The transformative power of lighting is increasingly becoming recognised as a vital component of interior design and architecture – and manipulated in ever more experimental ways. Yet whilst many companies have the capacity to design or produce lighting, rarely do they offer both.
.PSLAB is one of those rarities. Founded in 2004 out of a desire to fulfill this particular need in the lighting industry, it now operates as a 100-strong, multitalented ensemble of designers and manufacturers, creating site-specific lighting products from their four city bases in Europe and the Middle East. All of their products are custom-manufactured and hand-finished in their own vast, 10,000 sq-m factory in Lebanon – ‘everything is done in-house with close attention to detail, down to the publications we create,’ they emphasis – and their creative and technical teams work together on every aspect of product development, from concept through to construction. “When working on a new concept, we not only focus on the decorative aspect of the product but also on the technical aspect of lighting. In doing so, we are able to ensure that the end result is both coherent and harmonious.”
One such end result for the main reception of a private residence in Beirut, designed with the aim of ‘unifying the space while, through repeating one module, providing a visual pattern’, recently earned. PSLAB recognition by the Good Design Awards for the sixth time.
Their unified way of working is not as clinical as it might sound. In fact, their sensitive response to the vision of the architect and perception of the site itself as the starting point for the creative process is very organic; the spaces they are presented with guide the lighting concept from the very beginning. “With each project comes a new space, bringing about its own unique set of characteristics and challenges,” they explain.
The products themselves, however, are not always unique to their respective projects - some are used repeatedly in different contexts, taken from the .PSLAB ‘library’ of lights that has been built up over the last six years, and forming a subtle motif that links their expansive range of projects together. “Depending on the space, its requirements and the clients’ needs, the creative team will create a brand new concept with a mix of customised and existing products. While some products might be used for more than one project, guidelines are put in place to ensure the uniqueness of the concept created as well as the end result.”
Yet while every one of .PSLAB’s designs derive from their own very systematic process of absorbing the unique surroundings of the site, its history and their continuous dialogue with the client, if you look closely enough a certain aesthetic remains detectable throughout their projects. Often in neutral colours, their honest approach to raw materials seems to shape the physical forms. “The space also dictates the material we use in the project as the material, its feel and application are a big part of the design. The material should work with the entire product from the technical aspect to the look and feel.”
Their recent work for Maison Thoumieux, a newly renovated boutique hotel in Paris is the latest in a series of .PSLAB’s collaborations with architect and designer India Mahdavi. “We first collaborated with Mahdavi on the Monte Carlo Beach hotel, for which we created original lighting products for the rooms and lobbies.” From this came further collaborations, including a private cinema, a guesthouse and a hotel. For Maison Thoumieux, .PSLAB placed a philosophical emphasis on ‘the relationship between the viewer and the light provided by the fixture, creating a specific mood.’ As always in their work, this sense of continuity and harmony runs – quite strategically - through the entire project. “The products responded effectively to the constraints of the space, and also stood alone as products which provided a sense of continuity... Overall, a sense of intimacy and harmony was provided by the fixtures.”
But whilst adhering to their strict set of design guidelines, .PSLAB’s work can also be playful. For Clerkenwell Design Week last year, they collaborated with DOS architects to launch a temporary installation on the façade of their studio, lining up row after row of vintage car headlamps to light up the street at night. A similar experiment for Milan Design Week involved the creation of a light wall built out of ‘702 plastic gallons reinterpreted as lighting objects’ with architecture practice Piuarch – also on the façade of a building in the courtyard of Piuarch’s studio.
There has been a wave of discussion about national design ‘traits’ in recent media discourse, and particularly whether, in this period of inexorable globalization, national identity is waning in the field of design. For .PSLAB, any particularly identifiable national vernacular is purposefully avoided through their genuinely international presence. “While we are based in Lebanon, .PSLAB is an international company, working on projects all over the world. We base our inspiration on the space we are working in for each project, giving our designs an international aspect.” Yet perhaps it is inevitable that some intrinsic element of a nationality should materialize; being manufactured in their own factory in Lebanon, .PSLAB suggest that perhaps ‘you can notice the effect of our origin in our hand-finished products, which retain an artisanal feel.’
When asked how they see the future of lighting design evolving, .PSLAB make it clear that trends will never compromise their integrity as designers. “While we do follow the trends in the industry, we do not necessarily apply it in our work; not all new trends that emerge in the world of lighting design match our brand and our identity.” So it seems .PSLAB have successfully managed to transcend trends and evade categorization through their independent approach to lighting. And with a host of new projects in store for 2012 – including residences in London, Beirut, Italy, Morocco, United Arab Emirates and Oman, a restaurant and bar in Beirut, a hotel in France and both a mall and a palace in Kuwait – it is clearly an approach that works.