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In 1963 when Danish architect Louis Weisdorf made the drawings for Konkylie, the first of his light designs, nine years had passed since (aged 22) he'd been one of the youngest ever graduates of Copenhagen's Royal Academy, and he was a couple of years into a 10-year assignment at the city's recreation park, Tivoli Gardens.
As the main assistant to Tivoli's chief architect Simon P Henningsen, Weisdorf had drawn up the construction diagrams for several lights designed by Simon Henningsen for production by Lyfa, including the Divan 2 light for Tivoli's Divan 2 restaurant in 1962. Being so closely involved in the process and attending meetings and discussions at Lyfa meant Weisdorf was well placed when the time came to present his own light designs.
Konkylie was partly inspired at a technical level by Verner Panton's Moon lamp, which was composed of a number of concentric circular slats hanging vertically. "I was especially interested in the method of mounting the slats," Weisdorf explains. "I was drawn to designing lamps built from repeating elements, looking for a solution where you could combine the vertical suspension with uniform slats. The result was the Konkylie."
The original prototype of the Konkylie was made in transparent opal white plastic, because Weisdorf wanted it to be a good general light source. But the project really started rolling when Tivoli accepted his suggestion of a gold metallic version, which he envisaged hanging in large numbers from trees in the Gardens. The idea highlighted Konkylie's sculptural art light qualities, and with Tivoli's pre-order of 60-plus in hand, Lyfa became interested in putting the metallic version onto the general market.
Lyfa's production department, however, promptly announced that the light's technical complexity meant it could not be made. Weisdorf approached Knud Bjerg of the Brødrene Bjerg factory (who had in fact produced Simon P Henningsen's Divan 2 lamp), and shortly afterwards he was able to present Lyfa with a finished copy of the lamp. So as with the Divan 2, Brødrene Berg ended up making the Konkylie on behalf of Lyfa.
In 1964/65 Konkylie was ready for the trees and for the wider market, which in subsequent years included the US, Iran and many other countries. It was produced in four colour schemes: the one originally devised for Tivoli, with gold-anodised exterior and interior lacquered in two shades of orange, and three new versions – two with silver-anodised exteriors (one of which had a blues-and-red interior and the other a white interior), and a monochrome version in light grey.
An acquaintance of Verner Panton later claimed that Konkylie had been copied from the Moon lamp. Weisdorf asked Danish lighting's elder statesman Poul Henningsen whether he felt the claim was a fair one. The response was typical of PH: "I do not think that either of them are lamps; I would rather call them ladies' hats," he said. "But as ladies' hats they are quite different." With that endorsement, Weisdorf felt vindicated.
It is unclear exactly how long the Konkylie remained in production and precisely how many were produced. But the light never sold in very large quantities, because it was rather expensive to produce and Lyfa used it as a "prestige light" – as they did with other lights by Simon Henningsen and Louis Weisdorf – to promote sales of the company's more traditional fixtures. A slightly modified version of the Konkylie was produced for a Japanese Tivoli park in 1996.
The lights hanging from the trees in Copenhagen proved very long-lasting despite the outdoor conditions, and the last ones remained in place until quite recently. In the past decade interest in the Konkylie – and Louis Weisdorf's other lights – has made a revival, with prices at auction and elsewhere rising steadily.
In the Facet pendant light, designed by Louis Weisdorf in 1963 and produced by Lyfa from 1966, the particular art of Weisdorf's lighting designs is perhaps most clearly visible. Like a 3D jigsaw puzzle, the Facet consists of 18 identical metallic elements, each a long punched and bent piece that fits into the next one, and that into the next, until a cylinder is formed. Light emerges through small gaps between the pieces, revealing the interior colours while protecting the eye from a direct light source.
How did Weisdorf think up the Facet? "I have always been interested in creating lights from a single element that could be repeated and built together in various fashions, fitting into each other, turned, stacked, hung in various ways and so on," he says. "Since my youth I seemed to have an ability to visualise things in space, to see how forms function together in space. This was probably why I was accepted into architecture school in the first place."
During the war the 11-year-old Weisdorf had to stay in Sweden for some years, and missed so much schooling that he was prevented from going on to high school. That didn't stop him from finding a back door to academic studies by taking a preliminary year at engineering school (intended for craftsmen), then applying for admittance to the Royal Academy at the unusually early age of 17. Against all odds he was accepted on to the course, and during the three-month trial period the teachers spotted someone with a special gift in spatial geometry.
This talent was of course used on the Konkylie, and meant Weisdorf was able to shape the Facet's core element and visualise how it could repeat and come together without much drawing and model-building. The ingenuity of his construction was not wasted on the creative leadership of Lyfa, which in the positive spirit of the 1960s was open to the new and unexpected – even if it made the sceptical sales manager sleepless at night. Experiments were welcome.
The Facet went into production in 1966 in the slipstream of the Konkylie and, like the Konkylie, its production was contracted out by Lyfa to the Brødrene Berg factory. Its colour schemes harmonised with the Konkylie – one version golden outside with two shades of orange inside, the other silver outside and two shades of blue inside.
Little is known about sales volumes for the Facet. Louis Weisdorf's own recollection is that the quarterly payments he received from Lyfa were far from impressive (for this and his other lights), the percentage to the designer also being rather low.
Like the Konkylie, the Facet was rather expensive to produce, partly because it had different colouring on the outside and inside faces. Towards the end of the 1960s a growing demand for lower prices and different colours prompted a new version of the Facet – the Facet Pop, issued in 1970. The Facet Pop's elements had the same colour on both sides, but shifted between three shades of the same colour, which gave the lamp a lively surface impression. The colour schemes were created by Tivoli artist Richard Branderup – three shades each of beige, orange, red and blue.
When Lyfa merged with Fog & Mørup later in the 1970s, most of Louis Weisdorf's lights were phased out of production, along with many other Lyfa models. Today the Facet Pop is seen for sale more often than the original Facet, but both are increasingly hard to find. Despite their growing scarcity, however, prices for both lights currently tend to be fairly modest compared with others of similar quality and rarity.
Louis Weisdorf created the design for his Turbo pendant light in 1965, and in 1967 Lyfa was ready to start production. Consisting of 12 uniform aluminium lamellae spiral-twisted to form a flower-like sphere, the Turbo was partly inspired by Japanese rice-paper lanterns, and came in two sizes – the 35cm diameter Turbo I (available in orange, red, beige or white) and the 60cm Turbo II (in white only).
In contrast to the Konkylie the lamellae were positioned vertically, reducing the accumulation of dust but still conforming to Weisdorf's guiding principle of shielding the eye from direct bulb glare at all angles. Like other experimental lights of that decade, it was expensive – the larger version, Turbo II, coming with a price tag not much below an average worker's monthly wage.
The Turbo attracted quite some attention, winning an iF (Die gute Industrieform) product design award in 1973, and remained in production well into the 1970s. But after the economic downturn of the late 1970s the Turbo became one of numerous casualties of the subsequent merger between Lyfa and Fog & Mørup.
Much later – in 1991 – a new version of the Turbo was put into production by the further-merged company Lyskjær-Lyfa, without the knowledge or approval of Louis Weisdorf. Renamed Regina and made of steel, the lamp was so heavy it had to be suspended by a wire. Weisdorf took the company to court and sales were halted.
In 2004 the Turbo was reissued again, in white versions of both original sizes – this time by Bald & Bang in agreement with the designer. The release coincided with a growing renewal of interest in Weisdorf's lighting designs, and rekindled his passion for lamp design after 25 years during which he became one of the first Danish architects to move into the digital era and start using computer-aided design (CAD). The rediscovered lighting enthusiasm led to models of new lamp designs beginning to appear on his computer screens.
When pushed to say whether he has a favourite amongst his own lighting designs, it is the Turbo that Louis Weisdorf points to. "I prefer the Turbo because of its logical simplicity, which makes it more timeless than many of my other lights," he explains.
The Ekko is another of Louis Weisdorf's designs based on repeating – or echoing – elements, though in this case the angular metallic sections take two forms, the two end pieces differing from the three central ones.
The overall impression is a harmonious yet delicately balanced object that wouldn't surprise you if it were to move or produce a sound. The layered triangular elements completely shield the eye from glare, while narrow beams of light escape to spread across the shade itself and highlight its angular sculptural form, adding to the lamp's central downward illumination. "It's quite a technical creation," says Weisdorf. "I rather like its technicality."
The Ekko was designed in 1966 and produced by Lyfa from 1968, shortly after Weisdorf – while still at Tivoli – set up his own design studio in Kompagnistræde in Copenhagen's old city, sharing the premises with architect Ole Panton (the younger brother of Verner), who also designed lamps. The Ekko had a diameter of 19cm and a height of 32cm, and came in two colour schemes – orange/terracotta and lilac/violet.
Little is known about how long the Ekko remained in production or how many were made. Its relatively understated expression and the ease with which the sections can be separated from one another may have caused a proportion to be lost in the intervening years. It is only rarely seen for sale today, and because it is seldom recognised for what it is, prices tend to be lower than might be expected.
The economic downturn of the 1970s brought new challenges for the designers of high-end lamps and other luxury goods, as producers' support for the experiments of the 1960s gave way to a constant refrain of "No, thanks," "It's too expensive," or "It can't be sold."
Among Louis Weisdorf's 1970s lamp designs, the Multi-Lite is one of the few to be taken into production – and if it hadn't been for the climate of austerity and the consequent policy of restraint, it would be known today not just as a pendant light but also as a floor lamp and a wall light.
The core of the Multi-Lite is a two-cylinder form that would work as a shade on its own but is additionally encompassed by a large metal ring anchoring two quarter-spherical shells. The shells can be individually rotated to create multiple arrangement combinations. In Weisdorf's Copenhagen studio a large poster illustrates several of the numerous possible arrangements.
Weisdorf made the drawings for the Multi-Lite in 1972 and Lyfa produced it from 1974. It came out in two colourways – one in white with a chrome ring, and the other in matt-finished brass with a white interior.
The Multi-Lite is an exception to the Weisdorf rule of multiply repeating elements, but reflects another of his passions – for objects that can do something, change into something else, be "multi". It can be an uplighter one day, a downlighter the next, an asymmetrical art light the third. "It's a bit more complex," says Weisdorf about this light.
The Multi-Lite's timeless expression meant it fitted well into domestic settings in each of the following decades, so that it has been in use in many homes to this day and has consistently tended to fetch high prices at auction and elsewhere.
UPDATE December 2016: A new production of the Multi-Lite in the original finishes along with a number of new colourways was issued in the autumn of 2016 by Danish lighting producer Gubi in close cooperation with Louis Weisdorf.
© 2011 Classic Modern and Sune Riishede. All rights reserved. This article is based on extensive correspondence between Louis Weisdorf and Sune Riishede and a personal meeting in November 2011 at the architect's Copenhagen residence. The photo third from top right shows the 79-year-old Weisdorf in his studio with a multicoloured 3D computer model of the Konkylie.