Design

Light work

Light is a source of joy and inspiration in Sweden, yet for some it goes further than that. Meet the people bringing the principles of illumination into their work, and to the new Volvo XC40.

BY ANTHONY TEASDALE, 2018

Kai Piippo

The designer who makes light come alive

“I see light as a living material. It constantly changes,” says lighting designer Kai Piippo. “And in my work I can change light according to what I want people to feel.”

Kai is head of design at Stockholm-based ÅF Lighting. His work has illuminated everything from bridges to offices, public spaces to hotels. It’s also been on show in Sweden’s oldest department store and a medieval castle. He believes that light has the power to energise, inspire and transform. “Light affects our physiology and psychology,” he explains. “Every cell of your body is affected by it.”

One of ÅF Lighting’s recent projects was to create architectural lighting for the Stockholm offices of King, the social game developer behind such global game sensations as Candy Crush. At the heart of its awardwinning design is an indoor forest with light that changes with the seasons, as well as a range of spaces designed to encourage creativity.

As with much of Kai’s work, there’s a focus on the interplay between light and dark, and the relationship between natural and manmade light. “I see light as the strongest connection between humans and material architecture,” he explains. “Daylight is the strongest energy on earth, and without it nothing would exist. Innovations in areas like LED technology means that this is an exciting new era for lighting. Lighting is an integral part of architecture and design, and we can now do things that weren’t possible before, whether it’s in how we make spaces safer and more beautiful or to create innovative interior design and product design.”

People in foreground, with Volvo XC40 in the background

The man who creates character with light

"When you put light into a product you bring it to life,” says Kristoffer Johnsson, attribute leader for illumination at Volvo Cars. “And depending on what you do with that light, you give the object a personality. With the latest LED technology we can be very specific – we can define precisely what Volvo light is.”

Kristoffer and his team created interior lighting solutions for the new XC40, working with the car’s interior designers to create a cabin with a contemporary, welcoming ambience. “The interior was designed with illumination in mind,” he says. “The shapes of the surfaces, dashboard and door trims catch the light and highlight the distinctive, carefully crafted materials. We created a neutral, high-quality light that accentuates the colours and characteristics of the surfaces well.”

Lighting plays a significant role in making a car interior feel special, yet it requires a sensitive touch, suggests Kristoffer. “If you can see the light source there is no magic in it,” he explains. “But if you shield the light and you can’t really tell where the light is coming from it brings magic to the product.”

The way that lighting switches on and off is crucial to creating the right effect, too, he says: “Whether the lights go on instantly or softly can make the difference between a sporty car or a cruiser. We synchronise and harmonise the different lights to maintain the same character.”

Kristoffer Johnsson, Attribute Leader for Illumination
Volvo XC40 interior door detail

“You can add another dimension to something through light. It has the power to make you feel better.”

KRISTOFFER JOHNSSON

Attribute leader for illumination

Our relationship with light runs deep within us, Kristoffer argues. “Humans are very sensitive to light,” he says. “When you look outside your window you can almost immediately say what temperature it is outside or what time of day it is just because of the particular quality of light. And in Nordic regions light is especially precious. You can see it in the way we integrate light in our homes and architecture, and how we illuminate our parks and official areas.”

This unique Scandinavian appreciation of natural light can be seen in the interiors that Volvo Cars creates for its vehicles. The XC40 is a perfect example. Its light and airy interior can be further enhanced by an optional panoramic roof that floods the cabin with light, and which has a power-operated sun shade that allows you to control the light you let in.

“You can add another dimension to something through light,” Kristoffer says. “It’s a very important factor in wellbeing, with the power to make you feel better. It’s the reason why we pay so much attention to it in our cars.”