The very influential Danish designer, architect, writer, and cultural critic, Poul Henningsen (1894-1967), has had a huge impact on Danish thinking and design. His legacy is an integrated part of Louis Poulsen’s endeavor to shape light.
Poul Henningsen was born in Copenhagen in 1894 as the son of the Danish writers Agnes Henningsen and Carl Ewald. He started practicing traditional functionalist architecture, but over the years his professional interests changed to focus mainly on lighting, which is what he is most famous for.
In a smaller studio, Poul Henningsen worked as an architect from 1919 and during the years he expanded his field of occupation into areas of writing and also became a journalist and an author. He published his sometimes radical thoughts about art, design, politics, and architecture in various journals and newspapers and his ideas were very influential.
In the 1930’s he was a very active political debate and critic of the cultural environment in Denmark. Like many other creative people during WWII, he and his wife, Inger Henningsen, were forced to flee the country to Sweden during the German occupation of Denmark. Soon he became a vital part of the Danish colony of artists living in Sweden.
Poul Henningsen was not primarily driven by the wish of designing aesthetic lamps, but instead to create the optimal light. He drew the models for his first PH lamps in collaboration with Louis Poulsen in 1924, where he developed the famous three-shade system. Poul Henningsen wanted to create a lampshade that emitted a functional, pleasant, and glare-free light.
He based the three-shade system on a logarithmic spiral to make the optimal use of the light source. The form of the shades was determined by the way he wanted them to shape and reflect the light. From meticulous calculations and an abundance of tests, he created a system that directed a glare free-light to where it was needed the most. The way he functionally utilized the shades was nothing less than revolutionary.
The first shades were made of metal with a painted undersurface. Later on the shades were also made of glass that besides the emission of a downward light also illuminated the room. Poul Henningsen was the first person to pursue a scientific approach to light.
The first PH lamp was launched in 1927 as an alternative to low-pitched hanging lamps. In 1928 Poul Henningsen developed the table lamp PH 3½-2½ Table with a top metal shade and two bottom shades in white opal glass. The work culminated in 1958 with the world-famous pendant PH 5 that immediately became an overwhelming success.
With PH 5, Poul Henningsen wanted to improve the colour rendering of the light source. He inserted small red and blue shades with the function to supplement the colour in the red and blue areas of the color spectrum, where the eye is least sensitive. In that way he subdued the light in the middle yellow-green parts, where the eye is most sensitive. The pendant was given the name PH 5 since the main shade is 50 centimeters in diameter. PH 5 is an iconic piece of Danish design and still one of the most popular light fixtures.
PH classics With the three-shade design, Poul Henningsen designed an entire system and around a thousand different models have been produced over the years. Besides pendants and table lamps, the three-shade family also counts both floor and wall lamps, chandeliers, and outdoor lamps. Each lamp has its own history.One of them is PH Snowball. This pendant was also developed in 1958 and exhibited at the same time as the launch of PH 5, but did not receive much attention. It was not until 25 years later that PH Snowball was manufactured and relaunched. It is an interesting multi-shade pendant with eight white shades that gives the lamp a round and characteristic shape.See PH Snowball
PH Artichoke is a very unique and iconic pendant designed in 1958 for a modernist restaurant in Copenhagen. It has become world-famous for its sculptural design with a fixture that consists of 72 leaves carefully positioned to provide a completely glare-free light from any angle. PH Artichoke is still available in the original copper finish that provides a warm and ambient lighting.
Two other classic designs by Poul Henningsen worth mentioning is PH Hat and PH 80. PH Hat is a wall lamp designed in 1961 with the aim to create a lamp specifically for bedroom lighting.
PH 80 is a floor lamp that was made as a celebration of Poul Henningsen. It was created in 1974 after his death to mark the 80 years since his birth.See PH 80
Poul Henningsen’s lifelong collaboration with Louis Poulsen that began in 1924 lasted until his death. To this day Louis Poulsen still benefits from his genius and his pioneering work remains the foundation of the lighting theories we practice.
The function and design of our products are created to reflect and support the rhythm of natural light. Every single detail in our designs has a purpose and every design starts and ends with light. Our means are simple and beautiful designs. We wish to shape our surroundings into attractive and pleasant spaces that affect people and make them feel comfortable. This is how we carry on the legacy of Poul Henningsen.