by Jill Singer
One of the more intriguing installations we found during this year’s spectacular Milan Design Week came courtesy of Lexus, who created a three-part experience inviting visitors to take a journey through the senses. Though the first part was focused on the more commercial aspects of the brand—a concept Lexus sedan sat parked within a cocoon of convex mirrors—the other two zones took a more conceptual approach to the theme.
Perhaps the most dynamic aspect of the exhibition was a showcase of finalists for the annual Lexus Design Award, which, for 2015, asked young designers to submit projects riffing on the idea of the five senses. On display were four designs that had been selected for prototype development by a panel of internationally renowned judges and mentors as well as eight additional projects. The Grand Prix was ultimately awarded to Sensewear, a collection of garments and accessories meant to mute or sharpen the sensory experience of the wearer. However, our favorite project among the finalists was Luz, by young Spanish designer Marina Mellado, who was mentored throughout the process by London designer Max Lamb.
A circular, ambient, architectural light that changes color depending on the weather or the user’s input, Luz was inspired by Mellado’s experience as an undergrad attending design school in the north of Poland. A native of Spain, Mellado found herself becoming depressed as winter approached, bringing with it 2PM sunsets and decreased daylight. Mellado explains, “I started to think about developing a light connected to nature. I thought, ‘What if we designed an architectural light that could remove the barriers between the inside and the outside?’”
Mellado developed a prototype and began bringing it to the homes of friends and acquaintances. “I asked them, ‘Depending on the weather, please modify the colors of the lamp. Write them down, and give them to me.’ When it was cloudy, they really wanted an orange light that looked like the sun, because that’s what they missed. When it was sunny, they wanted a more refreshing blue light.” But once she’d compiled the data and brought the resulting light home to Spain, she found that her relatives there didn’t like the same colors. “I thought, ‘Obviously! Why didn’t I think of that before?’ So now with a developer I’m creating an app so that people can change the colors depending on the weather,’” Mellado tells us.
When she submitted the project to Lexus, Luz was a 3D-printed prototype. Her project was, over the course of the selection process, chosen as a favorite by Lamb and the two proceeded to have a mentor-mentee relationship over the first half of this year. “Where I could be most helpful,” says Lamb, “was in turning what, at the beginning, was just a 3D-printed model into a real working thing that actually can now be produced. We have all the tooling, it’s been extruded, it’s been roll-bent, all of the LEDs and sensors are sourced. Marina’s been very much in charge of the electronics and I’ve been able to help with the production of the physical object. For me, that was really important, otherwise it becomes this folly, as Milan so often is. Like ‘Oh, here’s a bright shiny new light, but you can’t have it!’ But this one, you can—it’s actually here.’”
Images courtesy of Lexus