The Landscape of Lighting: Part 3/6
Friday, May 23rd, 2014
The Landscape of Lighting: Unexpected LEDs
By Amanda Koellner
Images courtesy of Meystle
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) were invented in the 1960s and debuted on the market in the form of digital watches in the ’70s, sold for the small fortune of $2,100. During the past several decades, they’ve decreased in cost and size—the University of Washington recently built the world’s thinnest LED, which comes in at only three atoms—yes, atoms—thick (10,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair). LEDs are commonly found in digital clocks, headlights, and traffic stops, but designers around the globe are beginning to find surprising functions for the energy-efficient and long- lasting lights.
Meystyle LED Wallpaper & Fabric, a London-based company whose first prototype of glowing wallpaper, built in 2003, consisted of 99 lights and a collection of wires stuck between two pieces of material, stumbled into its unique line of work. “The invention of LED wallpaper was absolutely accidental,” says Ekaterina Yaschuk, who co-founded the company with her sister.
“It came about one evening when [my sister] Maria was frustrated about her final MA project and couldn’t choose whether to continue developing her passion for wallpaper and pattern or maybe go into lighting,” Ekaterina says. “To cut the conversation short, as it was probably the 100th time we were having it, I said, ‘Why don’t you just put lights into wallpaper and leave me alone?’” The sisters consequently became the first in the world to make LED wallpaper, and, as Ekaterina says, to this day no one makes it like they do.
The process begins with hand-drawn sketches that are further developed on the computer, and eventually, each LED light is attached individually by hand. The sisters see the designs as a way to add a bit of drama to a space, and their paper, which they craft with the help of two part-time staffers, can contain between 1 and 50 lights per square meter. And, as the technology improves, their business expands. “It’s only in the last few years that we’ve expanded into making LED textiles, leather, and we’re looking into even more new materials,” Maria says.
Wearable LEDs fall right into the wheelhouse of Moritz Waldemeyer, an internationally renowned multidisciplinary designer whose first foray into fashion came in 2007 when he constructed a video dress for fashion designer Hussein Chalayan. After founding his own studio in 2004, Waldemeyer eventually found himself crafting LED clothing for the likes of Rihanna, U2, and the London Olympics Handover Ceremony performers.
He says that even considering today’s technology, each design is quite an undertaking. “To get an optimum look and aesthetic, you really have to customize everything and buy the LEDs and circuits,” he says. “One of the challenges is to design for wear and tear, especially for the music world since they’re dancing and doing fast costume changes. The clothes basically get trashed.”
Despite the fact that pop stars like Kanye West, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry all have donned LED clothing, Waldemeyer says that the prevalence of this fad in everyday wear depends more on social acceptance than available technology. “To make the jump from everyone wearing black and grey to everybody walking around in billboards is a massive shift on a social level,” he says. “If it happened, the technology would certainly catch up, but as it stands, it isn’t really advancing.”
That’s not to say that Waldemeyer believes the trend will die or that LEDs lack influence. He points to interiors (and companies like Meystyle), explaining that you don’t have to put wallpaper in the washing machine, and you certainly don’t change it everyday. “Plus, LEDs are super low on power consumption, and they have the ability to interface with other technologies that allow you to do things you can’t do with other lights,” he says. “And the cost is constantly coming down. On that front, I definitely see this taking over the world and changing the way our environments work.”