo Micro Lamp. Retrieved from Design Within Reach:

Epstein, A. (2017, October 5). Each frame of the visually astonishing “Blade Runner 2049” belongs in an art gallery. Retrieved from Quartz:

Etsy. (2020). Led light wood & epoxy resin lamp, hand made lamp design. Retrieved from Etsy:

Eyejackapp. (2019). Retrieved from Instagram:

Gizmodo. (2018, January 10). Hundreds of Stone Tools Discovered at Prehistoric Picnic Spot. Retrieved from Gizmodo:

Howarth, D. (2016, August 29). Calatrava’s Oculus at the World Trade Center photographed by Hufton + Crow. Retrieved from Dezeen:

Humanscale. (2020). Element Disc. Retrieved from Humanscale:

Hyper RPG. (2020, February 7). Altered Carbon: The Role Playing Game | Playthrough. Retrieved from Youtube:

juanjiant. (2018). M U L T I V E R S O S. Retrieved from Instagram:

LA Conservancy. (2020). Union 76 Gas Station. Retrieved from Los Angeles Conservancy:

Lightology. (2020). How to Find the Best Desk Lamp for You. Retrieved from Lightology:

McCullough, H. K. (2011). Telfair Museum of Art: Collection Highlights. Savannah, GA: Telfair Museum of Art.

Michael Anastassiades. (2020). Onyx Light. Retrieved from Michael Anastassiades:

Moraleda, A. (2020, March 16). El mapa de ‘Westworld’ en España: dónde están las localizaciones de la serie. Retrieved from El Confidencial:

Petrunia, P. (2014, September 5). Cutting Room: Joseph Kosinski talks to Archinect about his transition from architecture to Hollywood. Retrieved from Archinet:

Pinterest. (2020). Oblivion, housing. Retrieved from Pinterest:

Post Fossil. (2020). First Light. Retrieved from Post Fossil:

Retail Design Blog. (2012, June 28). Living Pixels by Chan Wan Ki, Kay / Chen Siu Wa, Shai Chai / Suen Ka Hei, Catherine. Retrieved from Retail Design Blog:

Schumacher, P. (2010, May 6). Patrik Schumacher on parametricism – ‘Let the style wars begin’. Retrieved from Architects’ Journal:

Sparke, P. (2013). An introduction to design and culture: 1900 to the present. London: Routledge.

teamLab. (2020). A Forest where Gods Live. Retrieved from teamLab:

Tetlow, K. (2007). Task lighting solutions: Their economic and ergonomic benefits. Architectural Record.

Wikipedia. (2020). Argand Lamp in use – Portrait of James Peale. Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Wikipedia. (2020, January 30). Nanjing International Youth Cultural Centre. Retrieved from Wikipedia:



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