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Emi, industrial poetry


Interview by Rosa Bertoli

Photography by Studio Bouroullec 

Emi is a collection that blends technology and design, Emi features a trio of light modules encased within a triangular pole, its powerful but gentle lighting emitted from a body that remains nearly invisible. In this interview, Bouroullec tells us about his concept and the process of creating (and naming) Emi.

The first thing that stands out when looking at Emi, is the repeated circular motif. Can you tell me about first creating this motif and how it has followed you throughout your work up until applying it to this design?

Erwan Bouroullec: Bouroullec Studio has always been building work around units that would be composable. And the circle is probably one of the most geometric and extreme entities that you could find. Because the circle is also the absence of verticality and horizontality, it gives much more freedom. In my work, I'm always obsessed with 3D modelling. I also believe in geometry. Building with geometry is a very big part of my work.

How does this apply to the design of Emi?

E.B.: I don't have much theoretical background about what is a good shape versus what is a wrong shape. But in my making, I can see when there is a much more beautiful geometry. In Emi, due to the light source, it was very natural to use a triangle instead of a circle, a square shape. And the triangle is not a very usual structure in daily life. It's a pattern that most of the time belongs to structure; you find it in roof carpentry, it's a mechanical element that helps stabilise a shape. And so, at some point this has been a very easy decision process of saying, okay, let's do everything around the triangle.

His first solo lighting design for Flos, Emi, follows the paradoxical concept of ‘light from shadow’.

The concept of light from shadow defines this design. Can you tell me more about it?

E.B.: Emi is using a light source developed by Flos Architectural that has the ability to emit light from a very deep cone, so that you don't see the light source. You don't know that the light is actually coming from this lamp. When I had to name it, I asked ChatGPT, ‘Could you describe a source of light coming from shadow?’ And ChatGPT just said, ‘No, it doesn't exist. It's not possible’. And it was funny because I was expecting AI to be more open-minded.

And in the end, how did you get to the name Emi?

E.B.: It refers to ‘emitting’, short for ‘emitting light’. So it’s short for that. But it also sounds like ‘aim’, which I liked. The idea of these lamps is that you could use them like a spot, direct the light, and aim has a meaning of goal, direction, something you want to achieve.

The trajectory of Erwan Bouroullec’s work, both as part of Bouroullec Studio and more recently as a solitary creative, has always combined a distinctive aesthetic approach with a fascination for the industrial mechanics of creativity. 

Emi is an example of a great industrial design as a tool, it disappears when it's not in use, but then its power emerges when illuminated.

E.B.: It has a very strong light source. You can illuminate a space very quickly and dim it to create a more intimate lighting. And then there’s the fact that you don't exactly see the light source, so in essence the light is made by the walls reflecting it. It’s not filtered by a shade, and will take on the qualities of the room: if you have a blue room, the light will become blue, for example. And because your eyes don't see the source, it is part of a mystery, the final effect is of a very natural light coming from the walls.

How did you develop this lamp with Flos?

E.B.: Flos is mastering light. Something which is so pleasurable with a Flos light is that when you turn it on, you get a super cool quality of light. The source was a given, so we just needed to play with the team in Valencia and place them in the right position. The joy of manufacturing is a big part of design, and I had really interesting and powerful discussions with Flos.

How do the materials impact the light’s design?

E.B.: Emi is made of an aluminium body and a cast iron base. This was an interesting development, as using iron is an old technique for lamp bases. Going back to cast iron felt like going back to old technology. What’s good about it is that it’s pure iron, it’s easy to recycle, but it’s also very heavy, and by nature it’s always a bit grainy, it’s lively. I really think we should let materials express what they are.

With Emi, Erwan Bouroullec bring the quality of professional lighting to home and hospitality environments

In all these years working in lighting, what has lighting design taught you?

E.B.: Light has a very sculptural value for two reasons. Most of the time, lights are placed on the ceiling, usually a very empty spot, so the light becomes an important visual presence. But light can also be sculptural; it can create volume in a space. Lighting design has always been the most emotional part of my personal practice and the studio. People remember a light much more than they remember a table, because a light is crucial for the tuning of a room. It creates experience.