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Architect finds delight in task light

The architect Daniel Libeskind has made a name for himself with major urban projects like the master plan for the World Trade Center site and the Jewish Museum in Berlin. But a growing part of his work involves design on a much smaller scale: furniture, building products, household accessories.

“Why just do the structure in the raw and then leave somebody to decorate it?” the 67-year-old said. “It’s a privilege to design at a small scale because it’s so intimate and so direct.”

While his head office in New York still focuses on the big stuff, part of his Milan office is now dedicated to designing “everything you need for a home,” he said, “or a place where you’re working.”

So far, that includes things like door handles for Olivari, serving pieces for Alessi and a tub for Jacuzzi. Another recent project is the Paragon lamp for Artemide, a hinged task light that stands as straight as a skyscraper but can also curl down to illuminate something close up.

Over the years, Libeskind said, he has collected numerous designer lamps, and has come to the conclusion that a task light must meet two criteria.

“First of all, it has to be something beautiful,” he said, “because it’s an object that sits on a table.” But it also has to be functional, not only “in terms of the kind of light it throws,” he said, but also “how you change the light and how you move the lamp.”

In search of a few examples, Libeskind began at Foscarini, in SoHo, where he admired the Magneto, a lamp that uses a magnetic sphere to connect the head and the base, an arrangement that allows it to be positioned in various ways. “It’s never been done before,” Libeskind said, “and that’s one of the ways I judge design.”

It was also surprisingly functional. “This is almost like a flashlight,” he said, pulling the head off the base.

At Luceplan, he picked out the Mix lamp. “It’s interactive,” he said, experimenting with the flexible gooseneck. Also, he said, scrutinizing the serpentine form, “I like that it’s not completely familiar.”

At Flos, Libeskind went for a classic: the 1980 Gibigiana lamp by Achille Castiglioni, which uses a mirror to bounce light down to a work surface.

“I like this reflective light,” he said, “and that the source isn’t visible.”

Another classic he liked was the 1954 Tripod desk lamp by Serge Mouille, from Design Within Reach. Even after all these years, he said, its sculptural appeal still felt forward-looking. In fact, he speculated, “the designer of the space shuttle may have seen this lamp.”

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