One literal light-bulb moment later: a globally-respected industry

Country emerging as one of the leading lights in illumination

Light is a precious commodity, and the Danes don’t take it for granted. They barely have seven hours a day during the winter, and during the summer, the faintest glimpse of sunshine will see them come bounding out of their homes to soak up those feel-good rays.

But they don’t overdo it (except for on New Year’s Eve). Enter the typical Danish house during the winter and it is softly-lit. There are none of the solar spotlights or glittering gold you might encounter at a home in Eastern Asia for example.

And it is in this area that Denmark is emerging as a leading light. From accentuating buildings and pieces of art to manufacturing intelligent, sustainable street lamps, Denmark has become one of the world leaders in illumination – a master of simplicity, functionality and finding the right degree of softness.

All about control
According to Lars Østergaard Olsen, the managing director of contemporary lighting manufacturer Lightyears, it is all about control.  
“If you go to the southern parts of Europe – France, Italy or Spain – you don’t find very much control of light,” he explained.

“We don’t like that. Light has to be controlled and comfortable; it has to be pleasant and work for you.”

Quality not quantity
It has been a relatively recent revolution. In Olsen’s case, he first ‘saw the light’ over a decade ago. 

He recalls how he was hired to affect a “turnaround” at a company (then called Horn Lighting) that had shrunk to a third of its size and lost its standing as the second largest lighting company in Denmark. It quickly became apparent that the company needed a reboot. 

“The old company was targeting the volume market,” he recalled. “We wanted to do something else: to climb higher in the market with a higher price and much higher quality, and do something different, be something new.”

New Nordic design is key
The company reached out to a network of Danish designers, and despite the challenges of the financial crisis, Olsen modestly points out that “business is going well” in the new direction of quality and optimum illumination.  

In September, the company opened a new 300 sqm showroom in the Carlsberg City District – a unique space previously used by the brewing goliath for CO2 processing.  

And the success goes well beyond the city limits as global markets are warming to the Danish approach where “form follows function”. 

“We have expanded sales to more than 60 countries,” he said. “You can find our products in Google offices, Apple offices, IBM, HP and Facebook’s new headquarters.”

New Nordic design is key, explains Olsen.

“In areas of the world where we normally face difficulties – where the taste tends to be more flamboyant like in the Far or Middle East – simplicity and functionality are getting greater recognition,” he said.

“Taste is moving away from diamonds and gold and lots of artistic impressions to a little more in our direction.”

Illuminating the buildings
Danish expertise does not stop at trendy lamps and sophisticated ceiling fixtures.  Illuminating public places, buildings and artwork is also a big business and one that Danish companies like Stouenborg are leading the way in. 

Founded as a company with a strong background in theatre, it offers cultural institutions and private companies dramatic ways of showcasing their premises in a whole new light.  Past projects include Kronborg Castle, the Maritime Museum of Denmark and KPMG’s new home in Frederiksberg.

One of Stouenborg’s most recent projects concerned the illumination of sculptures at the King’s Lapidary. The listed building posed a number of technical challenges – the ancient walls couldn’t be hammered or drilled – but the team created solutions that mimicked shadows and angles.  

Lighting the streets
Denmark is also a world leader in sustainable street-lighting.

Some 9.2km of road in a park in Albertslund has since August 18 been taking part in a pilot scheme to test an innumerable number of LED lights. Engineers at the Danish Outdoor Lighting Lab hope the results will help cut the six percent of global emissions streetlamps are responsible for worldwide.

The new LED lamps will each have their own IP addresses so that they can be monitored remotely and be placed to sensors that measure the exact conditions so that efficiency can be recorded.

Sharing the knowledge
Denmark’s expertise has even led to the introduction of a new lighting design course at Aalborg University Copenhagen, which has attracted worldwide interest.

Some 50 percent of the students are international, representing 14 different nationalities.
“This is the only programme in Denmark and offers students a unique chance to develop specific skills,” enthused course leader Ellen Hansen. “There’s definitely a pioneering spirit out here.”  

The students are busy working on projects in the city. For example, some of them are designing new lighting concepts for Absalons Kirke on Sønder Boulevard in Vesterbro.

“Bringing new light into old spaces can really change how they are perceived by visitors,” commented Hansen.  

Environmental conditioning
Hansen is not surprised by the success of her country in the area of lighting.

“There’s definitely something unique about lighting design in Denmark,” she said. 

“Our love of summer light, followed by long dark winter months, has left a long tradition of bringing lighting into our homes.”