TOSHIBA LED lighting installation for Milan furniture festival

Paradigm Shift in Lighting with LED:

The theme for this installation, titled OVERTURE, expresses the paradigm shift in lighting by the advent of new illuminative sources exemplified by LED. About 100 light bulb-shaped objects are suspended throughout the entire space in Tortona District in Milan. Each object contains water and an LED that illuminates the surface of water from above. By touching this bulb a sensor-based pulse is initiated, analogous to heartbeat, and the wave-like sequence of brightening and fading light. When people walk by, the bulbar objects become resplendent as if to illuminate the traces of movements.

© 2012 Toshiba Corporation

Theme: LED with a Silhouette of Incandescents

Toshiba, as they expanded their LED (light-emitting diode) business in Europe, wished to create an interactive installation promoting the new values of LED. In 2011, most production of incandescent light bulb came to a complete stop in Europe and was replaced by energy-efficient LED as the new source of lighting. The year 2009 was therefore treated as the transition period from incandescent light bulb to LED in Europe. While Toshiba wished to explore new meanings of LED, they had a specific request to leave a silhouette of incandescent light bulb in the installation.

Approach: Realizing Corporate Identity of Akari

After a number of interview sessions with Toshiba, we discovered the companys strong ties with akari (illumination), which has been, for many years, part of Toshibas core business, values and identity. From candles to gas, from incandescents to LED, illumination has always played an integral role in our lives. It is not the form of illumination Toshiba is concerned with but the changing values of illumination and lighting in society that they are interested in. In other words, the form of our illuminative sources will continue to change in the future in terms of weight, size and so forth. However, the cultural values and identity inherent in akari will never change. It is with this concept that we set our mission to convey the cultural genes residing in the incandescent light bulb that was soon to be replaced by LED.

Message: Celebration of Light, Space and Humanity

Imagine the knowledge and dedication of engineers who developed the light bulbs. Imagine the dreams and desires of people who use the light bulb and are stimulated by this fascinating object. The light bulb accompanied by the pulsation of civilization is the sublime element that holds a special place in our hearts. It is an ephemeral and at times intangible thing that might disappear if we take it for granted.

Project Detail

The site of installation was located in the Tortona District of Milan. The arch-shaped mirrors placed in regular intervals along the walls and crushed marble gravel covering the ground articulates the intricate exhibition space, approximately 120 square meters in area.

About 100 light bulb shaped objects are suspended throughout the entire space. Each object contains water and an LED that illuminates the surface of water from above. Furthermore, this object can be touched as to cradle it in both hands.

When people walk by, the bulbar objects become resplendent as if to illuminate the traces of movements. What is more, touching the bulb initiates the wave-like sequence of brightening and fading light. The palms of the cradling hand can feel the delicate pulsations, analogously akin to heartbeats, that synchronize with flickering light.

This project was realized as the result of the tripartite collaboration among Toshiba, Takram design engineering, and Ryo Matsui Architects, and took place at the Milano Salone in Italy.

This annual event not only functions as a trade fair for furniture but also includes diverse conventions for interior design, accessories, and lightings. In addition to the main venue of Fiera, there are various events sponsored by the brand-makers throughout Milan, and these in totality are called the Milano Salone. Moreover in recent times, Milano Salone has become famous as a trade fair for brand-makers.

Our theme for this installation, titled Overture, expresses the paradigm shift in lighting by the advent of new illuminative sources exemplified by LED. We sought to create experiences that physicalized the potentialities inculcated in the paradigm shift and associated new lighting technology. This, we envisioned to realize through the bulb-like objects that interact with people in response to their movements and the emergence of space with infinite expansion created by the arch-shaped mirrors. Each bulbar object contains an LED and high-tech sensing devices that control the flickering intervals of the LED according to its distance with a person. Furthermore, touching this object causes it to pulsate as if beating and cradling it in both hands will change the brightness and color of the LED. These experiences transcend the inanimate qualities of light provided by a mere hardware called fixtures, to embody Toshibas dedication towards Light that recognizes human emotion and sensitivities, and further pursues innovation in illumination and new relationship between humanity and light.

It is indeed rare for new technology to permeate our daily lives in the instant it is introduced to the world. In most cases, those take on extant technological forms to proliferate in our lives over time. For example, cars used to be called Horseless Carriages. In addition, TV was initially sold as furniture as the monitor was embedded into a cabinet. After such processes, the popular hesitation against new technology gradually decreases. Only then are these products allowed to shed their previous formal incarnations to reemerge with inherent forms engendered by technology. Needless to say, LED is not an exception.

The world we envision through this work is neither a challenge to prophesize how light ought to be in the future nor an homage to elegiac classicism. It is rather an act to determine the present node to seek the projective future that is rendered amorphous by advents of emergent technologies, and simultaneously a declaration to establish a direction from now on.

Imagine the knowledge and passion of engineers who developed the light bulbs. Imagine the dreams and desires of people who use and are stimulated by those lights. The light bulb, and the pulsation of civilization that is embodied in it, are sublime elements that occupies a place in our hearts. It is an ephemeral and at times intangible thing that might disappear if we take it for granted.

The question is, then, how to pass on and preserve these incommunicable and dynamic genetics that constitute the culture of light to the next generation. We believe it is our raison d’être, as those who exist presently, to entrust these delicate pulses to the next generation through LEDs amidst powerful wave of technological innovation.

The form that takes on the roundedness of light bulbs represents the culture of light heretofore. We took on the role to pass this object concomitant with delicate pulsations onto the next generation as we cradle it gently with both hands, as if to keep it alive.

The human relationship with light has long, deeply coexisted with the developments in architecture. Conversely it can be said that the advancements in lighting technology had continuously engendered rich expressions in spaces for human lives. At this juncture in time when the light source is about to shift from incandescent to the likes of LEDs, I thought it important to re-recognize the inseparable connections among light, space and humanity, and share the indications of transformation that is about to take place.

Thus, in order to pave way for the acceptance of this transformation, we proposed a place to contemplate the present itself, with its value system about to undergo a profound change. The mirrors act as a symbolic stylization and form deployed casually throughout the architectural space that expose the contemporaneity with twofold definitions; vis-à-vis, as of an existence between the past that must be passed down and the future resultant of transformations. Through the invocation of sceneries from the collective human memory, this is a space to witness the transfer of values from the past to the future.

The influence light has had on the human race must be immeasurable. We think the balance of prudence and, at times, bold creativity is necessary to envision a brighter and promising future. Our spatial composition with an infinite expansion suggests the innate possibilities and roles of light.


We deployed the eggplant-shaped silhouette as a symbol of Light for it had epitomized the form continuously manufactured since the inception of the company. By retaining the universally recognized image of a light bulb all the while arriving at the appropriate form that would allow visitors to cradle it in both hands, we proposed the design for an object to experience the psychosomatic values of Light that best manifested our thoughts on illuminations.

Composition and Functions

Each object is suspended from the ceiling. Near the ceiling, there is a motion-sensor and a winch for the cable installed. The motion-sensor reacts to persons walking by and the light turns on. Originally, the winch was conceived as a safety measure in case some visitors accidentally pulled down the light bulbs. In fact, there is another, different function installed in connection with the winch. This function is set up so that pulling the light bulb down to a certain height would cut the power off and facilitate reset.

Pertaining to the light bulb section, the LED package made by Toshiba was utilized at the light source. (The bipartite package is composed of one highly luminescent white LED and another, slightly smaller LED closely resembling the incandescent color.)

A motor with hammer, contained in a metallic cylinder, generates the pulsations one can feel when touching this object. More specifically, pulsations are caused by the motor operating the hammer to hit the inner wall of the cylinder at a constant rhythm.

As for the creation of the transparent and lustrous glass, we enlisted the expertise of Shotoku Glass in Sumida-Ward, who we also worked with previously for the Furin exhibition with Toyo Ito. Since this company originally started in the Taisho-Era to manufacture glasses for light bulbs, they were able to meticulously control everything to the final finishes.

There are three reasons why this glass object contains water. Firstly, it was out of aesthetic reasons. As water moves gently according to movements of a human hand, so does water provide a new surface to the glass and diversifies the refraction of light. Moreover, iridescence animates the light projected onto the landscape of marble pebbles. Secondly, there was a technical aspect. As you may already know, touching this object will initiate the light and pulsation sequences, and water acts as a sensor. If one was to use the conventional touch-sensor technology, it would have been very difficult to sense the touch through the glass which is a nonconductor. However, this cylinder contains a device that recognizes minute changes in static electricity. Then, the sequences can be triggered by a human touch on water containing stored static electricity. Third and lastly, water functions as a kind of symbolic vessel that articulates the cultural heritage and emotionality of light itself. It can be said that the organic characteristics of water reinforce the expressions of aliveness signified by the pulsations. These factors have led us to the use of water.

Attaching the glass and cylinder components is extremely easy. Unbeknownst, the mechanism makes use of magnets to allow the instantaneous assembly without the use of screws or drivers. When the holes in both glass and cylindrical components align, the magnets can be inserted and attach to the cylinders. As the result, the glass bulb and cylinder are fixed as if by a prop. The inverse was made to be equally simple as only the magnets are required to be removed.

There is one function that none of the visitors were told of, and that is the mode conversion. One can switch among the different modes by knocking in a specific interval on a portion of the cylinder. Among the parameters of colors and luminosity, there is a total of four modes to choose from.

Overall Composition

Though this space appears at first sight to be analogous to a colonnade, expansive sceneries framed by the arches are in fact all reflections on mirrors. These arch-shaped mirrors, marble pebbles spread over the ground, and fabrics on the walls that create moiré effects are three elements constituting the spatial composition.


The arch-shaped mirrors are positioned as if to encircle the entire space. Since the ancient times, the arches have been in use and universally recognized building technique. Fast-forwarding to the present, we continue to see this form as one of perpetual icons even in architecture that does not require arches structurally. Similarly, eggplant-shaped light bulb is another one of icons that sustained human activities. These silhouettes have transcended its representational meaning to become a symbol that exists in our memories. In totality, the exhibition space is based on a fundamental theme to superimpose these two perpetual silhouettes vested with the transmittance of emotive memories. In addition, the arch form functions as a nodal point that connects the adjacent spaces. Though the arch-shaped mirrors seem to project an infinitely expansive space, the arches exist more to connect the two temporalities of past and future, and the mirrors exist to reflect the present itself.

Pebbles of Pulverized Marble

Finely pulverized marble was used to cover the ground. This treatment functions to gently receive the diffused light emanating from the light bulb like objects. Instead of light shining on a flat floor, this surface allows the floor to become rich in expressions with organic lighting. Additionally, this permits visitors to experience light in a pure way since human movements become calm and leisurely as they step on these pebbles. By having the pebbles unconventionally spread in the interior, thereby transposing the ordinary sensations of walking on pebble in nature, many visitors experience a refreshing sense of incongruity the moment they step into the exhibition space. As a result of blurring the relationship between interiority and exteriority, a space that symbolically expands infinitely is generated.

Moiré Fabric

The white fabric hanging from the wall is made from overlapping two identical fabrics in reality. When two regular patterns are superimposed, the unique striped patterns of Moiré effect are generated. These patterns instill a sort of suspension in space, and the visitors sense of distances is made increasingly ambiguous. The Moiré patterns that emerge in between mirrors gently wave along with the movements of the visitors and emphasizes the spatial depth by inverting the real and the illusion.

Leading Up to the Final Proposal

In the initial steps of site selection, resulting in the Design Library, we had yet to decide upon a physical plan, such as the mirrors or pebbles. Upon inspecting the site, we thought of various possibilities, such as wrapping the entire space with an organically warped fabric or creating numerous undulations on the ground. Ultimately, after some discussions on being consistent with the concept behind the exhibition, we opted for a proposal that used arch-forms and mirrors that would most effectively heighten the visual effects of the light bulb objects. We believe that the distribution of mirrors facing each other was an ideal solution that capitalized on the specificities inherent in the convoluted plan that was not of a simple geometry. Another reason why we arrived at the arched mirror, other than for the palpable consistencies with the spatial continuity and emotive aspects of the concept, was the manufacturing method by pre-cast that allowed independent production of the individual mirrors by a factory. This production process decreased the need for in-situ construction and was chosen appropriately for the installation with a short assembly period. The space is further articulated by various components made from limited array of materials and details, such as the arched mirrors, pebbles on the ground, and the fabric coverings on the walls, to compose a space that elegantly exposed the relationship between visitors and light.


Art Direction:

Toshiba Corporation

Product Design & Interaction Design:

Toshiba Corporation



Exhibition Space Design:

Ryo Matsui Architects Inc.


Daichi Ano


Milan (Italy) Tortona district Design Library, April 2227, 2009

© 2012 Toshiba Corporation:

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